Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Armstrong Box

Back in the summertime, I wrote a long blog about Universal's beautiful 10-CD boxed set, "Satchmo: America's Musical Ambassador" (by the way, that box is officially SOLD OUT, but we have many copies left at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. Have you purchased your tickets to Corona, Queens yet???). I mentioned that the back half of the box served as a pretty nice soundtrack to my book, but I also threw out a hint that I had just finished working on a box for Storyville that would also serve as a perfect companion piece to the book, this time in terms of live recording. I promised to say more about it at a later date....and that later date is here at "The Armstrong Box" will be available and ready to ship this Tuesday! Here's the Amazon link:
The Armstrong Box

Titled simply "The Armstrong Box," it's the latest in Storyville's boxed set series where they've been packaging (and in some cases repackaging) many gems from their late founder Karl Emil Knudsen's massive collection into eight-disc, budget priced boxes (previous boxes have been devoted to Ellington, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and others). Storyville has been putting out Armstrong releases since the LP days and a lot of that old material is released in this set. But there's enough never-before-issued material to make it an essential purchase for the Armstrong nuts out there. And on a personal note, it features a 32-page-booklet with notes by yours truly, something I'm quite proud of as I practically learned the history of jazz through liner notes and boxed set booklets and it's always been a dream to get the chance to do one.

So what's in the box? Pretty much a representation of most (but not all....more in a minute) of the different incarnations of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars between 1947 and 1967. Yes, there's a lot of versions of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" but--as I've been trying to prove in my "Anatomy" series--plenty of different material from disc to disc. Here's brief snippets of what to expect:
*Louis leading an all star aggregation (not yet The All Stars) at the Winter Garden in June 1947, right after his triumph at Town Hall.
*A dynamite little broadcast featuring the All Stars at the BLue Note in Chicago in December 1948
*An entire disc--in gorgeous sound--of the Armstrong-Teagarden-Hines-Catlett All Stars at the Hollywood Empire in 1949
*A broadcast from the Club Hangover in San Francisco in 1954 featuring the edition of the group with Kenny John and Milt Hinton
*An ultra rare broadcast from American Legion Park in Ephrata, PA--the middle of nowhere--in August 1954.
*The Trummy Young-Barney Bigard-Billy Kyle-Arvell Shaw--Barrett Deems All Stars playing New Year's Eve 1955 in San Francisco.
*The Young-Edmond Hall-Kyle-Deems band doing an impromptu performance after being honored at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1955.
*The same group of Al Stars--my favorite edition--at Basin Street in New York in 1956
*The soundtrack of Louis's 1962 Goodyear Jazz Concert film
*A nearly complete performance from Nice, France on May 17, 1962, the great majority of it unissued and featuring Louis playing "Jazz Me Blues," a highlight of this period
*An All Stars concert in beautiful sound from Chicago in 1962
*An unissued concert featuring the final edition of the All Stars in Copenhagen on July 25, 1967 (Louis isn't in the greatest form on this one but it's heroic how he continues to push through it).

And on top of all of that, there's a 36-minute bonus DVD featuring some of Louis's finest moments from the 1950s "Timex All Star Jazz Shows" including some favorites I've shared here like "Muskrat Ramble," "Umbrella Man" (with Dizzy Gillespie) and star-studded versions of "St. Louis Blues" (a huge success) and "Perdido" (a fiasco that you can't quite stop watching).

And all of this material--plus my notes--can be yours for $64 if you order now! Wow, that sounds like a sales pitch but don't worry, I don't get a dime from the sales, I'm just excited for a new Louis Armstrong release (and it's lovely to look at, too).

But since I am me and hold everything, even projects I help with, to the highest standards (remember I criticized my own track selections on the Universal box?), I have a few niggling criticisms. There's a few discographical errors; Storyville has been saying for decades that the--live, mind you--versions of "Yellow Dog Blues" and "New Orleans Function" heard on disc four are from the same studio session as the Goodyear film, but they're not, they're clearly from the 1962 Chicago concert. The pianist from the 1954 San Francisco stuff is listed as "Unknown" but it's Billy Kyle, having just joined the band and not playing any of his set stuff yet. And don't let your eyes fool you when you see 26 selections listed for disc 7, then pop in the disc to only find 25; a numbering error on the back of the box skips the number 12 (it's correct in the booklet).

And though I'm proud of my notes, I will issue a little warn that that there are some typos and missed words throughout--not a surprise if you're used to my Norman Granz-style of blogging (one take and that's all, boys). I wasn't sure of how much to write so, typically, I wrote a mountain-load and didn't really proof it, sending it in to Storyville just to see if I was on the right track, fully expecting to edit it some more. But they thought it was fine and ran it as is without checking it over so I've seen some little mistakes and missed words that have made me cringe. A lesson learned for the future but I hope it doesn't spoil anyone's enjoyment of the notes.

Also, I did NOT do the track selection for this one; the box was formed and presented to me to write the notes on. Thus, there's a gap from 1956 to 1962 that I didn't quite agree with because Storyville owns so much material by the 1959 Peanuts Hucko-Trummy-Kyle-Mort Herbert-Danny Barcelona band and they could have easily cut out some of the 1962 stuff (which is a bit repetitive) to showcase that missing edition.

But then again, Storyville already put out one Louis-related box a few years ago, "Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia," which I have promoted on this blog almost from day one. That one was lovingly compiled by the late Gösta Hägglöf and features more great All Stars material from 1952 (the Bob McCracken edition, also not in "The Armstrong Box), 1955 and 1959. That box is also essential to understanding and appreciating the All Stars and can also be purchased very inexpensively from Amazon:
Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia

So "The Armstrong Box" is a wonderful set and you'll get to hear Pops through the years blowing like hell with a variety of musicians on a variety of songs (and the DVD is essential because sometimes you need to SEE Louis to really get the complete picture). This box, coupled with "Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia," is the ultimate way to experience the history of the All Stars and both can be picked up for a total of less than $100. What are you waiting for? Grab these wonderful sets and thank Storyville for doing so much to keep the music of Louis Armstrong's later years alive and well!

While prepping this blog, I got the notice that my friend, Armstrong discographer Jos Willems, passed away on November 1. I mentioned Jos numerous times over the years and his "All of Me" discography will remain the gold standard for such works on Louis (and he also was the one who alerted me about this Storyville box). I'll have more on Jos's passing next week but suffice to say, he will be missed and this blog and my book would not have been the same without the generous offerings he sent to me over the years. Thanks, Jos.


Larry said...

Ricky, thanks for the heads up on the box. I've just placed my order and am looking forward to hearing it and to reading your liner notes.


Unknown said...

Shame to hear of Mr. Willems death. I have a copy of "All Of Me" that I hold responsible for my new found obsession of collecting a copy of all of the recordings...oh boy.

Say hello to Louis Jos. I hope you enjoy the show.