Back in the early twentieth century, a young composer by the name of W.C Handy was busy creating Blues with seminal songs such as St Louis Blues, made into a smash hit by Bessie Smith. At around the same time, a young cornet player by the name of Louis Armstrong was setting about redefining jazz. And when a trumpet player was required for Bessie Smith's recording of St Louis Blues, it was Armstrong who did the honours (for all you trivia lovers).
Wind forward thirty years. The two young men are now respected father figures in blues and jazz. Handy was one of the world's most successful blues composers, and Armstrong was the most famous and influential trumpet player in the history of jazz. Then someone at Columbia had the inspired idea of getting Armstrong and his all stars to record an album of Handy's songs. And to make it special, Handy was invited along to the recording (though he didn't feature on the original album).
The album belongs to Louis, with his great trumpet and vocals, though there are notable contributions from Armstrong stalwarts Velma Middleton on vocals and Trummy Young on Trombone. And, of course, none of it would have been possible without Handy's rather important contribution.
The musicians obviously have a great respect for the music, and, more importantly, seem to be having a great time playing it. This translates to us having a great time listening to it. We get loving, swinging treatments of classic blues tunes, St Louis Blues, Loveless Love, Long Gone, Beale Street, etc, etc. The band swings and mesh together beautifully. And Louis pulls out all the stops to turn in what has to be one of the finest performances he committed to record, probably spurred on by having the great man himself listening in.
This album has been nicely remastered to give a good clear sound, with every musician's contribution nice and clear and easy to hear. Also included are some interesting alternative takes, and the crowning glory, a newly discovered interview with Handy, where he talks about his impressions of Armstrong. The liner notes are informative, and there are some nice photographs.
An excellent presentation of a classic album. 5 stars, unhesitatingly. Recommended to fans of swinging jazz and blues. If you like this, check out the equally great `Satch Plays Fats', Louis next album where he pays tribute to Fats Waller