The Dreyfus label has released at least 28 tribute albums to major icons of jazz history, with classic recordings remastered, and ranging in time span from young Armstrong to Miles and Coltrane. These reissues are presumably conceived primarily as introductory samples to tempt new, possibly young, first-time buyers.
A few artists, deservedly including Louis, have been featured on two albums. Fireworks offers a window on young Louis in 1928, at the cusp of his incandescent early creative years. (Another Dreyfus album, C’est Ci Bon, presumably covers his later years as international star soloist, vocalist and entertainer.)
For the appropriately entitled Fireworks, Dreyfus has opted to confine its selection to the 21 tracks which Louis recorded in 1928, over various dates in June, July and December. This offers a window on just one but magnificent formative year in Armstrong’s long career. In doing so, the selection regrettably bypasses such earlier masterworks as Cornet Chop Suey and Potato Head Blues. However, compensation is at hand in abundance, as we marvel at Armstrong’s inspired jousting with the keyboard wizardry of Earl Hines, of comparable technique and talent. Louis responds wholeheartedly to the challenge.
He was now ready to move on, and to step on to the world’s stage. Listening again to these classic tracks, still awesome and thrilling, one can only wonder at his formidable power, technique and expressive tonal beauty, serving to deliver innovative flights of rhythmic and melodic creativity. The superb West End Blues says it all, whilst Fireworks and Weather Bird (Rag) show astonishing rapport, confidence and skill in the exchanges between Armstrong and the mercurial Hines. Finally, Louis’s innate artistry can be savoured in his beautiful and impassioned solo in the minor blues Tight Like This.
With very good sound quality, this is a well-chosen introduction to the remarkable achievements of the young virtuoso who, as Dizzy Gillespie put it, created the language of the jazz trumpet.
(1) West End Blues; A Monday Date; (2) Basin Street Blues; (3) Weather Bird (Rag); (4) St. James’ Infirmary; (1) Don’t Jive Me; Sugar Foot Strut; (2) No (No, Papa, No); (1) Knee Drops; (4) Heah Me Talkin’ To Ya?; (1) Fireworks; (5) Muggles; (1) Skip The Gutter; Two Deuces; (6) Symphonic Raps; Savoyager’s Stomp; (1) Squeeze Me; (7) Beau Koo Jack; No One Else But You; Save It Pretty Mama; (4) Tight LikeThis (66.49)
Armstrong (t,v) on all tracks with:
(1) His Hot Five. Fred Robinson (tb); Jimmy Strong (cl, ts); Earl Hines (p, cel, v); Mancy Carr (bj, v); Zutty Singleton (d). Chicago, 27, 28, 29 June and 5 July 1928.
(2) His Orchestra. As (1) Chicago, 4 December 1928.
(3) Armstrong (t); Hines (p). Chicago, 5 December 1928.
(4) His Savoy Ballroom Five. Fred Robinson (tb); Don Redman (cl, ts); Jimmy Strong (cl, ts); Hines (p); Carr (bj); Singleton (d). Chicago, 7 December 1928.
(5) His Orchestra. As (1) Chicago, 7 December 1928.
(6) Carroll Dickerson’s Savoyagers. Dickerson (vn, lead); Armstrong, Homer Hobson (t); Fred Robinson (tb); Bert Curry, Crawford Wethington (as); Jimmy Strong (cl, ts); Earl Hines (p); Mancy Carr (bj); Pete Briggs (bb); Zutty Singleton (d). Chicago, 5 July 1928.
(7) His Savoy Ballroom Five. Fred Robinson (tb); Don Redman (cl, as); Jimmy Strong (cl, ts); Earl Hines (p); Dave Wilborn (bj); Zutty Singleton (d). Chicago, 5 December 1928.