This project may have been inspired by Bing Crosby's earlier Musical Autobiography, but it's closer in spirit to Jelly Roll Morton's Library of Congress recordings. Seven recording sessions took place during December 1956 and January 1957, under the supervision of Milt Gabler, to produce four LPs in a presentation box. Previous CD reissues have presented the output in three separate CDs, but Avid has opted for its normal format of 2-CD sets. The first 2-CD set contains the equivalent of six LP sides (and Ricky Riccardi's illuminating liner note), and the remaining two LP sides are carried on the first CD of the second set, with "Satchmo Plays King Oliver" and "Louis and The Good Book" filling the second CD. Most prospective purchasers will want to buy both sets, for which reason I've written a composite review.
This was an opportunity for Louis to revisit his formative years and he grasped it with both hands. His enjoyment is palpable, in both his spoken introductions and the zest with which he tore into numbers he'd participated in (as a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, the Red Onion Jazz Babies, and Clarence Williams Blue Five), acted as accompanist (most famously with Bessie Smith, whose vocals were taken by Velma Middleton), or fronted as soloist. Arranging duties were split between bassist Bob Haggart, who dealt with the small group numbers, and Sy Oliver, who tackled the big band numbers (that is, from "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" onwards).
Louis was supported by his All Stars line-up of the time, that is Trummy Young, Edmond Hall, Billy Kyle (whose background piano was dubbed over Louis' spoken introductions to each number), Squire Gersh and Barrett Deems. That nucleus was augmented as required, mainly by saxes and guitar, and Avid is to be commended for the clarity with which that shifting personnel has been annotated. They laid down a total of 43 new performances, and five earlier recordings were interpolated. The result is a triumph, with Louis in his mid-fifties proving that he was playing and singing with as much conviction as ever.
Given the breadth of this compilation there are relatively few tracks that fail to hit the spot, and they are mainly confined to the twenties material. Velma Middleton's vocals suffer from lack of a blues flavour, and the rendition of "Potato Head Blues" fails to capture the majesty of the original. The one surprising omission is "West End Blues" which recording is regarded as Louis' crowning achievement. That said, what's here is an unmitigated delight, and Louis' essential goodness, both as artist and human being, shines through.
The Musical Autobiography concludes approximately two-thirds of the way through the third disc, the remainder of which is filled by alternate takes of the first six tracks of the King Oliver album, and the opening number from The Good Book, which two albums complete the fourth CD. The Good Book album was recorded in early 1958 with the All Stars and the Sy Oliver Choir & Orchestra (Sy also provided the arrangements). The tunes are mostly spirituals, which Louis sings entirely naturally, occasionally lapsing into a conversational style, or picking up the tune on his horn. The Oliver album dates from the fall of 1959, and followed earlier albums devoted to W.C. Handy and Fats Waller respectively. In terms of title it's something of a misnomer, since it includes only two compositions by Oliver; of the others two were more closely associated with Morton and one with Bessie Smith, whilst several were recorded by Louis after he left the Creole Jazz Band. But no matter, because what's here is an affectionate recollection of the music scene in New Orleans during Papa Joe's time there, which supplements the Musical Autobiography.
The sound quality of these two complementary sets is excellent. They should appeal not just to Louis' many fans, but to all those who appreciate heart-warming jazz, played with passion.
on 2 April 2016
Not a bad track or a false note in the whole fifty-five track-list. Stunning collection of Louis at his peak, crammed with classics. Swing Low Sweet Chariot is my favourite of the whole glorious bunch. In fact 'Louis And The Good Book' is, to an agnostic, a revelation! Satchmo delivers a gospel of the most genial kind, with the great Sy Oliver's choral and jazz arrangements a knockout.
Originally issued as a four vinyl disc box-set, this anthology recorded in seven sessions during late 1956/early 1957 follows a similar format to the earlier Decca project which honoured the recording career of Bing Crosby. Fifty-five year-old Louis speaks about his life and career between the forty-three performances waxed specially for the project and augmented by a few earlier recordings
Previous CD reissues have opted for presentation on three discs but Avid has combined the equivalent of six vinyl sides onto the first CD with the remaining two sides featured on the second CD set with its remainder augmented by the 1959 album, SATCHMO PLAYS KING OLIVER (including alternate takes) and LOUIS AND THE GOOD BOOK - the latter an album of mostly spirituals recorded by Satchmo the previous year with his All Stars; aided by the Sy Oliver Orchestra and Choir with the arrangements ensuring a jointly shared powerful atmosphere.
Not only a historical recording by one of the Twentieth Century's jazz/pop giants but an entertaining meander through Satchmo's amazing career. Avid's remastering is amazing; Ricky Riccardi's original liner notes informative and it hardly needs to be said that any purchaser will need both sets for completion and maximum enjoyment.
on 5 June 2014
If you're a fan/devotee of Louis Armstrong, this CD set is well worth acquiring for his reinterpretation of standards, many of which he made standards. The beauty is in the details, hearing how this great melodic interpreter chooses to play moment by moment.
If you are not already an Armstrong devotee, you'd do better with either "Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy", or his similarly titled album of Fats Waller compositions. Or you could explore his "Hot Five" and "Hot Seven" recordings, and his first big band releases, from the late twenties into the early thirties, when he changed the tone and conception of American music forever.