Louis Armstrong (featuring Lonnie Johnson): I'm Not Rough
I'm Not Rough
Louis Armstrong Hot Five
The Hot Fives And Hot Sevens, Volume III (Columbia Jazz Masterpieces)
Composed by Lil Hardin & Louis Armstrong.
Recorded: Chicago, IL, December 10, 1927
Rating: 97/100 (learn more)
Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings are not just jazz classics, they are among the most important and influential recordings in American music history. They essentially laid the foundations of jazz for the ensuing decades, evolving from the original pure ensemble band music of New Orleans to the use of a featured soloist, in this case the developing ultimate master of jazz and popular music, Louis Armstrong. All the Hot Fives musicians except Lil Hardin Armstrong were from New Orleans, including the special addition of great jazz and blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson for three tracks.
"I'm Not Rough" has a distinctive, powerful and memorable melody and lyrical theme ("I ain't rough and I don't fight / But the woman that's got me got to treat me right / 'Cause I'm crazy 'bout my lovin' …"). The musical lines emphasize the theme of the lyrics; the music soars in perfect accord with those lyrics. With constant swing and momentum, they build musical crescendos that give punch and emotion to the message.
Armstrong's ever-developing instrumental technique punches out accents, dynamically flows through the melodic theme lines, and uses slides, slurs and bent notes to dramatically demonstrate how the blues is a prime foundation of jazz. Lonnie Johnson's playing starts with guitar trills, adding intensity and texture to the music. Then his guitar/voice exchanges both complement and stimulate Armstrong. Johnson's ringing and intense but smoothly flowing guitar solo in the middle adds a new dimension to the Hot Five (here expanded to six). Also standing out from the ensemble work, Johnny Dodds adds some soulful and lyrical clarinet lines.
In my opinion, however, Armstrong's singing on this track was still developing; it is a bit crude, especially compared with the striking, absolute mastery of his vocal work on the 1950s and '60s recordings.
Reviewer: Dean Alger