Jazz Icons: Louis Armstrong
is one of the only known complete Armstrong concerts from the 1950s to be captured on film. This 55-minute set, filmed in Belgium in 1959, features many of Satchmo’s greatest songs including “Mack The Knife”, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” backed by his stellar band the All-Stars, featuring Trummy Young, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Kyle, Danny Barcelona and Mort Herbert.
Buddy show tag
Presonnel tag
Trumpet, Vocal : Louis Armstrong
Clarinet: Peanuts Hucko
Trombone: Trummy Young
Piano: Billy Kyle
Bass: Mort Herbert

Drums: Danny Barcelona
Vocal: Velma Middleton
Songs tag
When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
(Back Home Again In) Indiana
Basin Street Blues
Tiger Rag
Now You Has Jazz
Love Is Just Around The Corner
C’Est Si Bon
Mack The Knife
Stompin’ At The Savoy
St. Louis Blues
Ko-Ko-Mo (I Love You So)
When The Saints Go Marching In
La Vie En Rose
Features ag
16-page booklet
Foreword by Wynton Marsalis
Liner notes by Rob Bowman
Cover photo by Herman Leonard
Booklet photos by Paul Hoeffler, Bob Willoughby, Susanne Schapowalow, Jamie Hodgson
Memorabilia collage
Total time: 55 minutes

Liner Notes Preview tag

Foreword: Louis Armstrong’s sound transcends time and style. He’s the most modern trumpet player we’ve ever heard and the most ancient…at the same time. He has light in his sound. It’s big and open with a deep spiritual essence—a sound closest to the Angel Gabriel. You can’t practice to get Louis Armstrong’s sound. It’s something within him that just came out. Rhythmically, he’s the most sophisticated player we’ve ever produced. He places notes unpredictably with such great timing—always swinging, always coordinated—with overwhelming, transcendent power. This DVD captures that intangible power and allows us to gaze upon it in wonder.

—Wynton Marsalis
(July 2006)

Sample Liner Notes by Rob Bowman: In the spring of 1959, when Louis Armstrong took the stage in Belgium to play the concert captured on this DVD, he had much to smile about. The irrepressible trumpeter and singer had cut his first records with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band some thirty-six years earlier. In the interim, he had completely redefined the possibilities of both instrumental jazz and popular singing. His concept of what it meant to swing had become the very essence of jazz rhythm, and his ceaseless ability to create coherent melodic improvisations over a given set of chord changes had reconstructed the very nature of the jazz ensemble. Along the way, he significantly raised the bar with regard to instrumental virtuosity. As a vocalist, Armstrong was equally accomplished. His penchant for phrasing just behind the beat influenced countless other singers including Bing Crosby. Finally, for all intents and purposes, he popularized scat singing, as early as the 1926 recording of “Heebie Jeebies” when he improvised vocal lines using nonsense syllables in place of English words. As the esteemed jazz critic Leonard Feather put it in the New York Times, “Armstrong’s career set the pattern for the development of American jazz.”

In fact, in the spring of 1959, it was not an exaggeration to suggest that, in one way or another, every jazz musician alive owed a huge debt to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

The version of the All-Stars featured on this DVD included trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Danny Barcelona. James “Trummy” Young was the longest-serving member of the band at the time, having replaced Jack Teagarden in 1952. Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912, Young started out playing trumpet and had grown up idolizing Armstrong. As a trombonist, he originally came to prominence playing with Earl Hines from 1933 to 1937. Young spent the next six years with the dynamic Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, afterwards serving shorter stints with Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman and Billy Eckstine. From 1947 to 1952 he lead his own band in Hawaii, at which point he joined forces with Armstrong. In addition to his superb trombone playing, Young was a gifted vocalist. One of the highlights of this DVD is his vocal duet with Armstrong on the All-Stars’ 1956 hit “Now You Has Jazz.” Also dig the background riffs on this tune, reminiscent of the sort of background strutting one would hear with Louis Jordan’s Tympani 5. Young left Armstrong in 1964, settling back in Hawaii until his death twenty years later.

Completing the front line alongside Young and Armstrong is clarinetist Michael “Peanuts” Hucko. Born in 1918, Hucko had also played with Earl Hines, in addition to doing time in the bands of Charlie Spivak, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Ray McKinley, Eddie Condon and Jack Teagarden. When he joined the All-Stars in 1958 he replaced Edmond Hall who, in turn, had taken over from original member Barney Bigard. Hucko would remain with Armstrong through 1960.

