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The Great Summit: Complete Sessions (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

The master takes of this two-CD set have appeared previously on a number of reissues on both LP and CD as a compilation of the original two individual records Together for the First Time and The Great Reunion, but this release easily beats all of the previous issues. Two music legends, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, met in the studio for two days in 1961 with Armstrong bringing his group in to play an all-Ellington program and Ellington playing piano. This music has received high praise from numerous critics with good reason; everything seems to fall into place with little effort and a maximum of swinging jazz. It didn't hurt to have former Ellington band member Barney Bigard on clarinet or the equally talented trombonist Trummy Young on the date. Having Armstrong play Ellington's music was a nice change of pace, as the repetitious nature of Satchmo's repertoire in concerts didn't reveal his potential to audiences of the 1950s and 1960s. His newly improvised update of the lyrics to "Drop Me Off in Harlem" got Ellington into a great mood, while both Bigard and Armstrong responded well to Ellington's on-the-spot composition of "The Beautiful American," which closed the first recording session; he also shines on the obscure "Azalea," proving he was a quick study. Armstrong seems very familiar with Ellington's works and his solo on "Black and Tan Fantasy," which had been written in 1927 and recorded many times by a variety of trumpeters in Ellington's orchestra, rivals that of any of them. Bassist Mort Herbert and drummer Danny Barcelona are quite effective in anchoring the rhythm section on a solid foundation. Ellington seems energetic throughout both dates and he is great at providing just the right accompaniment behind the soloists as well as showing off his own chops. What is even more interesting is the addition of the previously unreleased rehearsals, alternate takes, and breakdowns (which are only on this expanded two-CD reissue) as the group worked through each number during the two days of sessions. An additional improvement is the glorious 24-bit remastering that dwarfs the sound of the earlier Mobile Fidelity, Mobile Fidelity Ultra, and Roulette reissues. Dan Morgenstern's informative liner notes and a number of previously unseen session photos add to the desirability of this set. The late producer Bob Thiele should be praised as well for working hard to make these recordings come into being. This landmark reissue should be the part of any jazz collection.


Born: August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Louis Armstrong was the first important soloist to emerge in jazz, and he became the most influential musician in the music's history. As a trumpet virtuoso, his playing, beginning with the 1920s studio recordings made with his Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles, charted a future for jazz in highly imaginative, emotionally charged improvisation. For this, he is revered by jazz fans. But Armstrong also became an enduring figure in popular music, due to his distinctively phrased bass singing and engaging...
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