Friday, December 07, 2012

Satchmo at Symphony Hall - 65th Anniversary: The Complete Recordings

It was 65 odd years ago that the great Louis Armstrong in May, 1947 did his first small group performance in many years at New York City’s Town Hall. The performance was such a success and combined with the fact that Armstrong’s Big Band was struggling, he disbanded his band band a month later. After performing with his new small group at Billy Berg’s in Hollywood, he came to Boston’s Symphony Hall in November, 1947 for a performance that would be recorded and be celebrated when it was initially issued on two LPs a few years later. Hip-O-Select has just released Satchmo at Symphony Hall - 65th Anniversary: The Complete Recordings, which includes several previously unissued performances and several performances unedited for the first time.

Armstrong and the All Stars included in addition to the leaders’ trumpet and singing, Jack Teagarden on trombone and vocals, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Dick Cary on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and Big Sid Catlett on drums. Velma Middleton was also on vocals. The music here was in the format that Armstrong would employ leading groups for the rest of his life and while personnel would change (Catlett would pass away around the time of the original release of this material in 1951). 

Included are two sets of music totaling about two hours. Both sets open with abbreviated renditions of Armstrong’s theme, When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, and close with short treatments of I Got a Right to Sing the Blues, associated with Teagarden. Listening to the first CD, one is treated to a rousing Muskrat Ramble, followed by the poignant song about racism (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blues. After taking us to Chicago on Royal Garden Blues, Teagarden is showcased for Lover and Stars Fell on Alabama with a nice vocal from Mr. T. A couple vocals from Velma Middleton include a take on Buddy Johnson’s Since I Fell For You, followed by Bigard features on Tea For Two and Body and Soul. Armstrong then takes a traditional blues Back O’Town Blues, a staple still of New Orleans bands today that is followed by a showcase for Catlett’s spectacular stick work, Steak Face.

The second set displays a similar variety of material as Armstrong opens with old favorites of his including Mahogany Hall Stomp, On the Sunny Side of the Street and the parade classic High Society. Teagarden was always at home with the blues and does a nice version on St. James Infirmary, while Velma Middleton’s Velma Blues is a mix of traditional lyrics. Its followed by her taking the initial vocal on That’s My Desire before Armstrong joins in for some fun. Bigard is featured on C Jam Blues, while bassist Shaw is spotlighted on How High the Moon. Catlett again gets to display his showmanship and deft drumming on Mop Mop although one can hear him failing to catch one of his sticks as it crashes into the stage. The last number of the performance (before the closing theme) is the previously unissued Jack Armstrong Blues that the two had recorded originally on a V-Disc. In addition to the two swapping lyrics, there was some spectacular playing by both here.

While there is occasional noise from the source material, sound is generally quite good. This is packaged in a small hardback with the accompanying booklet including the original 1951 notes as well as the more recent observations (including how this reissue came about) from Ricky Riccardi who is the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. This is one of the classic traditional jazz recordings and one of the most legendary performances of Armstrong’s career which thankfully is finally available in a complete issue.

The record company sent me the review copy. Here is video of a later edition of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars.

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