Louis Armstrong understandably provoked awe, admiration, protectiveness, gratitude, reverence. And those who know his life will think without hesitation of the people who cherished him: his beloved wife Lucille, his manager Joe Glaser, his friend Jack Bradley, recently celebrated in The New York Times for his astonishing collection of sacred artifacts.
You can read the story about Jack here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/29/nyregion/29satchmo.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
But Gosta Hagglof, perhaps less famous, has done heroic things to keep Louis’s music alive. Gosta is an Armstrong scholar and aficionado as well as an enterprising record producer. On his own Ambassador label, he has created a wonderful multi-disc edition of Louis’s 1935-49 recordings, primarily for Decca, including alternate takes, airshots, and film soundtracks. Much of this material is not only new to CD but new to everyone. And it’s beautifully annotated and carefully speed-corrected: the ideal! On his Kenneth label, its label imitating the Gennett company’s baroque whorls, he also made it possible for us to hear Bent Persson’s awe-inspiring recreations and imaginings of Louis’s 1927 Hot Choruses and Breaks.
With typical generosity, Gosta has just issued / re–issued a Doc Cheatham CD tribute to Louis, a gem. It’s called THE EMINENCE, VOLUME 2: DOC CHEATHAM: “A TRIBUTE TO LOUIS ARMSTRONG,” and nothing in that title is hyperbolic. (Kenneth Records CKS 3408)
Cheatham is someone I think of as jazz’s Yeats, getting wiser and deeper and subtler as he grew older. Brassmen have a hard time because trumpets and trombones require such focused physical energy and skill just to get from one note to another with a pleasing tone. Doc truly did seem ageless, pulling airy solos out of nowhere, then embarking on weirdly charming vocals that mixed crooning, speech, and bits of Wallerish comedy. He hasn’t been well represented on compact discs, and this one is a particular pleasure because his Scandinavian friends, both reverent and playful, inspire him to majestic yet casual playing and singing. Those players, as an aside, are Gosta’s stock company — many of them playing nobly behind Maxine Sullivan in her finest late recordings (five compact discs worth!), the ambiance being somewhere between the Teddy Wilson Brunswicks and the Fifties John Hammond Vanguard sessions.
The original sessions from 1988 and 1989 also feature wonderful playing — piano and Eb alto horn — and arrangements by Dick Cary, someone who knew Louis well, having been the first pianist in the All-Stars at the irreplaceable Town Hall Concert. (Gosta asked Cary to replicate his original piano introduction to “Save It Pretty Mama,” which Cary does here. It is immensely touching.) The gifted but less-known pianist Rolf Larsson shines on two songs not originally issued. The gutty, loose trombone work of Staffan Arnberg is delightful, and the reed section — Claes Brodda, Goran Eriksson, Erik Persson, and Jan Akerman are all original, fervent players. I heard hints and echoes of Pete Brown and Charlie Holmes, of Herschel Evans, early Hawkins and Hodges, but they have their own styles, a swinging earnestness. The rhythm section, collectively featuring Mikael Selander, guitar; Olle Brostedt, bass, guitar; Goran Lind, bass, and Sigge Dellert, drums, rocks in a gentle, homemade, Thirties fashion. I imagine everyone in shirtsleeves. I especially enjoyed the hardworking lyricism of Selander, combining the great acoustic guitar styles of the period without imitating anyone: he has a Reinhardt eloquence without entrapping himself in QHCF cliches.
The sessions embraced the expected hot tunes: “Swing That Music,” “Our Monday Date,” a version of “Sweethearts on Parade” with Cary’s alto horn and Cheatham’s trumpet in jousting tandem, “I Double Dare You,” and “Jeepers Creepers,” all essayed with the looseness you would expect from expert players who love to take chances. The Swedish All-Stars play with daredevil ease — I don’t mean high notes or technical displays — but we hear them experimenting with the possibilities of the songs and the ensembles. The result is impromptu rather than overly polished, and I can imagine the musicians grinning triumphantly at the end of each take, as if to say, “Hey! We did it!” or the equivalent.
But the best performances here are painted in deep romantic, yearning hues. “Confessin,” a trio performance for Doc, Selander, and Lind, is the very epitome of tenderness, as is “I’m in the Mood for Love,” complete with the rarely-heard verse. “Save It Pretty Mama” has Cheatham at his most convincing as a singer; he pours his heart into “A Kiss To Build A Dream On,” a rueful “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home” (the song with which he concluded his Sunday brunch performances at Sweet Basil for years), a slow “Dinah” and “Drop Me Off At Harlem,” “Sugar,” and “That’s My Home.” We often associate Louis with bouncy numbers, with “Tiger Rag” and “Indiana,” but Cheatham draws on his awareness of Louis the romantic, early and late.
Especially in these performances, Cheatham and his young colleagues get at Louis’s huge heart — his wistfulness, hopefulness, and deep feeling, without ever overacting. Many of these slow performances left me with a lump in my throat. The results are music to treasure. Visit Classic Jazz Productions (http://www.classicjazz.eu) for more details.