102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2003
Oh, my gosh. Some dude nicknamed Duke plays piano on 17 of his own compositions. Featured is a trumpeter and singer nicknamed Satchmo, who brought along five of his band members. They recorded on two consecutive days in NYC in April, l961. They were geezers, and the record buyers were paying more attention to Miles and Coltrane and Brubeck at the time, although both old guys were still touring and pleasing audiences. Then Bob Thiele, a producer of all kinds of music, including Buddy Holly, but mainly a jazz expert, got Louis Armstrong and Mr. Ellington together at last. He couldn't get the whole Ellington Orchestra, so he compromised and got the Armstrong All-Stars as backup. The result is this total 67-minute masterpiece (and now a two-disc version as well, adding the rehearsal takes.) If you claim to love American music, buy one of these darn sets as quickly as you can. The sound is superb, the performances divine. If you don't love this, e-mail me and I'll buy your copy at a discount. But check for a heartbeat, because you may be dead and not realize it. This is the jazz pioneers' version of "Kind of Blue" in my opinion. The CD deserves much wider notice than it gets. Originally released on the small Roulette label, the album seems to have been overlooked even by Duke and Satchmo fans, which amazes me. If there are nearly 400 reviews of "Kind of Blue" posted on Amazon at this point, surely there should be 100 fans commenting on "The Great Summit."
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2005
Norman Grantz who set up these dates was always casual and a bit cheap on production for the series of great ones together records he made. Many of these Louis with Ella or the Duke or whomever were done on a day or two's notice when Louis and whomever else Granz wanted him to record with happened to be in New York in the midst of touring.
Yet, for many of the artists, Louis and the Duke included, the natural chemistry that comes with genius, and knowledge of each other's work produced something great and new and wonderful. This is certainly the case here.
What is never said here, overlooked entirely, and can be a joy to the truth jazz lover is this is Louis's Swing Album. Louis transcends jazz genre to be sure, but I know of no Louis Armstrong album that is so much of a swing album. Thus it is to be studied or enjoyed or both as a special treat
You get things here that are simply not available anywhere else. There is never enough of Ellington playing piano solid with solos like he takes here, without the band being behind his driving rhythm, his subtle inflections, his commentaries.
On the other hand, there is very little of Louis playing and singing swing tunes as opposed to the New Orleans or Pop repertoire. For both Ellington and Armstrong there is hardly any other time when they are working together with an equal, perhaps only in the great Armstrong/Fitzgerald combinations, and in the live concerts with Ella that the Duke did do we find anything near an equal.
While I like Barney Bigard's work here, it really doesn't rise to the occaision the way that it sometimes did working with the Duke in the late 1930s, or some of his work with the all stars. Frankly, I think Jimmie Hamilton would have been more interesting here, helping the occaision be what it is, Louis showing he can swing too.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2000
Collaborations can be tricky things. Once in a great while two artists - people with no prior connection to each other and no plans of ever working together again, from different countries, cultures, generations - step into a studio and create magic. The place lights up, the combo gels, and a best-of-genre level record is produced. John Coltrain/Johnny Hartman, Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong, Getz/Gilberto, Sinatra/Jobim, Oscar Peterson with just about anyone.
Other times what seems like a natural pairing leaves both parties looking worse than they did when they went in; check out "Dylan and the Dead" if you dare.
And then there's sessions like Sinatra/Ellington or this one. Not great, by no means bad, not what they could have or should have been, and occasionally brilliant.
While Armstrong and Ellington are the twin towers of the jazz landscape, they are very different temperments. Louis is Storyville, exhuberent, red hot. Duke is Harlem Renaissance, sophisticated, cool blue. They don't always fit together, and the rest of the players are left to take sides.
The band is unfamiliar with the charts and Duke is unfamiliar with the band, so the composite rhythm section doesn't always click into place, and the tunes are somewhat under-rehearsed.
When it works it really, really, really works. Black and Tan (the most New Orlean-sy sounding tune on the album) is remarkable, Beginning to See The Light makes you do just that, It Don't Mean A Thing is definitive, and I Got It Bad (And That's Not Good) may well be the best recording of anything ever.
