Jazz Album of the Week: We Can't Get Enough of Louis Armstrong—Pops Is Tops!
November 25, 2019 Satchmo. Dippermouth. Pops. All nicknames used to address one of the most influential artists in jazz history—Louis Armstrong. To honor the anniversary of Armstrong’s birth in New Orleans in 1901, Verve Records released an amazing four-disc set back in 2018 showcasing the legend’s unique vocal style. Pops Is Tops: The Verve Studio Albums is truly tops!This set includes four albums from a vast collection. I’ve Got the World On A String (1960) and Louis Under the Stars (1958) were both recorded with the Russ Garcia Orchestra. Armstrong's trumpet solos on these recordings still stand out above the beautiful sound of the tight band. The Satch stylings make the standards sound as refreshing as they did at the time of their original release.
The third disc in the set, Oscar Peterson Meets Louis Armstrong, is where the real magic happens, especially for collectors. Describing Armstrong’s voice as “gravelly” would be an easy way out. While it was, Pops’ innocent charm, and his new (for the era) phrasing, dances like smoke around Peterson’s featherweight finger work. This is especially apparent in “What’s New.”
The final release included in this set is A Day With Satchmo, previously a digital-only release (originally recorded 1957). Oscar Peterson is the accompanist again, and many different versions of classics are offered for our enjoyment. It is truly a pleasure to hear the normally bouncy “Let’s Fall In Love” shift through experimental phases.
Listening to Louis Armstrong at this pivotal point in his career is a privilege. Hearing these recordings in their original mono masters is even better.