|LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS ALL STARS— Live in Vancouver 1951 (Upbeat URCD
277). Playing time: 71 mins. 33 secs
Royal Garden Blues; I Used to Love You; The Hucklebuck†; Back-O-Town Blues*; I
Love the Guy†; C’est Si Bon*; Stardust; Old Rockin’ Chair*‡; Tea for Two; Way Down
Yonder in New Orleans; Lover; Love Me or Leave Me; La Vie En Rose*; C-Jam Blues;
Ain’t Misbehavin’*; Stompin’ at the Savoy; Where Did You Stay Last Night? †
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal*; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal‡; Barney Bigard,
clarinet; Earl Hines, piano; Arvell Shaw, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums; Velma
Recorded January 26, 1951, at a concert in Vancouver, Canada.
| This is the third audio issue of this concert, the previous two being (1) on vinyl
(Dogwood Productions – DW 25, a double LP album, issued 1967) and (2) on CD
(Jazz Crusade – JCCD-3120, issued 2006), and it is the latter that comprises this
reissue on Upbeat. None of these issues contains the complete set list for this
Vancouver concert, apparently. According to the list given in his blog by Ricky
Riccardi, the eminent Armstrong authority, missing on this CD are Rose Room, Can
Anyone Explain, Big Daddy Blues, Baby It’s Cold Outside, That's My Desire, High
Society, Steak Face, How High the Moon, and Bugle Blues. (In his Jazz Crusade
liner notes, Bill Bissonnette mentions only three missing items—That's My Desire,
Baby It’s Cold Outside, and How High the Moon— but that appears to be
incomplete.) Riccardi makes no mention of Where Did You Stay Last Night? but it is
included on all three issues.*
The recording of this concert certainly helps fill a gap in the discography of the
Armstrong All Stars since there is a dearth of recordings by this particular All Star
lineup, as Bissonnette intimates in his liner notes. Armstrong completists who do
not already have it will certainly want to get this CD. Other fans may well have a
mixed response to it, as I must confess I did for reasons given later. The quality of
the music, with a couple of minor exceptions, is very good overall. Armstrong is at
the top of his form, both on trumpet and on vocals, and the audience clearly loved
both. I am partial to Armstrong myself, although I don’t care too much for the
bravura displays in the extreme upper register that were dear to his heart (and
probably played a part a year or two later when he almost shredded his lip).
However, his obbligatos behind Middleton’s vocals and his cadenzas such as that on
Ain’t Misbehavin’ on this disc are sublime.
But he was always generous with the spotlight, allowing it to fall on everyone at
one time or another during a concert. Teagarden is given center stage here on
Stardust, being accompanied only by judicious chord comping by the ensemble.
After a languid rubato introduction, he then proceeds with a passionate rendition of
the tune, ending with a fine cadenza leading up to the closing chord. That is
followed, unfortunately, by a purely gratuitous drumming coda of sorts by Cole.
Barney Bigard has a couple of features in this setting—Tea for Two and C-jam
Blues. The first of these is taken at a rapid tempo. The backing indicates some
careful scoring, but to my ears Bigard creates a mish-mash of notes from time to
time, a demonstration of how many notes can be squeezed into each measure as he
runs arpeggios; and his lengthy duet with Cole does not contribute much musically,
the coda coming as a welcome relief. The second Bigard feature, C-jam Blues, is
taken at a more leisurely tempo after Armstrong’s spoken intro, in which he gives a
nod to Ellington. About three-quarters of the way through in the arrangement of C-
jam Blues that follows, there is nice quotation from Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm.
But too often there is a seemingly endless repetition of phrases by Bigard, which I
did not find congenial.
Hines, too, is given the stage to himself on Love Me or Leave Me as he is
accompanied only by the rhythm section. While I enjoy Hines’ piano playing, I don’t
think it fit well with the Armstrong All Stars, being outside of their particular
“traditional jazz” métier. Others, such as Shaw on string bass and Cole on drums,
are given extended breaks.
And that brings us to the vocals. Those by Armstrong are what by now we are
well accustomed to hearing, and they were greeted rapturously by the attendees at
this concert, particularly the duet he shared with Teagarden on Old Rockin’ Chair,
including their humorous banter back and forth as they traded verses. As this
number concludes, the audience is very vocal in their appreciation.
Ms. Middleton, on the other hand, is another story. The best I can say of her
singing is that it is adequate, but she is no blues singer of the classic mold. She was
more renowned, perhaps, for her acrobatics and mugging on stage, which the
audience is possibly witnessing, judging by its response during The Hucklebuck and
Where Did You Stay Last Night? I only saw Velma Middleton once in a concert by
the All Stars I attended in Nashville, ca. 1957 or 1958. She was an extremely large
lady—said by one commentator to weigh 250 lbs. and another 300 lbs.—and she
only reached about five feet or so in height. She was much given to dancing around
on stage, all avoirdupois a-quiver, and ending many songs by going into a split. I
confess the display put me off—but not the audience, by and large. They applauded
wildly and cheered, spurring her on to greater efforts, as they appear to be doing
here. She was undoubtedly a good sport and a very likeable person—Armstrong
defended her fiercely when the critics went after her, and she was a member of the
group right up to her fatal heart attack while on tour with them in Africa in 1961—
but she was a singer of less than bountiful talent.
While I regret closing with a cavil, I would be remiss in not considering the
sound. No information is given as to the kind of recording equipment used here. It
seems to have been rather primitive as there is poor definition of the instruments,
the brass “buzzing” frequently; and the balance and separation are often off. The
drums do not fare well, having dull, loud tom toms—almost deafening at times—
and hissing cymbals throughout; and the piano and bass are often off mike. All in
all the audio is of a “lo-fi” caliber. Those for whom sound quality is not crucial will
probably have no trouble with it here, but for all others this caveat is given so that
there will be no surprise that might be unwelcome.
The result of all this is my being conflicted about this CD, as I mentioned above.
There is much to like but there are also a few negatives.
More information is available at the Upbeat web site, www.upbeat.co.uk.ere
*On DW 25, all the titles on Riccardi’s list with the exception of Can Anyone Explain;
Big Daddy Blues; High Society; and Bugle Blues are included, as is Where Did You
Stay Last Night