Music Reviews

Louis Armstrong

The Best of Louis Armstrong

Vanguard

Louis Armstrong remains in the eyes of many to be the predominant figure in the history of jazz, ranking right up there (if not a hair above) giants such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie. But what is most impressive about Armstrong, besides his overall impact of the music form he helped create, was his incredible staying power.

His periods were many: the innovative solo trumpeter while leading the Hot Five and Hot Seven combos during the 1920s, the big band days of the ’30s, and his sextet work in the ’40s and ’50s, with his vocal work laced throughout and beyond. One wonders when he ever really faded.

That is no more evident than on Vanguard’s first-time, two-CD release of this 1976 recording, The Best of Louis Armstrong, pulled from his performance at the Palais de Sports in Paris in 1965. This is the lion in winter, and Armstrong barely seems to have lost a step as he rips through 26 songs featuring (of course) many of his popular tunes – as trumpeter, bandleader, and vocalist.

Despite his advanced age – Armstrong died in 1971 at the age of 71 – Armstrong’s solo work was no less inspired, and even though his trademark gravelly voice had become even more weathered over the years, he still knew how to respect the tunes he sang. Love overcame any technical dips (and besides, people loved hearing Armstrong’s voice regardless).

His rapport with the audience is unmistakable, with fans roaring after anything from the opener, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” to the massive hit “Hello, Dolly,” in which “Satchmo’s” trumpeting work glides seamlessly in between his famous lines.

But Armstrong was certainly not alone at this performance, leading an impeccable nine-piece that included stellar piano work from Billy Kyle (“When I Grow Too Old to Dream”) and Mary Napoleon and Eddie Shuree, though I’m not sure which one provided the beautiful dancing notes on “On the Alamo.”

Yes, you get the hits like “Hello, Dolly” and “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home,” as well as classic reworkings of “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Volare,” “Mack the Knife,” “Cabaret,” and a brilliant medley, “Tenderly/You’ll Never Walk Alone/Mop Mop (Boff Boff).” But you also get strong improvisations of “Blueberry Hill,” “It’s Easy to Remember,” and “Teach Me Tonight.”

Not as all-encompassing (or studio-driven) as a true “Best of” might be, The Best of Louis Armstrong shows a portrait of the artist as an old man, and seemingly no worse for wear. Vanguard Recording Society, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404


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