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The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions 1935-46 (#243)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
"No corpus of jazz recordings carries greater influence than the 169 tracks that make-up this set, documenting the maestro at the peak of his powers when vigor and maturity equally coexisted." - Ted Panken, DownBeat
Limited Edition: 10000 copies
7 CDs - $119.00
Led To The Most Popular Music Of His Career.
The year was 1935. Louis Armstrong had recently exhausted his immediate performing opportunities in front of European jazz audiences, having done the circuit and slayed 'em all. Years earlier, he had become the one individual identified with establishing a new way to play hot music - as a soloist, using improvisation to express personal style and unique musical ideas…but he was in a rut.
That year, his life changed in a few significant ways. He re-established ties with Joe Glaser, a former Chicago club manager and he signed with Decca Records, a new company looking to make records fast that could be sold inexpensively and turned into hits. Louis loved all kinds of music and was more than willing to oblige. Refreshed and invigorated, Louis made the biggest change of all - he started making the most popular music of his life; the jazz records that would turn Armstrong into an international sensation.
This is the first-ever major retrospective of this period. For the most part, the recordings represent Louis Armstrong leading the big band. Never had Louis sounded more secure, more hip, or more like a star. His example was an important beacon that popular standards were a legitimate repertoire for significant jazz recording stylists.
Jump into this box set collection and land in a nice, warm bath of Louis' joy. Armstrong, who struggled with lip problems on and off through his career, entered this phase after a significant layoff. Healthy and hearty, his performances as a jazz trumpeter and vocalist are first rate. The big band record performances feature Louis' inimitable approach to many melodies that were soon to become well-known; small-group sessions with Bunny Berigan as a sideman; a 1936 date with Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra; the rare 12" medley of hits from "Pennies From Heaven" with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Bing Crosby and Frances Langford; the "Elder Eatmore" sermon session; a reunion with Sidney Bechet and Zutty Singleton; and a slew of great sidemen like Sid Catlett, Dexter Gordon, J.C. Higginbotham, Red Allen and many more.
Some of the performances are among the most significant of his life and a lasting gift to jazz - there isn't a trumpeter since who hasn't marveled at the brilliance of Armstrong's tone, coherence of his soloing, and perfection of his execution on the 1938 "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." It is, plain and simple, a flawless jazz record.
For this Louis Armstrong box set release, we went back to the original record sources - Decca's metal parts and lacquer discs - and lovingly restored and remastered everything to Mosaic's exacting musical standards. Our seven-CD box set delivers 166 tracks, including rare alternate sides. The collection includes our exclusive booklet with a number of rarely-seen session photographs; an essay by noted jazz historian Dan Morgenstern; a complete, corrected discography of the sessions clearing up a number of published errors; and all seven CDs, beautifully packaged in our distinctive Mosaic box set.
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Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
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- Sample Session Notes
It’s always a crap shoot to see if the original metal parts or lacquer discs will exist in the vaults of any given project. For the Armstrong we were lucky to obtain 1/3 of the music on pristine metal parts. The other 2/3 we were able to transfer mint condition 78s from serious collectors and the Institute of Jazz Studies. Many of these 78s came from Australian, British and French Decca pressings which offered a smoother shellac surface than the American Decca issues of the time. Another caveat of having access to the metal is that we came up with seven previously unissued titles.
Photo Copyright © Protected
Rare photos, some from the original sessions, are included here. Frank Driggs, Duncan Scheidt, the Institute of Jazz Studies and images from the wonderful Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, NY. This landmark was the actual home of Louis’ from the 1940s right on up to his death in 1971. His wife Lucille continued to live there until her death in 1983. Recently, the home has been turned into a museum with hundreds of memorabilia to enjoy and where tours are conducted almost any day of the week. We took advantage of this opportunity to gain access to their photo collection and found a number of great shots to enhance the booklet.
(S) January 12, 1938
We’re still in L.A. two months later—Louis had been making two more movies, as this session commemorates, and enjoying long and very successful bookings, among them four record (and color line) breaking weeks at the Vogue, and a happy return to an old haunt, Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Culver City, where in fact they were closing the very day (or rather, night) of this Decca date. It opens with a refurbished Armstrong classic. Satchel Mouth Swing is the same melody as Coal Cart Blues, a 1925 recording with Clarence Williams’ Blue Five, with updated Swing Era lyrics. The band sounds a bit like Chick Webb’s here—could Edgar Sampson be the arranger, or Van Alexander? The tune lends itself to riffing, and there’s a lot of that. After a nice band setup, Louis delivers a happy vocal loaded with Satchmo references, the name varied as much as if it were a musical phrase. Holmes and Higgy, the latter saying a lot in a few bars, are heard from, and then open Louis takes over, articulating some unusual rips in his opening phrases (when other trumpeters try this, it always sounds corny). We’ll encounter this melody again, in a recreation of the 1924 version.
