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4.9 out of 5 stars
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on June 11, 2001
I bought this album as an LP in the early 1950's; It was one of the first LP's ever pressed, as I recall, and that is significant for lots of reasons. Mainly, not only was the sound better than 78 RPM records, the tracks could be as long as 30 minutes, allowing jazz to be heard as it really is/was, rather than limited to just 3-4 minutes.
Anyway, at the time I thought it was one of the best recordings I'd ever heard, and I still do. Louis was singing with Velma Middleton, Trummy Young was on trombone, and Barny Bigard at clarinet. This is the Louis Armstrong group at its peak, on this album.
As well as "modern" in its jazz interpretations and styling, "St. Louis Blues" is a double entendre, as Louis indeed approaches jazz sainthood on this track. The album has been remastered allowing better sound than even my new LP did, with Louis' vibratos and harmonics never in better evidence. The track also has what I consider to be the greatest short trombone solo ever made, by Trummy Young. You'll think he is playing a straight through steel pack muffler instead of a trombone, with a power and elegance no other T-bone player ever acheived.
The other tracks are all equally well done, and "Chantez Les Bas" is about as good as New Orleans jazz can get, again with Louis's scat and Trummy's Tbone well nigh perfect. "Long Gone" is funny and swings as only Louis can. His singing on all tracks is not only extremely high quality, it reveals Louis temperament and personality, and his back-and-forth with Velma shows that he never forgot he was a man's man as well as a gentleman.
If you want only one Louis Armstrong album, and want the best, this is the one. A true classic.
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on April 6, 2002
The enormously cheerful, eager-to-please persona of Louis Armstrong often overshadows his musical appeal to much of the general public. But we wouldn't know about his smiling face nor overactive white handkerchief nor wildly popular performance of a lesser song, "What A Wonderful World," if it weren't for his groundbreaking singing style. And we wouldn't know about his groundbreaking singing style if it weren't for Armstrong's groundbreaking trumpet playing. For me, his trumpet playing provides his chief appeal, but putting his playing and singing together makes for quite an experience! This CD, then, Satchmo's tribute to early blues composer W. C. Handy, provides the listener with the best of both worlds. In addition to Armstrong's spirited, vigorous interpretations of Handy's invaluable contribution to Americana, the listener gets some "bonus tracks" not on the original vinyl-- an interview with the ageing Handy about Satchmo, and various highly entertaining outtakes. If you want to know what makes Louis Armstrong the enduring legend he's become, get this CD first!
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The reading of a new biography, "W.C. Handy: The Life and Times of the Man who Made the Blues" (2009) by David Robertson inspired me to revisit Handy's music in this recording by Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars. Originally issued in 1954, the recording became an international best-seller. Handy himself heard and loved it. The recording has been reissued several times and it is offered in this new release at a bargain price. Armstrong and his musicians offer a joyful, urbane improvisatory and highly rhythmical account of Handy's most famous songs. Armstrong is at the center of this album with long, imaginative solo flights on his trumpet in every number. Velma Middleton and Armstrong do the singing. This CD is regarded as one of the best in Armstrong's (1901 -- 1971) long career.

W.C. Handy (1873 -- 1958) was a band leader and composer who became attracted to the blues when he heard a rural musician play with the "sadness of the ages" at a railroad station in 1903 in Tutwiler, Mississippi. His most famous composition, "St Louis Blues" dates from 1914. It initially received little attention, but beginning in 1920 it became, with the possible exception of "White Christmas" the most recorded song in the Twentieth Century. The song is a mixture of blues, tango, and ragtime. Armstrong made two earlier stellar recordings of this work, the first in 1925 with Bessie Smith and the second in 1929. The song has been done in many ways. This 1954 recording is fast, angular and highly rhythmical. In the reading, "St Louis Blues" becomes almost a rock song. It opens with a lengthy virtuosic solo by Armstrong on the tango theme of the piece (which accompanies the words "St. Louis woman! with all her diamond rings). Middleton takes the vocal solo in a low, laid-back voice that contrasts with Armstrong's horn. Armstrong and Middleton trade some banter followed by a pulsating return of the theme with the band. This is a swinging, upbeat and convincing performance of Handy's classic.

The "St Louis Blues" has eclipsed some of Handy's other songs. Handy's works which deserve to be better known include "Memphis Blues", "Yellow Dog Blues", "Beale Street Blues" and "Aunt Hagar's Blues", all of which receive inspired hard-driving performances from Armstrong. The "Memphis Blues", was Handy's first blues composition which he wrote for a political campaign in 1909. Handy later foolishly sold the copyright to this song for $50.00. The "Yellow Dog Blues" incorporates the line "Goin where the Southern Cross the Dog", which Handy heard repeated from the lone rural blues singer he encountered at Tutwiler in 1903. "Beale Street Blues" celebrates what has been called "The Captiol of Negro America" in Memphis, Tennessee where Handy spent his most productive years as a composer. This song rivals "St. Louis Blues." The wonderfully evocative "Aunt Hagars Blues" captures the reaction of many African Americans to the beat of blues and ragtime.

