Friday, September 26, 2014


Over at The New Yorker this week, Richard Brody shared his list of Perfect Jazz Recordings. It's a a good list, but like all lists, no one's going to agree with all of it. There's plenty to agree with but of course, plenty that also, for the sake of a tamer phase, inspires discussion.

For one thing, Brody's 66 choices are all pre-1973...but only a small amount are from the pre-bop era. He admits this up front: "Idiom: bebop and after. I've noticed a preponderance of performances from the mid-forties onward." Well, duh. The majority of jazz fans still believe that the music didn't start getting good until Charlie Parker came on the scene (most young jazz musicians feel the same way). I've vented about this for years so it's not worth going to town on it again. I did unload on this on my Facebook page recently and it's worth repeating that when Lester Young died in 1959, Ralph J. Gleason wrote, "[Young] was one of the three great instrumental soloists in jazz who changed the course of this music--the other two, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker." Sounds right to me. Yet, of those three, Bird is the only one who is still worshipped and treated as The Creator. Parker was a genius and I love him but he spent his formative years studying Armstrong ("West End Blues" cadenza) and Young ("Shoe Shine Boy") solos until he could incorporate them into his playing. But today, countless musicians learn their Omnibook solos in every key and can't talk about Pops or Pres to save their lives. Brody's list just follows the trend.

He does have a possible explanation: "I think it's because of the liberated role of the drum in bebop and post-bop eras." Right. Sid Catlett, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Baby Dodds, Paul Barbarin, Zutty Singleton, Chick Webb, Alvin Burroughs and other greats were simply human metronomes, just waiting for Max Roach to teach them to drop a bomb and liberate themselves. 

But again, with these picked nits aside, I can't argue with Brody's choices as there's lots of great music on that list. But what of Louis Armstrong, you say? Yeah, he's there. One selection. "Potato Head Blues." Of course, a common choice. But that's it. John Kirby's on there twice (go Billy Kyle!) but Pops is one and done.

However, it's not like everyone else got lots and lots of selections; Brody does try to be balanced so other, later greats like Parker, Coltrane and Davis only have two apiece (tied with John Kirby!). But it did get me thinking. If someone asked me to create a list of "perfect" jazz recordings, first, there'd be a lot of names missing here--Bobby Hackett, Roy Eldridge, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Jack Teagarden, Erroll Garner, etc. But what about Louis? I could list 66 perfect Louis Armstrong recordings and not even touch the surface.

Oh, wait a idea!

So here goes. No one asked me and this is admittedly ridiculous, but here are the first 66 "perfect" Louis Armstrong recordings that come to mind. No particular order, I'm just going to think and type. I'm not even going to look at the discography or my iTunes to give me food for thought. Obviously, the ones I think of first will be towards the top of my personal list, but I'm sure I'll forget something. And when I'm done, feel free to comment with some of your personal Pops favorites that didn't make my list. Let's go:

