Louis Armstrong: The Complete RCA Victor Recordings

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: RCA Victor Jazz Classics
PERFORMER: Louis Armstrong (t, v), with various big bands and small groups
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68682 2

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This fine boxed set documents Armstrong’s work at two crucial points in his career. The first two CDs cover the period December 1932 to December 1933, when he was fronting big bands and consolidating his reputation with long trips to Britain and Europe, but was also at the mercy of managers who had little understanding of his artistic quality. The third and fourth discs cover 1946-7, when he was phasing out his big band work to form an all-star sextet.

By the end of the Thirties, Armstrong’s influence was so pervasive that the world must have looked like a hall of mirrors to him, but in the early years of the decade, his role was ambivalent. He was the most inspirational figure in jazz, a trumpeter of unsurpassed majesty with a huge, glowing sound, monumentally sculpted phrases and a vaulting imagination, but he was also a charismatic singer and entertainer, and it was these latter roles which his managers wanted to promote.

On the first two CDs, the entertainer predominates, but even so, Armstrong’s marvellous warmth, his sense of time and sheer swing are a joy. Armstrong the serious (but not solemn) artist is very much in evidence in the 1946-7 sessions, and the third CD begins with a band which includes Johnny Hodges, either Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn on piano and the great tenor saxophonist Don Byas.

Two compositions by the critic and pianist Leonard Feather were recorded, the second, the beboppish ‘Snafu’, with a magnificent Armstrong trumpet solo. Later, his Hot Seven includes Feather on piano for two blues performances, ‘Blues for Yesterday’ and ‘Blues in the South’. Armstrong sings these with profound feeling and there are deeply felt choruses by clarinettist Barney Bigard and trombonist Vic Dickerson.

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The final CD also has Armstrong in glorious form with various small groups and a version of his All Stars which includes jazz giants Jack Teagarden, Bigard and Armstrong’s favourite drummer, Big Sid Catlett. The accompanying booklet contains historical photographs and detailed booklet notes by Dan Morgenstern. IC