Also worth getting for the premiere of Azalea, Louis's rewritten words to Drop Me Off In Harlem, and of course that second disk where the whole thing takes shape.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2003
This is my favorite jazz CD, even better than Davis's "Kind of Blue," Armstrong's "Great Chicago Concert," Artie Shaw's "Highlights from Self Portrait," Sintra's "Songs for Swingin' Lovers," Ella (singing almost anything), and "The Complete Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong." Armstrong's All-Stars with Duke sitting in on piano, playing all Ellington. Great compositions with great improvisations.
Just listen to the five samples Amazon.com provides. "Cottontail" opens with consecutive solos by Ellington, the great Barney Bigard, Armstrong, and trombonist Trummy Young, then later features a great scat "verse" by Armstrong. Almost every one of the cuts is as strong.
This was the CD that brought clarinetist Barney Bigard to my attention. He played for years with Ellington's band, then with Armstrong's All-Stars, and I later read in Gary Giddins's "Satchmo" that Armstrong considered him the best jazz clarinetist he ever worked with. Listen to his solos on "Cottontail" (one is in the Amazon.com sample) and "Beautiful American", as well as his sparkling repartee with Armstrong on "In a Mellow Tone."
Buy it and enjoy -- over and over.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2006
I write this as a Louis Armstrong fan. I respect Duke Ellington, but I haven't heard nearly as much of his output as I have of Louis Armstrong's. My judgment is more about Satchmo's performance here than about Ellington's.
I consider this an example of Armstrong showing a musical colleague how much he cares about all music. At this point in Armstrong's career he had committed most of his repertoire to Long-Playing vinyl. It's easy to forget that, in 1961, many of the classic 78s of the jazz era had still not been transferred to LP, and it is easy to forget that such transfers were not necessarily cleaned up for playback. This is my roundabout way of saying that, in re-recording much of his own material, Armstrong, throughout the fifties, was playing music he'd played since the twenties. He and the All-Stars, his small combo founded in the forties, were well attuned to each other and waxed some of the greatest performances of Armstrong's career, live or in the studio. But Armstrong had only been recorded with Ellington very rarely previously. I am not certain, but I think there are literally a couple of songs he and Ellington played live on the air in the late 1930s, and I wouldn't be very surprised if they played once or twice without being recorded at other times. But they'd never really sat down and worked out a set until 1961, when they were both in New York at the same time and had the opportunity. The songs on this album were not songs Armstrong played in his stage shows and he didn't make records of them. But he was not caught short here. He knew this material, either because he learned it for this project or because he'd been listening to this music for years, and he understood it. The marvelous thing is he clearly cared for it. Armstrong sets aside his personality for THE GREAT SUMMIT, or, more to the point, he set aside everybody else's expectations and interprets the lyrics in all their somber beauty. His trumpet is earnest here. His trumpet is always full-bodied, but on this project, Louis Armstrong is not, if you will, playing the showman, but expressing, through his trumpet, the music of another genius. It may be the most giving performance of his career. And that's saying a lot, given that his career is full of high peaks.
I sometimes put this CD on when I go to bed at night. It sounds like New York City. There's a breeze, some laughter in the air, and cameraderie. Two musical innovators commenting on what they see, for all to hear.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2002
Don't miss it,this two CD set is one of the most indispensable purchase you have to do.There is some of the most talented,incredible,outstanding music here.This is the first real encounter between these two absolute giants,Louis and Duke,and also the last one,and jazz listeners had to wait until 1961 to hear this.Even if they met frequently since the thirties,they never really recorded together,and this time will be the last one (except for the soundtrack of the movie,"Paris blues").Before,they recorded a couple of tunes together ("Snafu"),but this is the ONLY album commited by these kings.Ellington was in a very rich period for five or six years (in fact,since Sam Woodyard took the drums chair;Sam's coming into Duke's band gave to this very somptuous orchestra the little something it needed).At the same time,Armstrong's career,after he recorded some inestimable albums in the fifties ("Satch plays Fats","plays W.C.Handy","the Good Book","a musical autobiography","Porgy and Bess"),Satch's career was going down slow,allways playing the same repertoire,and losing some of his greatest musicians.In fact,I think this is Louis Armstrong's testament,his last great record.No,this is not a great record;it's a terrific,outstanding,amazing moment of music,some of the greatest he ever blowed.My father owned this album,and I'm used to listen to it for more than 25 years.
