The Early Years - Recorded Live 1938-1949

Louis Armstrong

Legacy International, 2006

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Louis Armstrong really had two lives in his musical career. The one the under-40 crowd is most likely to remember is the grinning, gravel voiced showman busting out pop standards and show tunes with joyful exuberance. And, of course, his ubiquitous version of "What A Wonderful World" has become an iconic touchstone with a life of its own.

I remember as a child seeing him on the many variety shows that populated TV in the late 60s, and thinking that while he sounded like the Cookie Monster, the guy sure is happy. Which, of course, was one of the reasons for his popularity. His infectious personality drew you in and it was impossible to resist his charm. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But since our focus on is on jazz, I went back to his life before "Hello Dolly," when "Satchmo" (short for Satchel-mouth) was one of the world’s most popular jazz musicians.

Armstrong rose up from poverty in New Orleans digesting every musical influence he could find. Fatherless and prone to delinquency, he started playing trumpet in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, and never looked back. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s he made a name for himself with many different outfits, playing primarily Dixieland jazz in his innovative style on coronet and later trumpet, imbuing his loose-lipped scat singing.

While he didn't invent scat by any means, he definitely took it to a new level with his unique improvisational style. As an arranger, he retooled traditional Dixieland arrangements with swing and blues influences. At a time when solos were often an afterthought and usually were just one musician expanding the basic theme of the melody, Satchmo helped popularize improvisational solos, which became his trademark.

Finding a single album that showcases the early period of his career isn't hard -- there are probably a hundred -- but picking just one is tough. A true jazz aficionado told me it had to be live and handed me this disc.

It features live recordings from an 11-year span culled from many different sources. One of the things I liked about the tracks is many of them are from live radio broadcasts and include introductions by the host of that particular show. The quality is great, despite the age of the source recordings, and it has a very organic feel. The performances feature some of Satchmo's well-known jazz standards such as "Tiger Rag," "Muskrat Ramble" and "Heebie Jeebies."

Supported by a variety of artists, it's an excellent sampler of his core jazz legacy. I was not overly familiar with this era of his work and I found this disc to be a great introduction. You will too.

Rating: B+

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