April 1999

Louis Armstrong
An American Icon
Hip-O Records

This is a delightful collection of 60 recordings made between 1946 and 1954 and drawn from no less than ten different record labels. The selection by George Avakian, who wrote most of the accompanying 48-page booklet and produced some of the great sides, is astute and interesting. The big hits, like "Mack the Knife" and "Hello, Dolly" are here, of course, but so are such outstanding performances by the All Stars as "That's for Me," "You Can Depend on Me," "Hesitating Blues" and "Rockin' Chair." From a strictly jazz point of view, and given the availability of live recordings, almost as good a set could be made entirely of All-Star material, but it would not have the variety of this one, nor show to such advantage Armstrong's extraordinary adaptability. Of the studio bands, those led by Sy Oliver for Decca's Milt Gabler were particularly successful. As a trumpet player himself-and as a singer and arranger, too-Oliver was ideally suited for tasks that were virtually labors of love.

There are four tracks from the 1961 Roulette session with Duke Ellington, two from the 1946 Victor date with Vic Dickenson, a half-dozen from the period when Earl Hines and Jack Teagarden were among the All Stars, and a couple of dozen with the trombone in the redoubtable Trummy Young's hands.

But it would be wrong to dwell too much on the instrumental side, because the sublime trumpet is matched by singing on proven jazz standards and very unlikely song vehicles, too. There haven't been many truly great jazz singers, male or female, but there is undeniable proof here that Armstrong was the greatest of all.

Originally published in April 1999
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