There has never been a more globally beloved figure from the world of jazz than Louis "Pops/Satchmo" Armstrong. His influence on the development of both jazz and American popular music is indisputably unparalleled. A lesser-known and disturbing fact is that for the last 30 years of his life he was under attack by many critics and musicians as irrelevant, under-achieving and too heavily focused on commercial success. Now, Mosaic Records offers clear testimony to the inaccuracy and injustice of those characterizations with its spectacular Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and The All Stars. A nine-disc set covering the years 1947-1958, these wonderful recordings provide crystal-clear evidence of Louis' profound artistry and majestic audience appeal from the most meaningful platform of musical scrutiny - the bandstand.
"This LP sets focuses on the complete performances by Louis Armstrong and his All Stars at the third and fifth Newport Jazz Festivals, which are two of the linchpins from our larger CD edition," says Mosaic Records co-founder, Michael Cuscuna. "Although tracks have been parceled out over the years, this 2014 set will finally present these excellent performances in the entirety and in performance order, giving us a healthy portion of previously unissued music by Louis with Trummty Young, Edmond Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett and Billy Kyle."
Mosaic is not only known for assembling collections of vitally important music by many of jazz' most immortal and influential figures, but also of establishing historical accuracy and edification of the true import of America's only indigenous art form. This set - a 12-year slice of his creative output on the worldwide stage - shows the peerless Pops to be fully in the forefront of jazz at its jubilant, transcendent and irresistible best on nearly 163 tracks of both his most popular songs along with many that are far less familiar.
Performing over 300 shows a year throughout these years (and most of his life), it's very fortunate that the performances offered here were recorded for posterity. Most of this can be attributed to the legendary producer George Avakian - to whom this set has been dedicated - who is responsible for nearly 70% of the material contained here. As his exclusive producer at Columbia from when Louis joined the label in 1955, George implemented the latest technological advances, which enhanced the material for both artist and label. But that sometimes demanded editing and altering the music for best commercial appeal. Mosaic has restored all of the concert recordings to their purest essence, demonstrating all of the fire and raw creativity of the music exactly as the screaming and stomping audiences heard it over 50 years ago. And as a gigantic bonus, there are 75 tracks being released for the very first time.
The set begins with the scintillating 1947 concert at New York's Town Hall, which dramatically altered Louis' live performance format to the one that would remain intact for the rest of his life. Eschewing his 16-piece big band for a smaller, more au courant ensemble, The All Stars were born. In this incarnation it was the remarkable assemblage of Jack Teagarden on trombone, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, pianist Dick Cary, bassist Bob Haggart and two alternating drummers - George Wettling and "Big" Sid Catlett - on 20 tracks of pure joy.
A newfound gem is the 1947 Carnegie Hall concert, which sat improperly labeled in RCA's vaults for over half a century, is issued here for the very first time. Some 90 minutes of material was preserved - 18 brilliant tracks, also featuring Teagarden, Cary and Catlett, but this time with the eminent Barney Bigard on clarinet, the big bass sound of Arvell Shaw and the addition of vocalist Velma Middleton.
The Avakian sessions comprise the rest of the set. Adding a new nickname to Louis' already impressive array of monikers, Ambassador Satch was bestowed - a fitting name for the man who had become the world's foremost representative of American jazz and music in the 1950s. Performances from Amsterdam and Milan featured the new All Stars of Trummy Young on trombone, Edmond Hall on clarinet, pianist Billy Kyle and drummer Barrett Deems, along with Shaw and Middleton. The Milan performance was recorded in a theater in front of a small invited audience. The original release included fake applause, which has been removed so that only the wild response of the actual audience is heard, genuinely enhancing the immediacy of the live concert.
Three U.S. concerts are also included. The Great Chicago Concert from 1956 has been out of print for a long time, but is available again here - with additional material, fully restored and unedited (Dale Jones replaces Arvell Shaw). Two Newport Jazz Festival performances from 1956 and 1958 are here, uncut and including 28 tracks that have never been released. The 1958 concert reunited Louis with Teagarden, Hucko and cornetist Bobby Hackett, plus a most interesting item of Louis fronting The International Youth Band.
A Los Angeles studio date is included here because it was originally released as a live concert. It's a fascinating set of unedited versions of popular songs that provides an unusual and intimate glimpse of how Louis and The All Stars developed and refined their material.
There are other very special and inclusions - two never-before released tracks recorded in Ghana, one with local musicians, singers and dancers; an unreleased track from a London concert; a great version of Mack the Knife from Carnegie Hall; an interview of Louis by Edward R. Murrow that aired on the television show See It Now; another interview by Avakian, and a most remarkable item featuring Leonard Bernstein in rehearsal and performance at a 1956 Lewisohn Stadium concert with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic - including three passes at St. Louis Blues, Bernstein chatting up the audience and Pops playing encore after encore to keep the fans happy - a real treasure that adds special luster to this wonderful collection.
But above all else, Louis' consummate artistry on his horn, the brilliance of his most singular sound, the unique infectiousness and impeccable phrasing of his luminous vocal style and the utterly irresistible appeal of one of the most delightful human beings to ever walk the earth is brought to the listener with the clarity and depth that is the hallmark of Mosaic Records. There is nothing like undiluted live performance to truly convey the heart and soul of the jazz artist, succinctly stated by Louis himself: "So, whatever they're going to say about Louis Armstrong, all they say is, 'He blows like hell every time he hits that stand.'"
As always, the striking Mosaic black and white packaging further enhances the total experience. Ricky Riccardi, the archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and one of the world's foremost Armstrong experts has written an extremely enlightening and comprehensive essay. A precisely researched new discography finally clears up the confusion and inaccuracy about these dates. And in the classic Mosaic tradition, there are many outstanding vintage photographs from Louis' exalted career.
Of course, Mosaic's commitment to provide the finest audio quality is front and center on every track, under the guidance of co-producer Scott Wenzel, who summarizes this set most aptly: "The Armstrong magnetism hardly ever wavered through the years and these live performances that had him back in the driver's seat with a small group bear out the verve and genius of this great man."