Satchmo at Symphony Hall, revisited

November 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm (Cross-post, good people, jazz, music, reblogged, Sheer joy, United States)

By Michael Steinman,  Jazz Lives:

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.” – Emerson

It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.

I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight. And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock. Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton. Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).

What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band. I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY. This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.

Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work. Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band. Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else. Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious. Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars. And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall. Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening. The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study. But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.

Louis himself is sublimely in charge. Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours. And his playing! There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs. But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed. I hear a leisurely power. Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.

Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi. Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.

Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts. Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES. For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with. However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.

For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals. Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)

And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.

May your happiness increase.

4 Comments

  1. Pinkie said,

    Well that cheered me up.

  2. Matt said,

    Manchester Jazz Society has an evening devoted to Louis Armstrong on 21 March next year with Jim Lowe on Armstrong in the 1930s and Hughie Weiner on the 1947 Town Hall concert, 8 o’clock at the Unicorn Hotel, Church Street.

  3. Roel Abels, editor of Jazzoog at OOG-Radio, Groningen, The Netherlands said,

    I bought this set yesterday, and despite all the good work the people at universal have done, I am really dissapointed with the results. If you compare the sound of this set with the 1996 Decca-GRD release, which is stunning when you compare it with earlier LP-releases, I ask myself, what sources in the vaults of Decca/Universal they have used. It sounds like that they made transfers from the 1951 LP-set and not made transfers from the original acetates or tapes at Decca. Above all, the concert is edited much too hard, Armstrongs trumpet and Teagardens trombone sounding harsh and way over the top of the original recording once sounded.
    I compared Muskrat Ramble in Adobe Audition, this new 65th anniversary version with the 1996 Decca-GRD version and my conclusion is that the new version was mastered much too hard, above 0 db, and next they topped the whole thing off at -2 db. You clearly can see that in Adobe Audition. The beautiful sound of the original Decca tape is hereby completely gone. If one wishes to release a new CD-set of this concert, first step the people at Universal have to make, is to contract a real “old fashioned“ technician like a Jack Towers or a Phil Schaap and let them look at the original source material and see what can be done with it. I get the the feeling that some smart computer-nerd was busy here to destroy everything. For paying such amount of money (Euro 32,99), one can expect some respect for the original source material and the beautiful sound recording, this concert once had.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    I’m not technical, and have not heard this new set, so I’ll take your word for it, Roel.

    It does sound like a pity if, as you say, the sound quality is poorer than the 1996 GPR CD (which I have).

    Smart computer-nerds with no real knowledge of jazz can, indeed, ruin modern re-issues. It’s especially sad when the source material was recorded very well.

    Thanks for the comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 500 other followers

%d bloggers like this: