Louis Armstrong and King Oliver
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Louis Armstrong's tenure as second cornettist to the great King Oliver is one of jazz history's legendary apprenticeships, on a par with the one Miles Davis served with Charlie Parker or Stephane Grappelli's with Django Rheinhardt. Sadly, only a handful of recordings survive from this formative period in Armstrong's career; happily, all of them are available in this handy and generous package, which includes all 18 of King Oliver' s 1923 recordings with Armstrong, as well as a bonus appendix consisting of seven tracks recorded in 1924 by the Red Onion Jazz Babies under Armstrong's sole leadership (and featuring, on one number, a very young Alberta Hunter). The performances are as red-hot as you'd expect, and even the sound quality — which one would expect to be terrible, given that all tracks were transferred form 78 rpm records — is surprisingly clear, thanks to advanced digital wizardry. [Note: the material on this disc was originally issued on LP in 1974, and included two King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton duets that are missing from the CD reissue. Those duets are available on another Milestone reissue CD, Jelly Roll Morton, catalog number 47018.]
Early genius from the master
Though his work as front man of his own band would result in the landmark recordings of Louis' early career, these recordings were his first, and they really showcase his young talent. "Chimes Blues" is the standout here. It's my favorite song of his early work including the brilliant work he'd do just a few years later after he'd leave King Oliver. The solo is as good as you'll ever hear on any recorded music. The only negative thing about this particular collection is the quality of the master. Unfortuately, there's a lot of tape hiss, and if you listen to this version, then listen to the remastered version on Ken Burns' Jazz, you'll hear a remarkable difference. Just consider the hiss "old scars on fine leather."
Born: May 12, 1885 in New Orleans, LA
Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s