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Louis Armstrong: Wintergarden, 1947; Blue Note, 1948

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These illustrate three phases of the All Stars and make an excellent supplement to Victor’s splendid, recent four-CD set. The Storyville disc contains two broadcasts, on each of which Jack Teagarden is agreeably prominent as trombonist and vocalist. The supporting 1947 group consists of sympathetic white musicians like Bobby Hackett and Peanuts Hucko, with Sidney Catlett taking a spectacular solo in a guest spot on “Tiger Rag.” He also plays on the more casual 1948 broadcast from Chicago, when the All Stars were probably at their strongest, thanks to Barney Bigard on clarinet and Earl Hines on piano. The latter is featured-and backed encouragingly by the three horns-on a boogied “St. Louis Blues.” Fred Robbins and Dave Garroway are respectively the tiresome announcers, and both verge on the patronizing in their references to Armstrong, who was in good form. “Muskrat Ramble” and “Basin Street Blues” are on each broadcast, and they’re considerably different!

The circumstances of the 1956 Chicago concert are described at length in the notes by George Avakian and Dan Morgenstern. By this time the All Stars had been transformed, most notably by Trummy Young and his trombone. Ed Hall was on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Dale Jones on bass, Barrett Deems on drums, and Velma Middleton was assistant vocalist. It has always seemed to me that Teagarden’s fans were reluctant, however understandably, to credit Trummy Young for his tremendous contribution. Armstrong certainly appreciated him as a pillar of strength and loyalty. Trummy could sing, too, and does so on “Margie” and “Rockin’ Chair.” Billy Kyle’s full potential, in my opinion, was seldom realized with Armstrong. He settled for security primarily as a first-class accompanist. He long had an open invitation to record as a soloist from Milt Gabler, or so he told me. If accused of laziness, he would merely smile his big Kyle smile. The acquisition of Ed Hall further indicates the importance Armstrong attached to the clarinet’s role, one also fulfilled by Bigard, Hucko and Buster Bailey. A position with Armstrong was regarded as an honor by most musicians, but a certain independence from Joe Glaser’s tilings is shown in the choice of the best available clarinet players.

Good sidemen notwithstanding, Armstrong’s own personal magic-trumpet and vocal-is what most commands the attention, beginning immediately with his immensely moving statement of the funeral piece, “Flee As a Bird to the Mountain.” The mono recording in Chicago’s Medina Temple (“20 Bit Remastered,” whatever that means!) is often curiously satisfying, as though you were in the place, but not necessarily in the front row. “West End Blues,” for example, opens with the boss too far from the mike, but then Young jumps in for a chorus and it builds to a strong climax. Remakes of this kind seldom equal classic originals, but they are fascinating nonetheless. It is followed triumphantly by “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.” There are a lot of other goodies in a thoroughly representative program that runs nearly two hours and includes three previously unissued items.