Album of the Week: Louis Armstrong, 'Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule'
Louis Armstrong, the musical genius from New Orleans whose trumpet mastery revolutionized popular music, is making a triumphant return to the charts with his first-ever Christmas album, Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule.
Featuring various popular holiday tracks like "Cool Yule," "'Zat You Santa Claus?" and "Christmas Night in Harlem," this collection debuted in the Top 10 on several different Billboard charts, breaking into the Billboard 200 at No. 122 — Armstrong's highest-charting album since Hello Dolly in 1964.
With a deep-rooted passion for music, Armstrong spread his musical influence across the nation in the 1920s from Chicago to New York City and Los Angeles. His hard work paid off as he gained international fame by 1940, touring almost every night of each year — an inspiring yet often challenging journey documented earlier this year in Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, an acclaimed Apple Original Film.
These concerts were united by a spirit of Christmas, as indicated in the liner notes by Ricky Riccardi, the author of two Armstrong biographies (Heart Full of Rhythm and What a Wonderful World), and Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. (He recently won a Grammy for Best Album Notes, for the Mosaic boxed set The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia And RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-1966.)
Riccardi reveals that prior to meeting his beloved Lucille Wilson, Armstrong had never truly experienced the spirit of Christmas. However, a fateful year brought newfound joy into their lives together as they began a magical tradition — setting up a small but festive tree in whatever hotel room they happened to be staying at. Brightening one another's holidays wherever life took them, these decorations became reminders of home and always sparked feelings of warmth throughout yuletide season.
As a compilation Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule includes songs that most fans are likely to know from previous releases, like his duet with Ella Fitzgerald on "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." Among the most noteworthy inclusions in the collection are "What a Wonderful World" and "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas"), which both reflect Armstrong's reflective feelings near the end of his life.
Armstrong released the original, iconic version of "What a Wonderful World" on ABC-Paramount Records in 1967. Despite his best efforts to promote it in America, poor internal politics led to the failure of its marketing campaign, and sales barely reached 1,000 copies nationally. The song, however, found success abroad, topped England's charts for 13 weeks, and gained popularity across Europe and South Africa. In 1970, Armstrong revisited "What A Wonderful World" when he included it on an album under his own name, Louis Armstrong and His Friends.
As for "A Visit From St. Nicholas," it originates with prose recorded by Satchmo months before he died, at his home. The poem appears here with accompaniment from New Orleans-born pianist Sullivan Fortner, thus providing a link to the current jazz scene.
Aside from sharing his favorite holiday with fans, Cool Yule is a testament to Armstrong's generous spirit. It's as if Satchmo became Santa himself, sliding down the chimney and giving music lovers another gift that will live alongside his enduring legacy.
Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule is available now on Verve / UMe.