1. Stardust
2. St. Louis Blues (from Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy)
3. When You're Smiling (from Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography)
4. Blue Turning Grey Over You (from Satch Plays Fats)
5. On the Sunny Side of the Street (from Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography)
6. King of the Zulus (from Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography)
7. Beau Koo Jack
8. Tight Like This
9. Struttin' with Some Barbecue (1938 Decca version)
10. Muskrat Ramble (from Satchmo at Symphony Hall)
11. Black and Blue (live in Berlin, 1965)
12. Lazy River (1931 original)
13. I Never Knew
14. When It's Sleepy Time Down South (Decca instrumental)
15. Hotter Than That
16. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
17. Mahogany Hall Stomp (1929 original)
18. Butter and Egg Man (1926 original)
19. Sweethearts on Parade (1930 original)
20. Dinah (1933 Copenhagen film)
21. The Nearness of You (with Ella)
22. Dream a Little Dream of Me (with Ella)
23. Stompin' at the Savoy (with Ella)
24. Rockin' Chair (1947 Town Hall)
25. Because of You
26. Pennies from Heaven (1947 Town Hall)
27. Ain't Misbehavin' (1929 original)
28. I Can't Give You Anything But Love (1929 original)
29. West End Blues (1928 original)
30. Hello, Dolly! (yeah, I went there!)
31. That's For Me
32. On a Coconut Island
33. Avalon (with Dukes of Dixieland)
34. Azalea
35. Summer Song
36. Sweet Lorraine
37. Keepin' Out of Mischief Now (from Satch Plays Fats)
38. The Faithful Hussar (from Ambassador Satch)
39. I Get Ideas
40. La Vie En Rose
41. Song of the Vipers
42. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen (from I've Got the World on a String)
43. Weather Bird
44. Short But Sweet
45. A Kiss to Build a Dream On
46. Ev'ntide
47. Swing That Music (1936 original)
48. I'm a Ding Dong Daddy
49. Cake Walking Babies from Home (with Clarence Williams' Blue Five)
50. There's No You
51. Chantes-Lez Bas (Sing 'Em Low)
52. Jack Armstrong Blues
53. Someday You'll Be Sorry (1953 version with The Commanders)
54. When You Wish Upon a Star
55. Chinatown, My Chinatown
56. Bess, Oh Where's My Bess
57. Wolverine Blues (1940 Decca)
58. That's My Home (1932 original)
59. Laughin' Louie
60. Moon River
61. I Get a Kick Out of You
62. Muggles
63. I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good
64. You Rascal You (with Louis Jordan)
65. I Ain't Got Nobody (from Satchmo Plays King Oliver)
66. Potato Head Blues

Whew, there it is! Oh damn, what about "St. James Infirmary"? "I've Got the World on a String"? "Cornet Chop Suey"? "What a Wonderful World"? Impossible to even keep it to 100 but I'll quit here....and think I'll have a little Louis listening session of the above!

So what did I miss? Tell me in the comments section below!


"Jazz Lives" @ said...

You didn'r miss a thing. I can think of ones I'd add (YOU'RE BLASE)but here's the philosophical question, prefaced by a Sidney Catlett drum roll and bass drum thump:


Class dismissed, with love.

Richard Basi said...

Well you got no.17 in so you get a free pass from me! haha.. One that would be in for me is Savoy Blues from '27. I think it's more than a match for the more revered, similarly emotive Bix/Tram 'Singin The Blues' from that time.

Larry Kart said...

Well, in my house, much as I admire Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Lester Young certainly remain in the pantheon. And, Mr. Brody aside, I think that many, if not most, of those who are fond of bop also give all the credit that is due to Armstrong and Young. The more common cut off I've found comes with those who think that jazz more or less began with Coltrane. And I admire Coltrane, too.

baz said...

"Blue Again","Do You Call That a Buddy?", "My Sweet Hunk O'Trash", and "Was I to Blame?" Meant to post these yesterday. Stop me before I think again!

Lars-Erick Forsgren said...

The problem is to make a choice that is only 66 recordings!
I admit, that I am not sure that i have number 44, but all others. And many more that are perfect.

A good question is if there are any imperfect of Louis recordongs. Well, maybe there are, but very, very few.

And even if you make a list of 100 or 200 number of the perfect records of Louis Armstrong you have to exclude too many.

Dave said...

Great list Ricky, and on mine I would do a simple exchange with your #5 "On The Sunny Side of the Street" with: his resplendent version from 1947, the iconic Boston Symphony Hall concert.

For me this version is superb in so many ways, but chief amongst them is Big Sid's remarkable anticipation of Louis singing " dust at my feet.." (4:46) with a deft tap of his splash cymbal. Sid otherwise laid back big-time during Louis' singing up until that point - another sign of his unparalleled artistry. (I think it is also Big Sid who calls out to Louis just before the break, as bast as I can tell, "Here's your break Big Daddy!")

I could go on for paragraphs about why this rendition is my favourite by anyone, anywhere, anytime, but will stop here.

Keep up the good work!