“This man never disdained what was served up but always found a way to enhance it” ,taken from the Mosaic set notes compiled by Dan Morgenstern: and these Decca recordings contain precisely that with the soaring trumpet and gravel voice taking on any composition or style from New Orleans, Standards, Gospel, Polynesian, Spoken word or narrations, with any other popular or novelty song suggested, and Louis and the band took it all away with absolutely superb musicianship. Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Mills Brothers, Decca Mixed Chorus, Glen Gray and His Casa Loma Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald and even an appearance from a young Dexter Gordon albeit only in a support role but they are all included within the seven discs. Often one hears concerning his Decca output that it was not up to the same quality of the early Hot Five and Seven‘s or in the later forties onwards to the sixties with his All Star Band material that were all primarily recorded with Columbia Records and then we also have his later Verve recordings that are included in that list with his Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson collaborations being the high point but during the period of 1935 to 1946 with Decca nobody really has been taking notice or listening except for the good folks at Mosaic and they certainly have rectified the problem with putting out the entire catalogue with alt takes included but still had the extremely good sense to keep away from false starts, studio banter etc by just keeping to all the wonderful music that Louis recorded during this time.
Where does one start when digging out a massive gold vein as you may miss some gorgeous big nuggets and there are plenty here to find with quite a lot of the material being recorded here for the first time that would become his show regulars and perhaps his finisher would be the most memorable of “When The Saints Come Marching In” or was it at the beginning with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, “Pennies From Heaven”, “Jeepers Creepers and ”Rockin’ Chair” are also included. Not to mention there is a few 2nd takes of his earlier material comprising “West End Blues”, “Mahogany Hall Stomp”,” Savoy Blues” and “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue”. Then there is so many of my favourite old Trad Jazzers with, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “Save It Pretty Mama”, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”, “Dipper Mouth”, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and they keep coming but my top will always be “(I’ll Be Glad When Your Dead) You Rascal You” (7th disc). Duke Ellington’s “Solitude”, Billie Holiday’s “I Cover The Waterfront” ( Louis recorded it first) are covered with one of the most interesting being his first duet with Ella Fitzgerald (“You Won’t Be Satisfied” and “The Frim Fram Sauce”) albeit more from an historical viewpoint but still quite enjoyable. The Polynesian themed sessions are a delight simply for the variety with the tropical feel of “On A Coconut Island” often bringing a smile. “La Cucaracha” is covered so we better light one up for Louis with the songs meaning as we all know he didn’t mind a bit of kif. The two most different tracks would be Elder Eatmore’s Sermon’s with Louis of course handing out some quite humorous sermons with quite a Southern viewpoint from that period in time with both being narrations. ( Disc 6). Yet, still there are still so many more songs that would be later redone by him in the later part of his career still included and we even have “Happy Birthday” with Louis giving a dedication to the recipient Bing Crosby before the number.
Louis Armstrong’s trumpet soars over the sets contents, his vocals fill it with so many memories from a time that has long gone but his music with always live on,as he is The King of Jazz or any other music that he chose to play. I doubt if ever another greater musician/entertainer is, or ever will be out there. Fantastic Box Set absolutely essential to any Louis Armstrong devotee with myself included or even if you have never heard him before, grab one as there is only 5,000 of these little gold nuggets for sale. Highly recommended and absolutely essential music.
By the way, my first song that I remember hearing as a child was “Hello Dolly” and although in later life I have found out it was not one that Louis thought that highly of, I still love to hear it. I am still learning about this gentleman as there is so much more to find out and I only have 20 years left, if I’m lucky.