Louis Armstrong

Great Performances

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The fact that THE GREAT PERFORMER was recorded in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1965 behind the then Iron Curtain would seem to indicate a stilted, perfunctory performance, but there's actually no sign of any such thing anywhere on this CD. An audience presumably consisting of Communist Party apparatchiks holds no terrors for U.N. Ambassador At Large Louis Armstrong as he progresses through a set of his greatest hits, including two versions of "Hello Dolly," one presumably for latecomers.

This was a time of upheaval in Czechoslovakia (the Prague Spring was only 18 months away), and New Orleans jazz must have seemed a pretty safe bet to the authorities promoting this concert. However, history has shown Louis Armstrong to be as subversive an innovator in his time as an artist such as Miles Davis was in his, and the full-throated audience reaction at the end of this performance (an encore of "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and the aforementioned "Hello Dolly") while not exactly presaging tanks in the streets, shows an audience eager for the kind of artistic freedom displayed by Armstrong's sterling horn work.

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