After this sunny prelude things get serious with Jubilee, introduced by Louis in the Mae West picture Every Day’s A Holiday. In the film, Louis, resplendently attired in a white uniform and plumed helmet, does some fancy stepping as well as horn tooting. He's leading what's supposed to be a street cleaners' parade, part of an election campaign, and the band is a veritable who's who of local black jazzmen, only a few holding their customary instruments. But the record date surrounds him with a better arrangement (probably by Willet) in a longer version of the piece, yet another Carmichael opus designed for Louis. In his notes for a Decca CD reissue, my dear departed friend Dick Sudhalter, author of the definitive Hoagy biography Stardust Melody, and himself a trumpeter, wrote that Jubilee “has never been played or sung better. The wisdom, balance and vision of Louis’ two choruses places them almost beyond musical analysis; placement of phrases, a tip-of-the-fingers knowledge of when to hold back and NOT play; understanding of those moments when one long note will do the expressive work of many short ones.” He also uses the apt phrase “untrammeled joy” in his description of what unquestionably is among the greatest Armstrong recordings. The band does well; this may be Barbarin’s best effort, the Hemphill-led trumpet section, now also including Red Allen, is on target, and Pops Foster’s back.
But Louis isn’t done—creating back-to-back masterpieces was the order of this day. The 1927 Struttin’ With Some Barbecue (not, by the way, a food reference—it means showing off with a pretty girl on your arm) enjoyed iconic stature in the Armstrong discography more than a decade later, but Louis was never burdened by his own history, and while he never paid attention to critics, it may just be that in this first recorded revisit to the Hot Five-Hot Sevens canon, he meant to show them that he was quite capable of surpassing himself. In a discussion set up by Down Beat in the early l960s, Maynard Ferguson and Bobby Hackett—hard to think of more contrasting musical and instrumental aesthetics—agreed that the Decca Barbecue was their favorite Armstrong record. The Willet setting of what surely is Louis’ own composition—Lil claimed it, Glaser wanted to counter-sue, but Louis said, “Let her have it—she needs the money more than I do!”—opens with a trumpet section fanfare, then Louis leads the statement of the buoyant theme, a rising interlude setting up the notorious Madison clarinet solo, marred by an under-pitch E natural— redeemed by a typically well-crafted Holmes effort, ending with a break. The rest is Louis, stating his melody almost straight, but with majestic sound and phrasing, for his first chorus, then on to a triumphant re-casting in his own mature 1938 language (note the lip trills throughout) and a cadenza unlike any other, with unique half-valve ingredients. The alternate take, surely the first, has not been issued before; it was an anonymous gift to the Institute of Jazz Studies. It offers few differences (Bingie may be just a tad better) but clearly there are some, notably in the phrasing of the first solo chorus. But he had that cadenza down!
You’d think Louis would say “enough” after this, but he was an iron man, and since he was about to embark on a long tour with the band, Kapp wanted to make sure there was material on hand—Louis’ records were doing well, and he had made another film appearance, in a Bing Crosby vehicle, Doctor Rhythm. We know that his feature was The Trumpet Player’s Lament. Production stills show him at the helm of a big band, all elegantly attired, and in a two-shot with Bing, who is in a policeman’s uniform, but except for showings in black theaters, his part was omitted from the final cut. There was much speculation in the black press, including interviews with Crosby, but the bottom line had nothing to do with prejudice; there were production disputes, the film was re-cut, female star Beatrice Lillie was given more footage, and Paramount agreed to furnish a version including Armstrong upon demand (we know from Klaus Stratemann’s Louis Armstrong On The Screen that such versions were shown, at least, in New York, Chicago and Baltimore). However, no such prints have survived, nor has any Louis audio from the film been found. What we do know is that his performance was set in a police department benefit show, and that he also had some scenes with Crosby. The record is all we have—union contracts indicate that the instrumentation for the film was the same as Louis’ band, so we can surmise that the arrangements are identical, and if so, by Georgie Stoll. The trumpeter’s lament is that he “must always play hot music/music that’s not music,” which of course becomes ironic as rendered by Louis, but that great actor manages to imbue it with genuine pathos, and gets maximum mileage from the classical references, including Vesti La Giubba, a perfectly pronounced “Mozart,” and a wonderful New Orleans rendering of Jose Iturbi (a then very popular concert pianist, with whom Louis perhaps not incidentally had appeared on the air at this point in time)—it comes out “Itoiby,” rhyming with “derby.” There is a rare growl brass ensemble passage, and the trumpet solo (it’s a minor-key piece, of course) is yet another gem, dramatic and gliss-full, and he’s got enough chops left to make that ending—a high F—not once but twice, the alternate being almost identical, though the vocal bridge cuts the issued one’s.
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"As a longtime fan of Mosaic I just want to thank you guys for this one! The sound quality is terrific and Mr. Morgenstern has written a most informative booklet - this is a magnificent Armstrong collection."
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