In October of 1933, Louis Armstrong and his “Harlem Hot Band” arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark for a series of eight shows at the Lyric Park theater. Thousands of fans mobbed the railway station, breaking through police barricades and climbing on top of train cars just to get a glimpse of the great jazz trumpeter as he stepped from his train.
Nowadays the Copenhagen visit is remembered because it was the first time Armstrong was ever filmed in concert. The Danish director Holger Madsen recruited Armstrong to appear in his feature film København, Kalundborg Og -?. Armstrong had made a cameo appearance in a 1931 film called Ex Flame, and on a sound stage the following year in two short films–a Paramount Pictures featurette and a Betty Boop cartoon–but the Copenhagen footage is the earliest of Armstrong playing live with his band.
The performance was filmed on October 21, 1933 at the Lyric Park. There was no audience in the theater during the filming. The shots of people applauding were made at a different time and spliced into the scene. Armstrong and his band play three songs: “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Dinah” and “Tiger Rag.” The nine-man band includes Armstrong on trumpet and vocals, Charles D. Johnson on trumpet, Peter DuCongé on clarinet and alto saxophone, Henry Tyree on alto saxophone, Fletcher Allen on tenor saxophone, Lionel Guimarez on trombone, Justo Baretto on piano, German Arango on bass and Oliver Tines on drums.
Armstrong is brilliant in the film. His exuberant showmanship and virtuosity are striking, and his unmistakable genius for phrasing–the way his trumpet and voice sound like two sides of the same distinctive instrument–remind us of why many people still consider Armstrong the greatest jazz musician of all time.