Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy is arguably Satch’s finest recording of the 1950s. At the time, the Louis Armstrong All-Stars included trombonist Trummy Young, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Billy Kyle, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Barrett Deems with vocals by Velma Middleton. Armstrong’s trumpet playing throughout the 1950s was very much in its prime, not breaking new ground as he had in the 1920s and early ‘30s but simply displaying consistent brilliance with a beautiful tone, a wide range and perfect placement of notes. Bigard might have been tiring of the group at the time and would soon depart but Young and Kyle were fairly new to the band and filled with enthusiasm.
While Armstrong was sometimes criticized for playing a predictable repertoire in his live performances, this inspired studio set features him performing quite a few songs for the first time on records including “Yellow Dog Blues,” “Long Gone,” “The Memphis Blues,” and “Hesitating Blues.” One of the highpoints of Louis Armstrong’s career on records is his nearly nine-minute version of “St. Louis Blues” which has two majestic trumpet solos, plenty of roaring trombone from Young and a comedy vocal with Middleton. “Ole Miss” is pretty hot too. This reissue augments the original 11 selections with three alternate takes, a joke by Satch, and a brief interview with W.C. Handy. Timeless music.
Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy (Columbia/Legacy 64925, 16 selections, TT = 76:37)