EARLYJAS
Editor, Webmaster:  Phil Cartwright       Editor@earlyjas.org
VARIOUS GROUPS FEATURING LOUIS
ARMSTRONG AS SIDEMAN—
YOUNG SATCHMO  BIRTH OF A JAZZ GENIUS
(Upbeat URCD 256).  Playing time:  74 mins. 51 secs.
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
EARLYJAS
Reviewed by Bert Thompson  

Chimes Blues; Tears; Mabels’ Dream; Copenhagen; Everybody Loves My
Baby; Sugar Foot Stomp; I miss My Swiss; Of All the Wrongs You Done to
Me; Everybody Loves My Baby; Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home; Coal Cart
Blues; Terrible Blues; Lucy Long; Anybody Here Want to Buy My Cabbage*;
Good Time Flat Blues*; Reckless Blues†; Cold in Hand Blues†; The World’s
Jazz Crazy and So Am I‡; Shipwrecked Blues‡; Court House Blues°; Pleadin’
for the Blues#; Pratt City Blues#; Stomp Off, Let’s Go; Drop That Sack; I’m
Goin’ Huntin.’
    
Recorded between 1923 and 1927 in Richmond, IN, Chicago, and New York.
    
Musical groups include King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, Fletcher Henderson
and His Orchestra, Clarence Williams’ Blue Five, Red Onion Jazz Babies, Lil’s
Hot Shots, and others.       Vocalists include Maggie Jones*, Bessie Smith†,
Trixie Smith‡, Clara Smith°, Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill#.

     Those who are familiar with recordings which include Armstrong among
the personnel will probably have heard before a few of the tracks on this CD,
especially those with King Oliver and possibly Lil’s Hot Shots (a pseudonym
for the Hot Five—adopted for contractual reasons).  Since this CD focuses on
Armstrong as sideman, no aggregations under Louis’ name are included, so
no Hot Fives or Hot Sevens or Armstrong orchestras are here.  Most of the
other tracks may be less familiar, so it is a treat to have them before us once
again and all in one place.  Mike Pointon’s choices are impeccable, as are
Charlie Crump’s transfers.

     Covering the earliest four years of Armstrong’s post-New Orleans career,
this album nicely portrays Louis’ development as a horn player. The first
three tracks, by the Creole Jazz Band, are Chimes Blues—which, as Pointon
indicates, contains Louis’ first recorded solo—Tears, and Mabel’s Dream.  
Listening to his solo on Chimes Blues, one can see clearly why Oliver was
very apprehensive of being overshadowed by his young protégé—and
justifiably so—and why Lil Hardin (later Armstrong) urged Louis to break
with Oliver or he would always be kept in Oliver’s shadow. The second track
by this group, Tears, composed by Louis and Lil, is something of a “lip
buster,” I have been told; but at this time Armstrong had yet no callus to
contend with on his upper lip, and he handled his part with ease.  The last
track by the Oliver/Armstrong band, Mabels’ Dream, largely features
Armstrong leading and shows his confidence and complete
command.                    

    After he left Oliver, he played with a number of bands, and we are given
several recorded performances of Armstrong with some of them.  Of these,
Copenhagen by the Fletcher Henderson band stands out as Armstrong
launches into his solo early in the tune, and from there on it is a shade
anticlimactic as the heights had already been reached.  The Clarence
Williams’ Blue Five is well represented with four tracks, all of which include
Eva Taylor, Williams’ wife, on vocals.  While her voice is pleasant enough, it
provides no competition for the other vocalists on this CD.  When Pointon
says in his notes Cakewalkin’ Babies from Home stands above the others in
this set, I agree as Armstrong engages in a head to head with Sidney Bechet
and does not yield an inch to him.  While Bechet tends to dominate in similar
circumstances elsewhere, he met his match in Armstrong here and surely
inspired Armstrong, as indicated in the break Louis takes as they head into
the coda.  The Red Onion Babies and Lil’s Hot Shots tracks also contain some
fine solos by Armstrong—that on Terrible Blues having been used on more
than one occasion by Louis elsewhere, and in different tunes, later.

     But for me, the greatest joy in this disc is in the accompaniments that
Armstrong provides for the blues singers.  Unless one is “into” blues singers
and their albums, these are probably the most frequently overlooked
Armstrong items and yet contain some superb work.  On most of these tracks
backing singers, Armstrong shares the accompaniment with only a piano or a
harmonium.  Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson give Maggie Jones near
perfect support on Good Time Flat Blues.  His obbligatos behind the singers,
particularly those behind the incomparable Bessie Smith, are sheer poetry.  
Reckless Blues and Cold in Hand Blues are simply magnificent, both Bessie
and Louis outdoing themselves.  Bessie must have been inspired by what she
was hearing from Louis as he both echoed and built upon her delivery, just
as he must have been by what she was giving him to work with.  The tracks
by Louis accompanying these singers are themselves, for me, worth the price
of this CD.

     So what Pointon and Upbeat present here is a very useful collection of the
early and seminal work of Armstrong, work that is often overlooked as the
name “Armstrong” tends to conjure up “All Stars” for perhaps the majority of
jazz fans.  Great as that group with its various members was, the foundation,
which this CD presents, was being laid in the early work of its leader.  Highly
recommended.       
      While Upbeat is an English label, this CD can be purchased in the U.S. at
the Amazon or Barnes & Noble web sites, or at the Upbeat web site, www.
upbeatmailorder.co.uk.
Bert Thompson CD Reviews