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Louis Armstrong: Satch Plays Fats

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Satch Plays Fats is rightfully judged, along with Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy, as of one of the two most compelling albums that the Armstrong All-Stars recorded for Columbia. This updated reissue of the 1955 album offers the edited alternate takes of “Black and Blue,” “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” “Blue Turning Grey Over You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.” For further comparison, completing the package are seven 1929 to 1932 recordings of Armstrong performing five of the tunes he reprised on Satch Plays Fats, as well as the two other Waller compositions, “Sweet Savannah Sue” and “That Rhythm Man.” Of the extra tracks, only “Squeeze Me” is duplicated on the recently reissued Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings.

At this time, the All-Stars included the magnificent New Orleans clarinetist Barney Bigard, swing trombonist Trummy Young and the rhythm team of pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Arvell Shaw and drummer Barrett Deems. Joining the band on “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Squeeze Me” and “All that Meat and No Potatoes” is Louis’ comedic foil, vocalist Velma Middleton, while Young, a gifted swing singer in his own right, is heard scatting fill-ins to Armstrong’s vocal on the master take of “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling.”

Though criticized for his showmanship by a handful of New Orleans jazz purists, there is no denying the still vital potency of Armstrong’s trumpet playing here, however less daring it may appear in comparison with his groundbreaking work decades before. Although his singing has always been regarded as a paragon of emotive expressiveness, hearing him address this talent on such superior material as Waller’s is a special treat. In concert, Louis would customarily feature his sidemen on showcases of their own, but that is not the case here; the special nature of the album’s theme required Armstrong’s dominating presence throughout.