Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy
This album is one of the best recordings of any kind I have ever heard. Now I have thousands of recordings, write seriously about music, and have a lot of Louis, but this is one of those CDs that are simply hard to get out of the player. Forget about the historical significance of the recordings, the extras which include a few rehearsal cuts with the band getting itself ready, a fine excerpt from an interview with Handy, and a nice little joke--not necessarily one that could be told on network television--by Louis, and the well documented notes.
The sound here is great. It has some of the best of Louis's sound in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when despite the All-stars claims to reproduce the orginal pre-Swing sound of Armstrong's earlier groups, Louis shows the way he truly swung in both singing in playing far beyond the youthful athletics of the Chicago recordings. These blues swing so nice warm and easy, although some like his great recording of "The Saint Louis Blues" swing very hard. If you want to learn the basics of swing rhythm at a reasonable pace, I would advise listening to these recordings and trying to play along with them. (Of course, I would also recommend the great piano and rhythm section sides Basie cut to get out of his Decca Contract in the mid 1930s.)
There is something soooooo much more joyous about these recordings than any of Louis's recordings of these or similar tunes in the 1920s and 1930s. His voice and trumpet playing no longer strain but are sure of the mastery of the material. Both he and vocalist Velma Middleton seem to be really enjoying themselves with this material.
It must be stressed that Handy's real contribution was the combination of the Blues with the level of arrangement and composition that professional Black entertainers of his time--a time of a great explosion of both professional skill, knowledge, diversity of style, and polish--had obtained. His Blues including selections on this piece like "The St. Louis Blues" and "The Memphis Blues" and the immortal "Beale Street Blues" often combined Blues with all sorts of music popular at the time especially Ragtime, the reigning popular music of Handy's time in Memphis, with traces of Latin music like the habenero tango strain in the St Louis Blues. Yet, while quite willing to copyright these products of Black folk culture and create his own publishing business based on them (one of the first the realize the money in getting songs recorded as well as selling sheet music, Handy was insistent about the folk sources of his blues, as well as the fact that they were what Black folks demanded to dance to.
Getting Louis, himself a product of the generation that saw Jazz emerge as the child of the marriage of Blues and Ragtime given the tools of the high level of musicianship and formal musical knowledge consumated by Handy and his generation, to record these tunes was a stroke of Genius. You can hear Louis feeling happy and at home, but you can also hear a special reverence for the music, the time and the point of the music, as well how much BETTER the development of Jazz and Swing in the decades since Handy's days had made his ability to play these songs. It is no wonder that Handy himself cried tears of joy when he heard these recordings.
George Avakian who produced both the original recordings and the 1996 reissue on CD, spent about twenty years hunting down the best of the original recordings and takes, before rereleasing this really high quality recording.
A nice, wonderful, historic album that is pure joy and fun.