This CD also includes "Chantez Les Bas", a late Handy composition based on New Orleans Blues. The only instrumental in this compilation is "Ole Miss" which features solos by pianist Billy Kyle and drummer Barrett Deems. "Loveless Love", "Hesitating Blues" and "Atlanta Blues" are Handy arrangements of earlier folk material.

Armstrong and his musicians play in a rousing spontaneous way with a feel for Handy. This CD is essential for lovers of jazz or the blues.

Robin Friedman
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on November 26, 2000
This CD sounds wonderful! LIke it was recorded yesterday. The playing and the vocals are energetic and very bluesy. This is the Louis Armstrong CD for blues lovers. The classic St. Louis Blues is the best version I've ever heard. Great pick.
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on July 7, 2001
This is one of THE cornerstone albums in the whole history of jazz, a complete pleasure from the first note to the last. The combination of W.C.Handy's historic blues compositions and Armstrong was a natural, but all concerned were soon aware that something truly outstanding had been forged in the studio over those three evenings in July 1954. It's generally acknowledged that the sessions featured Armstrong's finest playing since the early 30's, and not much else falls below the level of outstanding either: Armstrong's singing and sly asides are wonderful, the band solid and powerful at any tempo. Only clarinetist Barney Bigard's batteries (to borrow a previous comment) had run down somewhat by this time, although his lower register accompanyment to Armstrong's vocals has its moments - Velma Middleton's singing which has from day one been the subject of ill-aimed criticism is warm and homely, fitting the material and settings perfectly. But the other truly magical contribution comes from trombonist Trummy Young, who whether giving out with lusty, rasping tailgate or soft accompaniment to the vocals gives Pops a good run for his money. Armstrong's pleasure in his sideman's contribution is audibly evident at times. The extras on this cd, Armstrong anecdote, Handy interview and rehearsal sequences are a genuine plus. The excellent sleeve notes are by producer George Avakian, recounting the genesis of the project and the toe-curling story of the original recording's reconstruction after the loss of the session masters.
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on May 13, 2001
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful historical cds ever released,and for me,have specially reason to be honored,reverenced,listened well carefully.This is a masterpiece set recording from Columbia Records,one of the most important interpretations of this fantastic showman Louis Armstrong,playing and singing the musics of that nonetheless fantastic man,that created all we expected from this eternal and for me, definitely the best rythm of music,of all the times.The blues!!!The influences of Jazz in the history of the blues is undoubtedly enormous.B.B. King in his biography,explain that was influenced in all of his career by the Jazz musicians like Stephani Grappeli,Django Einhardt,and others,many others.So the Jazz and the blues ever walked together and one influenced the other in various intensities.This cd is marvellous,historical,and a gift to the mankind!!!
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on June 29, 2007
This album is one of the best recordings of any kind I have ever heard. Now I have thousands of recordings, write seriously about music, and have a lot of Louis, but this is one of those CDs that are simply hard to get out of the player. Forget about the historical significance of the recordings, the extras which include a few rehearsal cuts with the band getting itself ready, a fine excerpt from an interview with Handy, and a nice little joke--not necessarily one that could be told on network television--by Louis, and the well documented notes.

The sound here is great. It has some of the best of Louis's sound in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when despite the All-stars claims to reproduce the orginal pre-Swing sound of Armstrong's earlier groups, Louis shows the way he truly swung in both singing in playing far beyond the youthful athletics of the Chicago recordings. These blues swing so nice warm and easy, although some like his great recording of "The Saint Louis Blues" swing very hard. If you want to learn the basics of swing rhythm at a reasonable pace, I would advise listening to these recordings and trying to play along with them. (Of course, I would also recommend the great piano and rhythm section sides Basie cut to get out of his Decca Contract in the mid 1930s.)

There is something soooooo much more joyous about these recordings than any of Louis's recordings of these or similar tunes in the 1920s and 1930s. His voice and trumpet playing no longer strain but are sure of the mastery of the material. Both he and vocalist Velma Middleton seem to be really enjoying themselves with this material.

