The Healing Power of Louis Armstrong

John McManamy Health Guide
  • My life has a sound track. If I am not listening to music, my brain is playing it. Both physicists and mystics can explain all creation in terms of vibration. As early as the sixth century BC, the great scientist-mystic Pythagoras taught the healing power of music. Pythagoras coined term, “music of the spheres,” which referred to heavenly bodies in perfect harmony. A lot of his wisdom has been lost, so no one can contradict me when I say that he probably extended his concept to the micro-universe inside our minds. Think of all those neurons and neurotransmitters vibrating at perfect pitch. That’s the power the right kind of music has over me.
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    Okay, let’s start with the ultimate musician playing the ultimate instrument. That would be Louis Armstrong and his trumpet. One gorgeous clear F above high C and I am transported into a different realm. The culturati are all unanimous in their verdict that his Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions early in his career rank as among the most outstanding performances ever pressed onto wax, but I’m more partial to some of his big band work a few years later.

    If you listen to the jazz critics, you would think Louis Armstrong ceased playing good music after his Hot Five-Hot Seven period. Far from the case. Here is Louis at his height, belting out one glorious high note after the other. The other musicians take a back seat to Louis, but they are not exactly slouches. Listen to Louis’ 1929 recording of St Louis Blues, and you are bound to agree with me that this is the finest two minutes and 58 seconds of music of all time.

    The recording starts off in a very loose type of Dixieland swing. Then JC Higginbotham, the greatest trombonist of his era, sets the scene with a bravura solo. Next Louis comes in and you know you are listening to something special. But this solo is only the appetizer, and he defers to the clarinet. Now Higginbotham rips loose, laying down his challenge. This time Louis fairly crashes down the door with his trumpet, punctuating the cosmos with swinging hot bursts. He is literally pulling the rest of the band with him, bass slapping away and percussion sparking off the energy of his playing. All the while, he is turning up the heat, one moment lyrical, the next primordial, laying down accents in unexpected places, inching his magical instrument ever higher into the heavens.

    You want it to go on forever, but the technology of the era limited recording to three minutes per side, and Louis and his supporting musicians got this one in the can with all of two seconds to spare. Then play it again, I tell myself. Better yet, make it into a loop. No, that would be overdoing it, I decide. The fine things in life need to be rationed and savored. But I am entitled to one more time, I conclude. Anything this good deserves a second helping.

    The music comes on. Every cell in my body starts vibrating with joy. Pythagoras was right. Music heals. Music is life-affirming. And no one demonstrates that better to me than Louis Armstrong. Here comes that high note …

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Published On: June 02, 2006