Louis Armstrong - trumpet, vocals
Billy Kyle - piano
Barney Bigard - clarinet
Trummy Young - trombone
Mort Herbert - bass
Danny Barcelona - drums
One of the true icons of jazz, Louis "Satchmo"Armstrong single-handedly invented the concept of jazz as a soloist's artform in the mid 1920s with his revolutionary Hot Five recordings. Before that, including during his apprenticeship with the King Oliver band in New Orleans and later in Chicago, jazz was primarily an ensemble form. But Armstrong's unprecedented virtuosity on the trumpet, particularly on masterworks like "West End Blues," "Potato Head Blues" and "Tight Like This," changed the course of jazz for all time.
A beloved figure internationally as well as a favorite of promoter George Wein, Armstrong was a perennial headliner at the Newport Jazz Festival from its inception in 1954. His appearance at the 1960 festival featured his usual aggregation of All-Stars including New Orleans native and longtime Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard, trombonist Trummy Young, pianist Billy Kyle and drummer Danny Barcelona along with bassist Mort Herbert.
They open their Friday night set with Armstrong's sentimental theme song, "When It's Sleepy Town Down South," a tune that perfectly captures the Big Easy ambiance of his hometown New Orleans. From that laid back number they smoothly segue into a blazing uptempo rendition of "Back Home in Indiana," which has Armstrong blowing in peak form, hitting those high notes with clarity and gusto. Pianist Kyle, clarinetist Bigard and trombonist Young also turn in heated solos of their own on this spirited rendition of the classic jazz jam vehicle, which was first recorded in 1917 by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Next up is a relaxed New Orleans style reading of "The Bucket's Got a Hole in It," which has drummer Barcelona simultaneously providing a midtempo swing feel on the ride cymbal and a N'awlins flavored second line groove on the bass drum. Bigard takes a wonderful clarinet solo on this traditional number that was a hit in 1949 for country star Hank Williams and covered in 1958 by budding pop star Ricky Nelson. Young also engages Armstrong on some vocal trade-offs before taking a raucous trombone solo.
Barcelona's drum flurry kicks off a runaway romp through "Tiger Rag," a classic Dixieland jam vehicle first recorded in 1922 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The ensemble then launches into "Now You Has Jazz," the show-stopping number from the 1956 Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Frank Sinatra film High Society, which Louis appeared in as himself. Everybody in the band gets a taste here, and for the triumphant vocal climax, Armstrong engages in playful call-and-response with Trummy Young (or as Louis calls him, "Bing Crosby in Technicolor"). They follow with the title track from that popular movie, a calypso flavored "High Society."
"Ole Miss" is a classic Dixieland jam that explodes with collective improvisation from Young, Bigard and Armstrong. Bassist Herbert alludes to the Modern Jazz Quartet's tune "The Golden Striker" at the beginning of his bass solo before Bigard extrapolates on the familiar theme in his extended clarinet solo. Young follows with an expressive trombone solo before Armstrong lets loose with one of his patented high-note trumpet solos that rises above the collective fray. At the outset of the easy midtempo toe-tapper "Girl of My Dreams," Armstrong addresses the crowd: "Thank you, folks. We're trying to get you out of this rain, we're gonna keep it rollin'. Here's our piano man Billy Kyle." And with that introduction they head into the engaging number from 1927, which is essentially a showcase for Kyle's deft ivory-tickling.
Clarinetist Bigard is next featured on a popular tune he recorded in 1942 with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, "C Jam Blues." Armstrong then returns to exercise his plaintive pipes on "Blueberry Hill," a tune written in 1940 and covered that year by the Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa big bands before Satchmo's orchestral version in 1949. (The tune became an international hit in 1956 for another New Orleans icon, Fats Domino). Armstrong and his All-Stars follow with a blazing uptempo rendition of the 1938 Charlie Shavers tune "Undecided," which features scorching solos from trombonist Young, Kyle and Armstrong, who generates some sparks here. Bigard steps forward to announce another Ellington composition, "I'm Beginning to See the Light," which turns out to be an extended feature for bassist Herbert, who carries the familiar melody from the outset before launching into a lengthy solo. The horns follow with some relaxed Dixieland-styled interaction on the front line and Herbert wraps it up with more deep tones on his upright.
Armstrong saves the crowd-pleasers for last, beginning with "Mack the Knife," the Kurt Weill tune (from the 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera) which Satchmo popularized in his 1956 version. A surprising take on "Stompin at the Savoy," a Swing Era staple associated with both the Chick Webb and Benny Goodman big bands, features an extroverted solo showcase by drummer Barcelona. Vocalist Velma Middleton joins the group for a medley of "St. Louis Blues/Kokomo I Love You So." Showman extraordinaire Armstrong engages his vocal foil in some playful double entendre on this spirited medley (which gets particularly risqué on the calypso flavored "Kokomo"). The band runs through a swinging medley of "After You've Gone," a 1918 composition that became a Swing Era staple during the 1930s, and the New Orleans standard "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Then Armstrong bids the crowd adieu: "We had a wonderful time, even in the rain." But it doesn't end there. The band follows with a strangely reverent take on "The Star Spangled Banner" and for a finale the whole Newport crowd serenades Louis with a joyful rendition of "Happy Birthday" to mark his 60th birthday. (Armstrong claimed he was born on July 4th, 1900 but biographers later discovered that his New Orleans birth certificate revealed August 4, 1901 to be this actual date of birth).
Following directly in the lineage of New Orleans trumpet kings, from Buddy Bolden and Freddie Keppard to Bunk Johnson and Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong rose from poverty to the top of the jazz world. A beloved international ambassador for jazz in his later years, he rewrote the rules with his sterling virtuosity on the trumpet, exemplified by his historic Hot Five sessions in 1925 and Hot Seven sessions in 1927 for Okeh Records. Armstrong's appearance in the 1929 musical Hot Chocolates introduced his gravel-throated vocal style and charismatic stage presence to the public, marking the beginning of a transition from jazz artist into popular star status and leading to appearances in such movies as the 1936 Bing Crosby vehicle Pennies from Heaven, 1938's Dr. Rhythm, 1941's Birth of the Blues, 1943's Cabin in the Sky and 1947's New Orleans (opposite Billie Holiday). Armstrong formed his All-Stars in 1947 and was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine on February 21, 1949. In 1964, he knocked the Beatles off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Hello, Dolly!," which gave the 63-year-old performer a U.S. record as the oldest artist to have a #1 song. He died from a heart attack on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday. His highly sentimental "What a Wonderful World" became a posthumous hit for the jazz legend, subsequently used in countless films and television programs. Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972 by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The house in Corona, Queens where he lived for close to 28 years was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and opened to the public as a museum in 2003. In 1995, the U.S. Post Office issued a Louis Armstrong 32 cent commemorative postage stamp. (Milkowski)