I have been tinkering with this for a while – finding out whether living with one artist only, at least for a while, is feasible. Listening only to the chosen musician for, say, one month?
One might argue that there is no need for this, especially in the age of digital streaming and downloads. And maybe they are right, but could the same not be said about monogamy between persons in the age of dating platforms? Anyway, I want to give this a try and see what effect it might have.
Living with one musician only – but with whom would I want to spend a month of my life? This is the obvious next question. The advantage compared to person to person mating is that one can find out a lot in advance about the options. But still, better not to fall for the next love at first sight chart topper, but rather something with quality. Good that it does not take two here, the choice is entirely mine!
But actually, not much to contemplate here – Louis Armstrong it is!
Why Armstrong? No particular reason, I know it will be him. But here some arguments brought forward by other admirers:
If you listen to Louis Armstrong from 1929, you will never hear anything better than that really, and you will never hear anything more free than that. – Steve Lacy
The bottom line of every country is, “what did we contribute to the world? … We contributed Louis Armstrong.” – Tony Bennett
Louis Armstrong is the master of the jazz solo. He became the beacon, the light in the tower, that helped the rest of us navigate the tricky waters of jazz improvisation. – Ellis Marsalis
Armstrong is to music what Einstein is to physics and the Wright Brothers are to travel. – Ken Burns
(Armstrong was) the key creator of the mature working language of jazz. Three decades after his death and more than three-quarters of a century since his influence first began to spread, not a single musician who has mastered that language fails to make daily use, knowingly or unknowingly, of something that was invented by Louis Armstrong. – Dan Morgenstern – Oxford Companion to Jazz
You can’t play anything on a horn that Louis hasn’t played. – Miles Davis
So, here you go!
Ok, I have made up my mind. But now what? Two things to prepare for this special month. Firstly, read up on Armstrong – I want to know what character moves in for the next month. Given there are endless articles, posts, books and documentaries on him, it does not need this blog to add to the existing documentation.
Secondly, probably more important, and even more fun, is putting together a well sorted collection of his records. However, this is not quite an easy task, his discography is a mess. amazon.com returns over 4’000 hits on Louis Armstrong in CDs & Vinyl! Armstrong had been producing records over a very long period of time and with various labels. Going through it also requires digging through singles collections as this was the nature of music made before the fifties and even beyond. Although there are various “essential”, “best of”, etc compilations, probably the only one coming to close to being definitive is a 10-CD monolith titled Satchmo: Louis Armstrong, The Ambassador of Jazz.
But I am not keen on buying a 10-CD box and I do own some records already. Hence, I will go a different way – let’s figure out what in general are considered the essential Louis Armstrong records. Checking varous sources, I find a surprising consistency in recommendations, despite the vast and messy Armstrong catalogue. Dividing up Louis Armstrong’s work into 3 1/2 phases, this is what I found.
From his very early appearences as sideman (the “half phase”)
Here, two records came up in my research:
- King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – The Complete Set
- Lionel Hampton – Esquire Jazz Concert
From the early band leader era with the hot five and hot seven bands (roughly 1920’s)
There are hundreds of singles from that era – the long player did not exist then! Today, one can buy them in various compilations. They differ in the songs included as well as in the sound quality. Some include also recordings from the King Oliver phase, other later releases from the big band era. From what I read, the 4 CD set Hot 5’s and 7’s on JSP gives a complete view and has the best sound quality.
From the Big Band era (roughly 1930 – 47)
Here, a number of recommendations pop up:
- Big Band Sides (2 CDs on JSP)
- The complete RCA/Victor Recordings (4 CDs on RCA), there is also a “best of” version available as single CD
- The two records Rhythm Saved the World and Heartful of Rhythm from Decca / Verve
From the Allstars sexted era (from 1947 onwards)
Also Louis Armstrong needed to reduce the size of his combo as running a Big Band had become too expensive. With his Allstars he was constantly touring and it was the time he earned his “Ambassador Satch” surname.
Satch plays Fats (Pure Pleasure LP) is a must have from that era. It goes very well together with Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Pure Pleasure LP).
If you can find it, respectively afford it, the 4-CD box California Concerts has a good reputation as well.
Not really an Allstars production, but rather a trio recording with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald is Louis and Ella (Verve). This record should actually feature in every collection, independently of style and age! Louis Armstrong meets Oscar Peterson is obviously another cooperation with Peterson and worth adding to your Armstrong collection.
Often mentioned in my sources are also the following two productions, which are both indeed special. The first one is Armstrong’s Allstars encounter with Duke Ellington taking place in 1960. There are various releases labelled The Great Summit or The Great Reunion, but Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington (Roulette, Blue Note or MFSL) is certainly a good selection. Then there is Dave Brubeck’s high-concept jazz musical The Real Ambassadors from 1963.
If you want records from the very late Armstrong, don’t forget to add What a Wonderful World, his last hit album. Hello Dolly, which includes the same name no. 1 hit topping the Beatles, can be an alternative.
I am sure some of you will have other records you would add to the above list. So do I, Louis Armstrong Live in Zurich, Switzerland, 1949 – for patriotic reasons.
So, here I am, all prepped, nervous but ready to head straight into my month with Louis!