It must be stressed that Handy's real contribution was the combination of the Blues with the level of arrangement and composition that professional Black entertainers of his time--a time of a great explosion of both professional skill, knowledge, diversity of style, and polish--had obtained. His Blues including selections on this piece like "The St. Louis Blues" and "The Memphis Blues" and the immortal "Beale Street Blues" often combined Blues with all sorts of music popular at the time especially Ragtime, the reigning popular music of Handy's time in Memphis, with traces of Latin music like the habenero tango strain in the St Louis Blues. Yet, while quite willing to copyright these products of Black folk culture and create his own publishing business based on them (one of the first the realize the money in getting songs recorded as well as selling sheet music, Handy was insistent about the folk sources of his blues, as well as the fact that they were what Black folks demanded to dance to.

Getting Louis, himself a product of the generation that saw Jazz emerge as the child of the marriage of Blues and Ragtime given the tools of the high level of musicianship and formal musical knowledge consumated by Handy and his generation, to record these tunes was a stroke of Genius. You can hear Louis feeling happy and at home, but you can also hear a special reverence for the music, the time and the point of the music, as well how much BETTER the development of Jazz and Swing in the decades since Handy's days had made his ability to play these songs. It is no wonder that Handy himself cried tears of joy when he heard these recordings.

George Avakian who produced both the original recordings and the 1996 reissue on CD, spent about twenty years hunting down the best of the original recordings and takes, before rereleasing this really high quality recording.

A nice, wonderful, historic album that is pure joy and fun.
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This album is often hailed as one of Armstrong's best. This is no surprise: the music nears the miraculous. This is late Armstrong with a vengeance. Every song is a gem. Armstrong's vocals are beyond belief, and his duets with Velma Middleton add much variety and color to the music. The band is on as on can get. This is, in fact, one of those albums that one has to look very hard to find faults (I still haven't found any, but I'll let you know probably never).
The CD booklet tells the story of the making of this classic album. Its roots can be traced back to a business lunch in 1954, which proves that timeless art can have very humble origins. Also included is the story of reconstructing the tapes from the sessions of this album. The story is a sad one as the producer finds that many of the original material has been scrapped or "improved" (which more or less meant destroyed in this case). It's very interesting how the team reconstructed this album for its second CD release (its first release was in 1986 and not considered satisfactory for many reasons).
The bonus material is interesting in elucidating how this album was made and also offers a peek at Armstrong's methodology for putting together a song with his band. Armstrong's "Alligator Story" provides a fun aside to the music.
This album is only one reason why Louis Armstrong is considered one of America's best and most influential artists ever. Put it on and be convinced in under 10 notes.
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on December 25, 2008
I was never a huge fan of Louis Armstrong because the most I knew about him was the song "What A Wonderful World", though I like that song I had heard it so many times it kind of got on my nerves. At the time I wasn't aware of the fact that Louis was a trumpet player. In the 90s I became interested in big band music thanks to spending hours talking with my grandma about the good ol' days. Through my research I became a huge fan of Duke Ellington's music. One album that had become my essential favorite was Duke's one meeting with Louis Armstrong's band on the album "The Great Summit". Because of that album I wanted to learn more about Louis Armstrong and this album came highly recommended so I purchased it and it too has become one of my essential favorites.

The story of how this album came about as documented in the liner notes are almost as interesting as the music. To sum it up Long player records at the time were still new and the record execs were trying to come up with a good use of this "new" technology. One person suggested to come out with a W.C. Handy album. Handy was pretty much the founder of the blues. During the early part of the 20th century he documented many traditional songs and original compositions and played them live but there is very little actually recorded by Handy. In 1950 do to being blind he was no longer able to play but Louis Armstrong was recommended to perform his classic songs because he was a fan of Handy's and had played many of his songs over the years. It also helps that Handy was a great admirer of Louis work as well.

For the fans of Louis' trumpet work it is very prominently showcased here and sounds incredible. For the fans of his voice he and vocalist Verma Middleton are all over this as well. These songs are very enjoyable and fun to listen to and you can tell that Louis loves these songs because you can hear in his voice that he had a lot of fun creating this documentation of Handy's work.

This collection I believe is an essential for classic jazz fans and even if you don't consider yourself a Louis Armstrong fan you may want to check this out because this album converted me. Also the sound is incredible. It was mastered from a collector's LP because the original masters were damaged and you would never know it because it sounds like it was recorded yesterday.
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on March 23, 2005
In 1954, Louis Armstrong went into the studio to make more magic and what came out of that was this piece of jazz bliss. St. Louis Blues is definatley the coolest song Satch ever played. It's a really big difference from the 1929 version although both are great. When it comes to the trumpet there are three titans and they are Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. When it comes to the trumpet's brother, the cornet there are only two; Louis Armstrong and his mentor and "idol" the great Joe "King" Oliver. Listen to this and you will feel the same about the man whom many feel to be the greatest musician of the 20th century and since music is pretty much dead these days, Louis Armstrong-the greatest musician of all time.
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