The main part of this home video release consists of 13 performance clips of Louis Armstrong filmed between 1933 and 1965. (A fourteenth clip, "I Cover the Waterfront," actually plays in the menu section.) The set begins and ends ("When It's Sleepy Time Down South," "Some Day") with excerpts from a television special called Goodyear Jazz Concert shot in color in 1962. The rest of the material, including "soundies" from the '40s and other TV appearances, is in black-and-white, and it goes back and forth in time, although the focus is always on Armstrong, his horn, his playing, his idiosyncratic singing, and his flamboyant stage presence. Toward the end, he is paired with duet partners: the obese singer/dancer Velma Middleton of his All-Stars band on "That's My Desire," Jack Teagarden (also of the All-Stars) on "Rockin' Chair," and Dizzy Gillespie on "Umbrella Man." None of them has a chance against him; his ability to steal the spotlight is simply overwhelming. TV hosts such as Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason do their best just to chat briefly and then get out of the way. Although there are some effective trumpet solos in these performances, the Louis Armstrong on display here is the one audiences loved and jazz purists disdained, an ever-smiling, effervescent showman for whom mugging was as important as playing. This is one of those DVDs in which the extras are nearly as important as the main section. Jazz historian Dan Morgenstern contributes an excellent essay in the accompanying booklet. There is an interactive timeline of Armstrong's life, complete with photographs and video chronicling the highlights of his career. There is an extensive photo gallery, its sections accompanied by additional Armstrong recordings. Best of all, there is the half-hour "Louis Armstrong Talks on TV," an interview from the late '50s conducted in Pittsburgh. Armstrong's questioners, including a classical music teacher, are largely cut out of the picture, but he responds well to their queries with various autobiographical comments and observations. As a result of all this added material, The Ultimate Collection is much more than just a video compendium of Armstrong performances, although it would have been valuable just for that.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann