There’s a long and tortured trail that led me to the review of this boxed set from Time Life. Let’s just say it involved a simple question at an Angels/White Sox game that involved the 5 greatest songs ever. Flushed by a Sox lead (and a few beers), “What a Wonderful World” was way up there on my list. Karma rules…so now here’s the review.
Let’s start by saying, unequivocally, Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential jazz musicians over the course of a long and storied career beginning in the twenties with Joe Oliver and the Creole Jazz Band up to his death in 1971. He helped transform jazz from a regional dance form to a popular art form, both through his trumpet playing in the early stages of his career and his signature vocal delivery. It was his voice that hooked me with his cover of a Broadway tune, “Hello Dolly”. Not an easy feat at the time, given my complete immersion in folk-rock.
The set represents a comprehensive overview of Armstrong’s career---2 CDs (there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the sequences...although it’s loosely compiled in reverse chronological order. Note: a list of musicians performing on the CD cuts would have been helpful, but more importantly, would have provided a deeper insight as to the caliber of the jazz greats that Louis played and recorded with.
The DVD gives us that glimpse…clips with George Shearing, Gerry Mulligan, Lionel Hampton, Bing Crosby. “St Louis Blues” has a great scene when Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole face off as the tempo increases. Understandably, the DVD has more footage from the fifties and sixties television. At this stage in his career, Armstrong wasn’t an innovator. Instead he could be considered an ambassador for Jazz. The 1930s section shows Armstrong at his creative peak---sound quality isn’t the best, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t profess to be a jazz expert, but this boxed set doesn’t have a weak cut in the mix. Standout cuts:
What a Wonderful World
Nobody Knows (the trouble I’ve seen)
Yellow Dog Blues
I Can’t Give you Anything but Love
When The Saints Go Marchin’ In (great version on the DVD as well)
This boxed set provides some insight into what made Armstrong such a charismatic performer throughout his career. His voice had the feel of swallowed razor blades, but his delivery was superb…the line form “Wonderful World”…
“I hear babies crying…I’ve watched them grow…they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know…and I think to myself, what a wonderful world”…without a doubt, one of the greatest lines ever written.
This boxed set is an outstanding summary of Satchmo’s career. His legacy can be traced to many of the jazz icons of the 50’s and 60’s. For the Harry Potter fans…Armstrong’s “Muggles” (sadly, not included in this collection) was an early reference to marijuana…a substance that Louis had a lifelong fondness for.