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Benny Bailey: The Satchmo Legacy

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To label the collective performance on this CD as The Satchmo Legacy is to put forth the boldest of claims ever. It is as if to suggest that Louis Armstrong’s vast contributions to musical expression can be summed up in less than an hour by Benny Bailey, a trumpeter who, in his own words, came relatively late in his 75 years to an appreciation of this nonpareil, innovative, motivating force in 20th-century music. As a matter of fact, it was producer Scott Johnson who first exposed the longtime expatriate bop trumpeter to recordings of Louis and suggested the theme for this tribute.

This is not to say that Bailey was the wrong man for the job, but only that a crash course in stylistic retooling is hardly the best way to prepare for a record date. Although supported by pianist John Bunch, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Grady Tate, good mainstreamers all, Bailey still sounds at remote distance from such classic themes as “West End Blues” and “Basin Street Blues,” which demand a combination of heroic majesty, emotional honesty and rhythmic subtlety not usually associated with this puckish, flamboyant player.

True, there are moments when Bailey, once the high-note specialist with the internationally acclaimed Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band of the ’60s, reveals an affection for the burred tones of Roy Eldridge, but elsewhere he lapses into self-parodic, almost corny, syncopated staccato, a sure sign of either the uncommitted or the unstudied. However, his infectious vocals on “Pennies From Heaven” and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” do serve to mitigate, if not entirely justify, the pretentiousness of the disc’s title and the trumpeter’s less tasteful moments elsewhere.