One of the big Louis Armstrong stories of the year was the creation of the "Louis Armstrong Legacy Series," a partnership between Dot Time Records and the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, teaming up to issue CDs of previously unissued material from the Research Collections of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (my place of business).
I wrote all about Volume 1, The Standard Oil Sessions, back in March, a release that received a tremendous amount of buzz. An unaired, studio-recorded session featuring Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Jack Teagarden in peak form in 1950 in beautiful sound--who could ask for anything more? As always, though, the jazz world didn't make a fraction of the buzz as it does when previously unissued music by Monk or Coltrane comes out. Downbeat gave it a four star review, always a welcome thing, but the reviewer either didn't listen to it or didn't pay attention, packing his short recap with all sorts of misinformation (FAKE NEWS), including listing a song that wasn't even on the disc! At least they did better than Jazz Times--who didn't even review it.
Producer Jerry Roche also tells me the Dot Time series is selling incredibly internationally, dwarfing sales here in the United States. Oh, Pops--when will the jazz world, especially in America, take you seriously? I don't know but I'm not quitting and neither is Dot Time. I'm happy to report that volume 2 of their Armstrong series is ready to go for a November 17 release--here's the cover!
This was a fun one to put together with Roche, the series's producer. The Louis Armstrong House Museum has more unissued live recordings from the All Stars period than you can imagine. Most of them were recorded by Louis himself, but a lot are also in other collections we have amassed over the years by the likes of Armstrong super collectors Jack Bradley and the late Gosta Hagglof. Needing a theme for volume 2, Jerry and I decided to stick to the titular nightclubs the Armstrong performed in in the 1950s.
Goodness knows Armstrong played everywhere and anywhere in the 50s but he seemed most comfortable in nightclubs, probably because he usually played them as extended engagements and could hit the stage rested and in the mood to dip deep into the All Stars's substantial repertoire. Many nightclubs also featured radio remote broadcasts in this period; in fact, every performance on the new Dot Time CD is from a radio broadcast but not only are they all being issued here for the first time, many have never even been listed in the most thorough Armstrong discographies.
Most of the broadcasts that survive are 20-30 minutes long and include a sideman feature or two for the All Stars. Also, in comparing the broadcasts, some songs obviously were repeated over the years from broadcast to broadcast. So Jerry and I decided to eschew making this a set for "completists" (and I say that as a total Armstrong completist). Instead, we wanted just the best tracks, the ones spotlighting Louis, and without any repetition throughout. We ended up selecting from five different broadcasts featuring five different bands and in the end, I think have delivered a pretty potent single disc illustrating Pops in full power in this magical decade.
Like the previous volume, The Nightclubs will be available as a "standard CD" with short liner notes by me and a lower price (it will also be available on streaming platforms). But if you're a hardcore Armstrong fan, you're going to want to subscribe to the "Collector's Edition" through the Dot Time website. I know a lot of my loyal readers have done this but if you haven't, it's not too late! $99 gets you all four volumes of the "Louis Armstrong Legacy series" (two more to come in 2018) but the "Collector's Edition" includes rare photos, a bonus live track and my extensive liner notes. How extensive? The notes for the "standard" CD are about 500 words but the notes for the "Collector's Edition" are over 6,000 words and contain some of my favorite stories about this fertile period in Armstrong's career, stories I haven't previously published in any of my other writings about Armstrong.
Because I emptied my tank in the liner notes, I'm not going to write too much more here but if you're curious as to what's on the disc, here's a quick recap.
The Nightclubs opens with dynamite versions of "Royal Garden Blues" and "My Monday Date" by the Armstrong-Teagarden-Hines-Bigard-Shaw-Cole edition of the All Stars at Bop City in 1950. From there, we move to Club Hangover in March 1952 for a much lesser known edition of the band: Louis, Russ Phillips, Barney Bigard, Marty Napoleon, Dale Jones and Cozy Cole. Louis does "West End Blues" with Billie Holiday in the audience (!), following it up with an on-fire version of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and a hilarious "You're Just in Love" with Velma.
From there, we move to Storyville in Boston in October 1953 for one track, "New Orleans Function," now with Trummy Young, Bigard, Napoleon, Milt Hinton and Cole. A portion of this track was missing because Louis originally ran out of tape when he recorded it but engineer Lou Jimenez edited it seamlessly to make a glorious 6 1/2 minute performance containing Louis's serious dirge playing followed by the red-hot "Oh Didn't He Ramble."
We then move to Basin Street in New York for a broadcast in the summer of 1955 with the "Louis Plays Handy/Satch Plays Fats" band of Trummy, Barney, Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Barrett Deems. Cornetist Bobby Hackett recorded it in stunning fidelity, though his tape picked up in the middle of "Muskrat Ramble" so we used another source in the Gosta Hagglof Collection to make a complete performance. A romping "Pretty Little Missy" follows (with Louis's most blatant cursing over the airwaves) and the broadcast ends with the first live version of "Ko Ko Mo" with Velma.
The disc ends with a longer broadcast from the Brant Inn in Hamilton, Ontario in January 1958 featuring my favorite front line with Louis, Trummy Young and Edmond Hall and an interesting rhythm section of Billy Kyle on piano, Mort Herbert on bass (who just joined) and Barrett Deems on drums (in his final week with the All Stars). Everyone's in great form on "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," "Someday You'll Be Sorry," "That's My Desire," "Lazy River," "Tin Roof Blues" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Phew, if it sounds like a lot, it is, but like I said, for a no-filler snapshot of Louis live in the 1950s, this one is tough to beat. I'll admit sound quality varies from broadcast to broadcast but it's always listenable, never poor, and in many cases, in terrific fidelity. So if you love the 1950s All Stars bands as much as me AND you're in the market for previously unissued Pops AND you prefer physical CDs, head over to the Dot Time website and order The Nightclubs NOW (and really, subscribe to the whole series because we're planning out the 2018 releases and it's going to be more great, unissued stuff for lovers of Louis and the All Stars!).