The challenge was to make Duke Ellington meet Armstrong's band (Barcelonna,Kyle,Shaw,Young and Bigard,who spend many years in Duke's band,a long time before).The result is majestuous.Armstrong has allways been addicted to Duke's music,even if he rarely played his songs;and Duke has a rare opportunity to shine as a piano player (and he surely could !!!).
The first CD is made of master takes;it is almost impossible to make a choice between these 17 tunes.Louis' imperial talent shines from the first second to the last one.He plays with supreme majesty all through these tunes,and his voice may be at its highest level."I got it bad" is an indescriptible masterpiece;Louis plays some very simple phrases,and sings like nobody did;Duke's piano counterpoints are the essence of piano playing."Azalea" simply is one of the most magnificent tunes ever recorded,but we'll talk about it later."I'm just a lucky so and so" has some down home blues playing by Duke,and an infectious vocal part by Satch.Etc,etc.Each and every tune is at the same highest level.17 tunes,17 masterpieces;two LPs,or one CD,one of the ten records you HAVE to own.My only regret is that Duke couldn't go to the studio with is drummer,Sam Woodyard,who simply was one of the greatest drummers in the history of jazz.
The second CD includes tracks recorded during the rehearseals.And this is very interesting.It's terrific to hear how these guys could play a tune together.But the most interesting tune here is "Azalea".Just as Monk's unbelievable work on "'round midnight",issued on the CD version of "Thelonious himself":a study in progress.Duke wrote this piece in the late fourties,recorded it twice,and was never pleased with the result,because he wrote it with Armstrong in mind;now was the opportunity to have Louis playing this incredibly beautiful tune,and singing these improbable verses.And after a couple of false starts,and some vocal troubles,Louis manages to make this tune his own,and gave an immortal masterpiece.I mean,this is not a good tune,or a great one;this is one of the greatest masterpieces I ever heard in jazz.The version opf "black and tan fantasy" is magnificent,too,and here,Louis was confronted to Bubber Miley's version,recorded more than thirty years before,and which will never be surpassed.But Louis makes this tune his own,one more time,he doesn't use a plunger like Bubber did,and gives us a new conception of the tune.And what a majestic one !!!
This (or these,because they originally were issued on two separate Lps) record is an absolute must in every jazz lover's discotheque.It's one of the records I listen to very often (and I have some 6000 records at home);something unreal,some magical minutes in the musical career of two of the greatest kings of jazz,Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2000
The BEST Jazz CD Set since "Ellington at Newport '56 [complete]" This is required music for any Ellington or Armstrong Fan. Armstrong's "All-Stars" really are impressive here. The best Non Ellington band ive herad play with Duke, ever. Trummy Young and Armstrong really do play some mean horn. Armstrong gives Duke lots of room to embellish (not something Ellington ever was fanatical about) and the whole set is a pleasure to listen to.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2000
This CD is the best Louis Armstrong CD ever. If you haven't already gotten Louis Armstrong Greatest Hits, I think that you should. The two CDs should be listened to together. The greatest hits CD is an introdution to Louis Armstrong and the complete sessions is an extension to a it for a more mature Louis Armstrong fan. This CD has it all from variety in music tones to harmony. A must for Louis fans.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2001
I have always been a fan of the jazz greats, but I never felt like I could fully enjoy them because of the poor quality of the recordings. The quality of this recording is FABULOUS! For the first time, I can enjoy great artists and not get distracted by poor sound. This album is tremendous, every track is enjoyable. I have not stopped playing it since I bought it!!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2006
I don't believe that anyone who listens to the first cut on this cd,'Duke's Place' can possibly resist immediately buying a copy;I dig Louis Armstrong singing 'Duke's Place' even more than him singing 'What a Wonderful World.'And 'Duke's Place' is just the first take by the incredible Armstrong and Ellington;these cats throw in another 16 tunes-all masterpieces.