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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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VARIOUS GROUPS
FEATURING
LOUIS ARMSTRONG
AS SIDEMAN

Young Satchmo
Birth of a Jazz Genius

Upbeat URCD256

 

 

1. Chimes Blues

2. Tears

3. Mabels’ Dream

4. Copenhagen

5. Everybody Loves My Baby

6. Sugar Foot Stomp

7. I miss My Swiss

8. Of All the Wrongs You Done to Me

9. Everybody Loves My Baby

10. Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home

11. Coal Cart Blues

12. Terrible Blues

13. Lucy Long

14. Anybody Here Want to Buy My Cabbage

15. Good Time Flat Blues

16. Reckless Blues

17. Cold in Hand Blues

18. The World’s Jazz Crazy and So Am I

19. Shipwrecked Blues

20. Court House Blues

21. Pleadin’ for the Blues

22. Pratt City Blues

23. Stomp Off, Let’s Go

24. Drop That Sack

25. I’m Goin’ Huntin’


Musical Groups and Recording Dates:

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – track 1, Richmond, Ind., Apr. 5, 1923; track 2, Chicago, Oct. 25, 1923; track 3, Chicago, Dec. 24, 1923

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra – track 4, New York, Oct. 30, 1924; track 5, New York, Nov. 22, 1924; track 6, May 29, 1925

The Southern Serenaders – track 7, New York, Aug. 7, 1925

Clarence Williams’ Blue Five – tracks 8 and 9, New York, Nov. 6, 1924; track 10, New York, Jan. 8, 1925; track 11, New York, Oct. 8, 1925

Red Onion Jazz Babies – track 12, New York, Nov. 26, 1924

Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools – track 13, New York, Nov. 2, 1925

Armstrong, cornet, Fletcher Henderson, piano – track 14, New York, Dec. 10, 1924; track 15, Dec. 17, 1924

Armstrong, cornet, Fred Longshaw, harmonium – tracks 16 and 17, New York, Jan. 14, 1925

Trixie Smith and Her Down Home Syncopators – track 18, New York, Mar. 16-22, 1925

Armstrong, cornet, Henderson, piano – tracks 19 and 20, New York, Apr. 2, 1925

Armstrong, cornet, Richard M. Jones, piano – tracks 21 and 22, Chicago, Nov. 23, 1926

Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra – track 23, Chicago, May 28, 1926

Lil’s Hot Shots – track 24, Chicago, May 28, 1926

Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards – track 25, Chicago 21, 1927

Vocalists:

Billy Jones, track 7

Eva Taylor, tracks 8-11

Perry Bradford, track13

Maggie Jones, tracks 14 and 15

Bessie Smith, tracks 16 and 17

Trixie Smith, track 18

Clara Smith, tracks 19 and 20

Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill, tracks 21 and 22

Erskine Tate, track 23


Those who are familiar with recordings which include Armstrong among the personnel will probably have heard before a few of the tracks on this CD, especially those with King Oliver and possibly Lil’s Hot Shots (a pseudonym for the Hot Five—adopted for contractual reasons). Since this CD focuses on Armstrong as sideman, no aggregations under Louis’ name are included, so no Hot Fives or Hot Sevens or Armstrong orchestras are here. Most of the other tracks may be less familiar, so it is a treat to have them before us once again and all in one place. Mike Pointon’s choices are impeccable, as are Charlie Crump’s transfers.

Covering the earliest four years of Armstrong’s post-New Orleans career, this album nicely portrays Louis’ development as a horn player. The first three tracks, by the Creole Jazz Band, are Chimes Blues—which, as Pointon indicates, contains Louis’ first recorded solo—Tears, and Mabel’s Dream. Listening to his solo on Chimes Blues, one can see clearly why Oliver was very apprehensive of being overshadowed by his young protégé—and justifiably so—and why Lil Hardin (later Armstrong) urged Louis to break with Oliver or he would always be kept in Oliver’s shadow. The second track by this group, Tears, composed by Louis and Lil, is something of a “lip buster,” I have been told; but at this time Armstrong had yet no callus to contend with on his upper lip, and he handled his part with ease. The last track by the Oliver/Armstrong band, Mabel’s Dream, largely features Armstrong leading and shows his confidence and complete command.

After he left Oliver, he played with a number of bands, and we are given several recorded performances of Armstrong with some of them. Of these, Copenhagen by the Fletcher Henderson band stands out as Armstrong launches into his solo early in the tune, and from there on it is a shade anticlimactic as the heights had already been reached. The Clarence Williams’ Blue Five is well represented with four tracks, all of which include Eva Taylor, Williams’ wife, on vocals. While her voice is pleasant enough, it provides no competition for the other vocalists on this CD. When Pointon says in his notes Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home stands above the others in this set, I agree as Armstrong engages in a head to head with Sidney Bechet and does not yield an inch to him. While Bechet tends to dominate in similar circumstances elsewhere, he met his match in Armstrong here and surely inspired Armstrong, as indicated in the break Louis takes as they head into the coda. The Red Onion Babies and Lil’s Hot Shots tracks also contain some fine solos by Armstrong—that on Terrible Blues having been used on more than one occasion by Louis elsewhere, and in different tunes, later.

But for me, the greatest joy in this disc is in the accompaniments that Armstrong provides for the blues singers. Unless one is “into” blues singers and their albums, these are probably the most frequently overlooked Armstrong items and yet contain some superb work. On most of these tracks backing singers, Armstrong shares the accompaniment with only a piano or a harmonium. Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson give Maggie Jones near perfect support onGood Time Flat Blues. His obbligatos behind the singers, particularly those behind the incomparable Bessie Smith, are sheer poetry. Reckless Blues and Cold in Hand Blues are simply magnificent, both Bessie and Louis outdoing themselves. Bessie must have been inspired by what she was hearing from Louis as he both echoed and built upon her delivery, just as he must have been by what she was giving him to work with. The tracks by Louis accompanying these singers are themselves, for me, worth the price of this CD.

So what Pointon and Upbeat present here is a very useful collection of the early and seminal work of Armstrong, work that is often overlooked as the name “Armstrong” tends to conjure up “All Stars” for perhaps the majority of jazz fans. Great as that group with its various members was, the foundation, which this CD presents, was being laid in the early work of its leader. Highly recommended.

Bert Thompson



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