Louis Armstrong


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This 21st chapter in the Classics Louis Armstrong chronology documents the great jazz trumpeter's steady development into a mainstream pop vocalist with recordings made for the Decca label between September 22, 1952, and October 22, 1953. The first four titles are among the most heavily sugared he ever recorded; although Pops could make even "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland" sound good, the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra & Chorus had a way of drenching everything in Karo syrup. It's a pity the voices were used on "Listen to the Mockingbird," as Louis sounds marvelous intoning the words to this old-fashioned melody, originally published in 1855 by a Philadelphian Afro-American music instructor named Septimus Winner. On February 23, 1953, Armstrong was in Detroit making records with an orchestra using arrangements by Sy Oliver; his performance of "Your Cheatin' Heart" was waxed only weeks after the sudden death of Hank Williams. During the spring and summer of 1953 Armstrong was able to record with a reasonable number of solid jazz players -- most importantly clarinetist Barney Bigard, trombonist Trummy Young, tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor, pianists Joe Bushkin and Marty Napoleon, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Cozy Cole. Two extra-long performances, "Basin Street Blues" and "Otchi-Tchor-Ni-Ya," were recorded in Los Angeles during June of 1953 for intended inclusion in The Glenn Miller Story, a Universal motion picture starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. Both tracks perk up halfway through with pyrotechnic drumming by Gene Krupa. Although Bigard, Young, Shaw, and Cole were with Armstrong on the session that took place on July 16, 1953, they had to contend with relatively corny material and square arrangements foisted upon the world by the Jack Pleis Orchestra. The following session, featuring a big band billed as Louis Armstrong & the Commanders, resulted in two more Christmas tunes and three perfectly reasonable big-band ballads, the best of which was Armstrong's own composition "Someday You'll Be Sorry." This itinerary is a good illustration of Armstrong's career as it stood in the early '50s, represented by a little bit of jazz surrounded by a whole lot of pop, some of it rather overbearing. While "Someday" is a record of which Armstrong was justifiably proud, "'Zat You, Santa Claus?" typifies the kitschy excesses of the U.S. entertainment industry during the Truman/Eisenhower era.

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