Pianist Billy Kyle was the second longest-serving member of this version of the All-Stars, replacing Earl “Fatha” Hines in 1953. Born in Philadelphia in 1914, Kyle came of age playing in the rhythm and blues ensembles of Lucky Millinder and Tiny Bradshaw, cutting his teeth in the jazz world with John Kirby and Sy Oliver, while serving as a sideman on recordings by Lionel Hampton, Rex Stewart, Cozy Cole, Billie Holiday, and Jack Teagarden among others. He would remain with the All-Stars until his death in 1966.

The rhythm section was rounded out by the propulsive playing of bassist Mort Herbert (b. 1925) and drummer Danny Barcelona. A self-taught bassist with a law degree, Herbert joined the All-Stars in late 1958, fresh from playing for three years with Sol Yaged. He had also worked with Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Les Elgart, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Terry Gibbs. Leaving the All-Stars in 1961, Herbert practiced law until his death in 1983.
Barcelona was born in Hawaii in 1929, playing his first steady professional gig with Trummy Young while the latter lived in Hawaii from 1947-1952. When Barrett Deems elected to vacate the drum chair in the All-Stars in 1957, Young pulled Armstrong’s coat to Barcelona’s talents. Barcelona would remain an All-Star until Armstrong’s death in 1971.

Singer and dancer Velma Middleton, born in 1917, had been performing with Armstrong since 1942. Harkening back to the vaudeville stage, Middleton would perform straight ahead blues such as Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” as well as serving as a comic foil for Armstrong on such numbers as “Ko-Ko-Mo (I Love You So).” Note her shimmy and shake on this song as she spurs the All-Stars on, and her scat duet with Armstrong at the end of the song. She tragically passed away while on tour with Armstrong in Sierra Leone in 1961.

By the time of the All-Stars performance in Belgium that is captured on this DVD, they were a well-oiled machine, performing similar sets night after night. Both “Tiger Rag” and “St. Louis Blues” were from the first decade of recorded jazz, the former initially cut by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the latter by Bessie Smith. Originally recorded by Armstrong in 1931, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” had long served as his theme song, commonly being used to open his shows. “Basin Street Blues” also harkened back to the 1930s, being recorded by Armstrong in 1933 before becoming a hit for him in a re-recording in 1938. The gospel standard “When the Saints Go Marching In” had likewise been a hit for Armstrong in 1939. Performances of more recent recordings included “La Vie En Rose” (a minor hit in 1950), “(Back Home Again In) Indiana” which Armstrong had recorded in the fall of 1957 with the Oscar Peterson Trio, “C’Est Si Bon,” “Now You Has Jazz” (a hit in 1958) and “Mack The Knife,” a huge hit for Armstrong in 1956.

Taken together, the All-Stars program captured on this DVD cuts a wide swath across four decades of American music, featuring material that embodies the spirit of early jazz, blues and pop. While musical highlights abound, the performance is held together by Armstrong’s ebullient personality. Coming of age as a professional musician at the dawn of jazz recording, musicians of Armstrong’s generation thought of themselves, first and foremost, as entertainers. Great art might occur in the process, but at the end of the day it was their ability to entertain that guaranteed them an audience and a living year after year. The roots of such entertainment for African American musicians of Armstrong’s generation were minstrelsy and vaudeville. To that end, Armstrong comes across as a larger-than-life character, clowning, grinning from ear to ear, rolling his eyes and mugging for the audience throughout the show. That meant shtick like Armstrong and Young’s parading at the end of “Tiger Rag,” the cornball humor of “Now You Has Jazz” and the constant guffawing and drawn out cries of “Ahh” heard at the end of tunes were an integral part of his show. While some contemporary critics accused Armstrong of being an Uncle Tom, they simply didn’t get it. This was a performance aesthetic from an earlier point in time, and Armstrong was a master.

His philosophy is perhaps best summed up in this quote from an interview he gave a few years after this performance: “I never tried to prove nothing, just always wanted to give a good show. My life has been my music, it’s always come first. But the music ain’t worth nothing if you can’t lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience ’cause what you’re there for is to please the people.”

This may be the only complete performance by Louis Armstrong that exists on film. This rare treasure represents an important document of one of the most important jazz musicians ever. Sing it, or should I say swing it, Pops.

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