They nearly threw the lot out at Columbia records in 1980, someone had decided to get rid of some old tapes and "The Great Chicago Concert" was on a desk ready to go when Michael Brooks who was producing reissues strolled by and enquired what they were. George Aviakan was the original producer behind the live recording of the concert but at the time decided to shelve it due to techinical issues with the recording as well as there being a lenghty narration by Helen Hayes at the begining concerning Jazz with Louis included. Louis had practically stepped of the plane and here he was with The All Stars straight into this concert. Things are a little out of order due to issues that arose during the event with sound quality problems with some of the material and also there really was not much new material which George Aviakan was hoping for so he decided to shelve the tapes. George was expecting a few more new numbers as Louis Armstrong was not renowned for changing his song list often in concert and usually had the same fifty tunes or so that he and the All Stars performed. Always opened with "When It Is Sleepy Time Down South" and usually wound it up with "When the Saints Go Marchin' In". There is a bit of mix with "When It Is Sleepy Time" coming in at a later spot and only briefly but still we have some great stuff. The All Stars at this time are Edmund Hall, clarinet, Trummy Young, blasting trombone and vocals on two songs, Billy Kyle, piano, Dale Jones, bass, Barrett Deems on drums and Velma Middleton does her thing with Louis doing vocals on three numbers. How many concerts Louis performed would be anybody's guess but he always gave it his best shot and although things do not gel technically they still do with the music as the poorer quality material was dropped with the narration by Helen Hayes and still we have two discs of material with 26 numbers included with four of them being medleys and it is all Live.
Two medleys in a row is what gets the first cd underway with the first being a New Orleans funeral march "Flee As A Bird To The Mountain" and "Oh Didn't He Ramble" which was the only section of the concert ever released until 1980. The second medley has "Memphis Blues", "Frankie And Johnny" and "Tiger Rag" with no vocals but plenty of that gorgeous New Orleans tradition is applied and if one listens close you can hear some of the techinical issues with the recording volume as a wagon was used on stage making it difficult to mic' up to say the least but it does not cause any problems as the small fault is at the begining. What are the best songs that are performed for the next eleven on this first disc, one would be hard pressed to decide with so many classics. "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans", Fats Waller's absolute classic "Black and Blue which is one of my standouts but that was preceded by "Basin Street Blues" and followed by King Oliver's composition "West End Blues" which Louis transformed back in 1928 to become one of the greatest Jazz tunes ever played."On The Sunny Side Of The Street" needs no introduction, "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" another of Louis's classics from the twenties followed by three superb takes of "Indiana", "The Gypsy" and a great take on "The Faithful Hussar" which Louis made his own from an old German song that he performed at practically every concert.
Disc 2 has another German number as well which was a hit for Louis being "Mack The Knife" but the disc opens with "Rockin' Chair "with Trummy Young doing vocals as he does later on "Margie" but I love the old standard that follows "Bucket's Got A Hole In It" which was the original way to pick up ones beer. "Perdido", "Clarinet Marmalade" is giving the band a go with "Mack The Knife" after but we have another medley that follows with "Tenderley" bridged with Billy Kyle's piano solo followed by the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein composition "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Louis wrings it right out with his beautiful interruptation of these two ballads playing them entirely instrumental and even someone yells a comment that Billy plays so sexy during his piano solo. Louis does take a bit of back seat with the second disc as Thelma Middleton gets do the majority of vocals for three numbers with Louis introducing Thelma with the quote "and now it is blues time" with "Big Mama's Back In Town" coming first with plenty of swing included. The ballad "That's My Desire" is given the Thelma treatment as the following "Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)" with that swing back and Louis joining in for this one on a duet. Do you know I still have not mentioned another famous classic form the swing period that Louis used to include being Louis and Chick Webb's "Jumpin' At The Savoy". At closing time he always played "When The Saints Go Marchin In" which I have known all my life and cannot even remember when I first heard the tune it is like you are born with it already there but no matter how many times one hears this, it is always enjoyable and an instant singalong and who better to do it with his beautiful trumpet than the great Louis Armstrong. The concert finishes with Louis playing "The Star Spangled Banner"
There are small sound faults at times but they are only on three numbers and not that noticable as they are at the start of the songs with "Sleepy Time Down South" being the major issue and when the volume picks up, just think it is the band moving a little closer to the audience. Wonderful material, wonderful concert, wonderful album but most of all what is really wonderful is the sound of Louis Armstrong's trumpet and there is no shortage of that for "The Great Chicago Concert".