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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

midprice  £35.99


The complete RCA Victor Recordings

Bluebird 09026-63846-2 [4CDs]

This very attractively boxed set of four CD’s, comes with a comprehensive discography and excellent sleeve notes written by Dan Morgenstern, Director of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in the USA. The music covers a very important period in the life of Louis Armstrong, 1932 to 1958. Louis had been a member of New Orleans Bands from as early as 1918, when jazz was just starting to be developed, playing in the bands of the masters of the day like Freddie Keppard and Joe ‘King’ Oliver. Louis was therefore well-steeped in New Orleans jazz. It is said, that his first wife Lil was the driving force that took Louis from being another jazz trumpet player, to being a star entertainer. In 1932 Big Band’s were the order of the day and they were the kind of outfits that Louis led up until the middle 1940’s. That’s why the recordings of this period are so important, they show how the small group All Star format, which Louis used from 1947 to when he died in 1977 developed. Through them Louis Armstrong became the best known and best loved entertainer in the world, when he was unwell, years before his death, it was front-page news in all the daily papers.

Few people would dispute that Armstrong is the most influential figure that the jazz world has produced to date, he took jazz from a little known minority music to the popular music of the day. He used his trumpet virtuosity and original singing style to make even the poorest band and the most ordinary tune into something special.

Included in this collection are some alternative takes of some of the tunes, some of which may never have been heard since the day they were recorded.

A personal preference is for the material in Discs 3 & 4, they have Armstrong’s last, and in my opinion best Big Band and the formation of what became the All Stars, through various small groups to the fabulous New York Town Hall Concert of 47.

Disc 1

  1. That’s My Home
  2. Hobo, You Can’t Ride this Train
  3. I Hate to Leave you Now
  4. You’ll Wish You’d Never Been Born
  5. Medley of Armstrong Hits – Part 1
  6. Medley of Armstrong Hits - Part 2
  7. I’ve Got the World on a String
  8. I Got a right to Sing the Blues
  9. Hustlin’ & Bustlin’ for Baby
  10. Sittin’ in the Dark
  11. High Society
  12. He’s a Son of the South
  13. Some Sweet Day
  14. Basin St. Blues
  15. Honey, Do
  16. Snowball
  17. Mahogany Hall Stomp
  18. Swing, You Cats

The first disk starts with a series of tracks that were released under Armstrong’s name, but were actually recorded with the band of drummer Chick Webb. It was not one of Webb’s best bands either! As I mentioned in the preamble however the Armstrong genius shines through and they make good listening. The following tracks are with the genuine article and immediately the rhythm sections improve and little buy little, the standard of the bands improves as well, as the likes of Teddy Wilson and Budd Johnson join the band. Some of the tunes are less than remarkable but each is given the Armstrong treatment, sometimes with some virtuoso Trumpet playing, sometimes with a beautifully constructed vocal and sometimes with both. ‘Snowball’ is a Hoagy Carmichael song that I did not even know of.

Disk 2

  1. Honey, Don’t You Love Me Any More
  2. Mississippi Basin
  3. Laughin’ Louie
  4. Tomorrow Night
  5. Dusky Stevedore
  6. There’s a Cabin in the Pines
  7. Mighty River
  8. Sweet Sue, Just You
  9. I Wonder Who
  10. St Louis Blues
  11. Don’t Play Me Cheap
  12. That’s My Home
  13. Hobo, You Can’t Ride this Train
  14. I Hate to Leave You Now
  15. You’ll Wish You’d Never Been Born
  16. Medley of Armstrong Hit’s Part - 2
  17. Mississippi Basin
  18. Laughin’ Louis
  19. Tomorrow Night
  20. Blue Yodel No9

Disk 2 carries on in a similar vain to disk 1, but by now Charlie Beal is on piano and Big Sid Catlett is on the drums. Mississippi Basin, of which there are two versions here, is an Andy Razaf composition; it was Razaf who wrote many tunes in partnership with Fats Waller.

Laughin’ Louis was produced in response to the huge public demand for novelty records at that time, it affords Louis the opportunity to fool around before demonstrating his mastery of high register trumpet playing. In Dusty Stevedore, we are able to see just how far ahead of the game Louis was by comparing his solo with that of any of the others.

