This superb 4 CD set is a must for every jazz lover.Fifty six tunes recorded in two different live settings: the first 18 tunes were recorded at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium,January 30,1951,and the next 41 tunes at the Crescendo Club,Hollywood,January 21,1955.Ol' Satch is in top form in these concerts,and brings you sometimes into some unusual repertoire.
The Pasadena concert will let you listen to an amazing group,composed of Louis,the magnificent Jack Teagarden on trombone and vocals,the somptuous ex-Ellingtonian clarinet player,Barney Bigard,the greatest of all jazz piano players (yes indeed,he's my man),Earl Hines,the implacable drummer,the immense Cozy Cole,the young but talented Arvell Shaw on bass,who died a few months ago,and Velma Middleton on vocals.Here are some very great moments of music: "Back o'town blues",with some impressive trumpet parts and vocals by Louis,and marvelous playing by Bigard and Tea;maybe this version doesn't reach the unsurpassed level of the Town Hall concert,but gee!!! how does it swing!!! "Bugle blues",or "Bugle call rag",a showpiece for Cozy Cole;a beautiful composition by Louis,"Someday" ;Hines' "my Monday date" and "you can depend on me";and good vocal efforts by Miss Middleton on "Big daddy blues" and "Baby it's cold outside";this very big girl could really sing and swing,even if some "critics" think she was unable to.
The next concert,recorded four years later,will let you listen by Satch in a more relaxed setting,a club performance,with Bigard,Shaw,Trummy Young on trombone,Billy Kyle on piano (a Hnies' disciple),and Barrett Deems on drums,and honest drums player,but who surely couldn't revalize with Cozy Cole.Indeed,he does a rather correct job here.Louis swings into some unusual tunes,like "me and brother Bill",a tune he recorded only once,some twenty years before,or "when you're smiling" (even if this tune was one of his hits since the early thirties,he rarely played it),or the Louis Jordan-like "t'ain't what you do",the rare Cole Porter's tune,"don't fence me in",the memories of the old roaring twenties,"struttin' with some barbecue" (meaning something like "walking with a nice girl"), and "big butter and egg man",and the superb "old man Mose",recorded only once at the end of the thirties.
The relaxed mood of this club setting seems to give more freedom to Satch;this fifty five old man ,full of glory ,the n°1 musician of the 20th century feels free to swing like he rarely did on stage at this time.Listen to his background trumpet behind Velma Middleton's vocals on "don't fence me in";(and I still say that this lady CAN SWING,the proof is here).Listen to his incredibly relaxed vocal on the same piece;listen to the gospel medley,"Shadrack/When the saints...",prefiguring the imperial "Goodbook" sessions,here are some very swinging moments.And how difficult it must have been,even fifty years ago,to make a tune like "when the saints" swing!!!
Here is another version of the very great "back o'town blues",a real jewell in the history of jazz;still not the greatest (the Town Hall version),and Teagarden isn't here,but a very great moment of trumpet playing,and a very great moment of singing.Seems to me like Armstrong was the freer of all jazz players,from Joplin to Ayler.I mean,he invented everything between 1923 and 1930,and nobody could go farther than him.No one player,as talented as he was,or is,could surpass Louis or Duke.They did everything before anyone.The two versions of "Old man Mose" are terrific moments of swing: this is surprising that Armstrong played again this tune (he only recorded it once at the end of the thirties).This here is really swing!!!
Now,let's summ up: if you're ready to buy your first record by Armstrong,start with "Louis Armstrong plays W.C.Handy",or the "Hot Five and Hot Sevens",or "Satch play Fats";but if you already own one of these,jump to this one,here are some marvels you won't suspect.This four CD set is a real treasure!!!