In the 1950's Louis Armstrong traveled worldwide, playing concert after concert to wildly enthusiastic audiences. He was so extremely popular that the State Department of the United States appointed him an Ambassador of Good Will, for he alone brought joy and a mild form of delirium to the people of Europe and Africa, at a time when relations with America weren't that good.


He toured relentlessly by plane and bus, and his band was always named The All-Stars, even though personnel shifted from time to time. The group on the Western European tour in the Summer of 1955 was:
Louis Armstrong - Trumpet
Trummy Young - Trombone
Edmond Hall - Clarinet
Billy Kyle - Piano
Arvell Shaw - Bass
Barrett Deems - Drums

The Music 
 

Selection One : Our first selection opens with a Dutch announcer. The All-Stars then tear into the Royal Garden Blues. This is a New Orleans classic, but Louis' group takes at a driving tempo. The first thing I notice is how tight Trummy Young (trombone) is with Louis. He's there harmonizing on the tough spots, and proving why I always thought he was the All-Stars' best trombonist. When Edmond Hall kicks his gravelly clarinet solo, we hear Louis and Trummy fooling around in the background. Then Louis' solo - oh my God! 'Nuff said...

The ride out is typical for the All-Stars - blow 'em down, make them think you're done, then come back and kick their asses one more time!

Listen to Royal Garden Blues - Real Audio (4:59)

Selection Two : The Tin Roof Blues has been done time and time again, but every time it sounds different. Once again, it's Trummy time - to keep the bottom covered and the song moving with those "stick to Louis like a wet sheet" harmonies. Nice solo too. I just love the sound of Edmond Hall's clarinet - he takes it to the rough edge, then smoothes it out - the tease. No fireworks here, just good solid New Orleans blues.

Listen to the Tin Roof Blues - Real Audio (4:30)

Selection Three : The next one is a strange one Louis picked up in Germany. The real title is The Faithful Hussar, but Louis could never remember it - hence the reference to "Hussar Cuzzar." Pretty plain Jane until Billy Kyle struts off on his piano, and Louis fools around again. The heat starts to turn up a bit - and we wonder what's in store. Calm descends again when "Brother Hall" takes his ride. Louis barges in with a scat vocal that was neither planned nor rehearsed. But Trummy follows perfectly, as usual. His gravely tone and Louis' background yells let me know we're heading for a ride. Louis gives the high-hanging signal and takes it out an octave high. Then is kinda peters out - until Louis tells "saucy" to take another. Another screecher chorus by Louis and the deed is done.

Listen to the Faithful Hussar - Real Audio (6:09)

Selection Four : We have heard the Muskrat Ramble before, but the most popular version was by Louis in 1925. Guess who? Louis passes the ball to Trummy to set him up for his classic solo. This is note-for-note from the one he did in the 30's. Billy Kyle's left hand has always been a mystery to me - listen how it nudges against the melody hand and stabs in some pretty interesting chords. Then Arvell Shaw - huffing and puffing through the bass solo - I was always amazed he finished one without collapsing! Edmond Hall holds the high hard one to get us all in gear. Another classic Armstrong solo (listen to Billy Kyle mirror him at the end), leads to Trummy's - where when he plays a line from "Down by the Riverside", you can hear the audience singing along! Louis and the band take a very organized and percussive rideout.

Listen to the Muskrat Ramble - Real Audio (5:41)

Selection Five : All of Me opens with an Italian announcer who tries to be louder than the audience - good luck, pal! A nice sweet Armstrong vocal, which makes it clear why, almost 30 years after his death, that voice is more popular than ever, and no romantic movies can be made these days without at least one Armstrong vocal on the soundtrack. Great Edmond Hall clarinet solo - brandishing those rough edges again, followed by a solid Trummy Young piece. An inventive ride out by Louis - the band playing pickup sticks.

Listen to All of Me - Real Audio (4:10)

Selection Six: Undecided is a solo tune for Trummy Young, but it starts at such a breakneck pace, we wonder if he can get it done - silly us. Second verse he just leans back and parts the audience's hair. Billy Kyle's finger are flying over that keyboard faster than a swarm of bees (but that left hand is still nudging, nudging). Then Louis joins in for a game of tag - ending in a high E that Trummy grabs and takes along for a ride. The ending is inspired, but I believe Louis needs another shot. This time, after the solo - he pops a perfect high G (Jesus, for a 55-year-old in those days). Anyway - the song is so intense I feel a vacuum when it's over.

Listen to Undecided - Real Audio (3:40)

Selection Seven : West End Blues is an Armstrong classic, recorded in 1928. His opening solo has been deemed almost impossible to learn or reproduce. And at 55, it may be a touch slower than the original, but all the notes and nuances are there. This is a classic New Orleans blues with Trummy taking and holding the sweet spot, until Louis scats along with Edmond Hall - a neat touch. Two voices singing - albeit different ones, until the end. Billy Kyle's piano solo is masterful and honkey-tonkish, but the high-holding horn with the band punctuating underneath is worthy of another drink. The ending is ... so soothing after that rough ride.

Listen to the West End Blues - Real Audio (4:14)
 


 
 
 
 
 
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