This portion of the Bessie Smith chronology begins on September 26, 1924, and follows her progress through August 19, 1925. Several of New York's best jazz musicians, most of whom were active with Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra at that time, assisted the singer in making records that still sound remarkably colorful and dramatic. There are clarinet duets by Buster Bailey and Don Redman, passionate trombone passages by Big Charlie Green, and a series of nine collaborations with young Louis Armstrong. The Smith/Armstrong combination was powerful and in some ways formidable. "St. Louis Blues," rendered mysterious by Fred Longshaw's reed organ accompaniment, is perhaps their mutual masterpiece, along with "You've Been a Good Old Wagon," a barrelhouse slow drag published in 1895. On May 5 and 6, 1925, Bessie Smith waxed two of her all-time best records, W.C. Handy's "Yellow Dog Blues" and the bouncing "Cake Walkin' Babies (From Home)." She was backed by Henderson's Hot Six, a mob that included a young saxophonist by the name of Coleman Hawkins. The rowdiest moments of the entire compilation occur during "Soft Pedal Blues," a slow and hedonistic number describing a buffet flat where wild parties were held, sometimes featuring live sex shows. Several times during this song the singer seems to relish the memory of these events, as she hauls off and delivers a throaty "yaahoooo!" as if to prove that no worldly pleasure was off limits.
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