Tribute to Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars: Gordon Au Live at Lindy Focus

Gordon Au Louis Armstrong Lindy FocusI didn’t realize just how much I need dancing in my life, until I could no longer do it. I knew I loved it, but not quite how truly, madly, and deeply. So this album, recorded live at one of the world’s biggest swing dance events, comes as a beacon of sheer delight in a strange, dark, and danceless time.

New York trumpeter, composer and arranger Gordon Au’s astonishing career has seen him record with Herbie Hancock, give seminars in Mumbai, and play countless jazz festivals worldwide. His bands have graced some of the planet’s biggest swing dance events, including ILHC, DC Lindy Exchange, and Lindy Focus, where this joyful concert was recorded just a few (long) months ago.

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Au and his own all-star line-up—which includes clarinetist Jacob Zimmerman, bandleader and 2013 Emerging Artist of the Year—do their heroes proud with a deft performance which is by turns energetic (“My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”) and tender (“Blueberry Hill”), but highly danceable from beginning to end.

Like Louis, prodigious Gordon is prone to frequent, creative flourishes of the horn—syncopated syncopation, if you will—but as and when he feels like it, rather than mimicking Louis’ riffs. While a “tribute” in other genres implies note-for-note reconstruction, Au and co achieve something which feels original, albeit with an intentionally familiar sound palette.

Likewise Jim Ziegler’s growling voice captures an iconic Armstrong spirit with its pleasing, lazy slur and playful spoken asides, though without sounding like a hammy imitation. Fellow vocalist Laura Windley could have tried for Fitzgerald-esque punch, but instead gives us a fresh, sweet sound more reminiscent of early Doris Day. The pair work delightfully well together, especially on their shared rendition of “All That a Meat and No Potatoes” (a swing dancers’ favorite).

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While enjoyable for its sheer skill alone, the allure of this album—for me at least, and doubtless for other dancers, too—is imagining that crowded ballroom in which it was recorded. The glittering lights, twirling dancers, laughter, live music, and massed movement; all things we can’t enjoy for real right now.

So if you’re craving suede soles and waxed floors, I implore you to buy this disk and get an aural fix. Then buy another copy for a friend; any profits support a musician whose career is on hold, thanks to the pandemic. If you’re not sheltering in place with a dance partner, grab any housemate and teach them to shuffle. As Louis once sang: “We have all the time in the world…”

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