This disk has a sparkling performance of St Louis blues and by now the band really is swinging in the way Louis would have wanted.

Tracks 12 to 19 are the alternative takes referred to earlier.

Track 20 has Louis playing trumpet with Country & Western Singer, Jimmie Rogers, it is also suggested that Lil Armstrong played piano on this one. I can only assume it was included for the sake of completeness!

Disk 3

  1. Long, Long Journey.
  2. Snafu
  3. Linger in My Arms a little Longer
  4. Whatta Ya Gonna Do
  5. No Variety Blues
  6. Joseph ‘N’ His Brudders
  7. Back O’ Town Blues
  8. I Want a Little Girl
  9. Sugar
  10. Blues for Yesterday
  11. Blues in the South
  12. Endie
  13. The Blues are Brewin’
  14. Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans
  15. Where the Blues were Born in New Orleans
  16. Mahogany Hall Stomp

This time the opening tracks are of the Esquire 1946 award winners, the line up includes Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas and Duke Ellington. They play two compositions by pianist Leonard Feather, Long, Long Journey and Snafu. This session works out a lot better than might have been expected, given the mixture of musical styles. Louis does more than hold his own, but this time the other soloists are well worth a listen.

The 1946 Big band had Russell Moore who was later to become an Armstrong All Star, as well as Velma Middleton who was often on the All Star tours as guest vocalist.

The 1946 Hot Seven had Vic Dickenson on trombone and Barney Bigard, who by this time had left the Ellington band on clarinet. It also benefited from the legendary Red Callender/Zutty Singleton bass/drums combination. It is interesting to compare this band to the Dixieland Seven, which had a similar line up, but with New Orleans specialist Kid Ory on Trombone. Both Ory and Dickenson were effective in the Armstrong line-up, Ory because of his punchy bass lines and glissandos and Dickenson for the melodic content of his playing.

Disc 4

  1. It takes Time
  2. You Don’t learn that in School
  3. Ain’t Misbehavin’
  4. Rockin’ Chair
  5. Back O’ Town Blues
  6. Pennies from heaven
  7. Save It Pretty Momma
  8. St James Infirmary
  9. Jack-Armstrong Blues
  10. Rockin’Chair
  11. Some Day You’ll be Sorry
  12. Fifty-Fifty Blues
  13. A Song was Born
  14. Please stop Playin’ those Blues Boy
  15. Before Long
  16. Lovely Weather We’re Having
  17. Rain, Rain
  18. Never Saw a Better Day

This disk starts with two good tracks from the 1947 Big Band, unfortunately they were it’s last. Lucy Thompson was on Tenor Sax and by this time the band had a good feel about it.

The ‘piece de resistance’ here is the New York Town Hall concert of May 17th 1947. I have been listening to this music for 50 years, man and boy, and I never tire of it. The band is on tremendous form; Bobby Hackett had rehearsed it in Louis’s absence on tour. Hackett and Armstrong were friends and he plays trumpet on the session playing beautifully, but never getting in Armstrong’s way. Apparently this music was nearly lost for posterity as the original recordings from the concert were of poor quality, over the years technology has come to the aid of the music lover and these recordings now have all the atmosphere of being at the concert.

The empathy between Armstrong and Jack Teagarden is second to none, both had been bandleaders for many years and both featured themselves as a vocalist.

Their playing and singing together here is brilliant to say the least and you can feel the excitement mounting in the hall. The rest of the band are equal to the task Peanuts Hucko plays the clarinet in a way that compliments the work of the other two front-line players and the rhythm section swings all the way.

The All Stars format suited Louis very well, he could command the fees his talents deserved and have sufficient money to hire the very best musicians available to work with him. Whilst his studio performances were always immaculate, it was the entertainer in him that caused him to pull out those extra stops on the live performance.

This set of four CD’s contain a large section of very important jazz history and most of all they are about a man who is to this day admired by most contemporary players, whatever their own style. Dizzy Gillespie said "No Louis Armstrong, no Dizzy Gillespie. This collection is essential for the serious jazz enthusiast.


Don Mather




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