Based in Denmark and boasting a catalogue of rarities and seminal recordings that would make any U.S. label drool, Storyville has carved a unique niche for itself on the international jazz landscape. Its own story began in 1952 as 23-year old Danish jazz aficionado Karl Emil Knudsen released a 1924 Louis and Lil' Armstrong recording with the Red Onion Jazz Babies. Until his death in 2003, Knudsen was devoted to the label and its associated book publishing and video projects. In the process, he became one of the world's most revered producers and jazz documentarians.
The scope of Storyville's offerings is daunting, making it unfeasible to highlight specific albums without slighting others. For neophytes though, their 50th Anniversary Celebration is apt introduction to a roster that has always included international sessions from the top names in American jazz as well as the best in Scandanavia- and Europe-based artists. Svend Asmussen, whose latest, Fit as a Fiddle, has the legendary 80-year old live with his quartet, begins the sampler in a duet with fellow violinist Stephane Grappelli in a swinging rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose . Continuing through stellar cuts from pianists Monk, Bud Powell and Hank Jones as well as saxophonists Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter and Archie Shepp, the CD showcases the scope of Storyville's archives.
The serious listener though, will be best served by diving into any one of the myriad releases that present original material from jazz greats on either side of the Atlantic. The newly released Louis Armstrong in Scandinavia provides continued proof that Satchmo's sessions remain a label mainstay. Complete with detailed notes, Armstrong performs with three different bands in concerts at Copenhagen and Stockholm during the '30s, '40s and '50s. 18 tracks, including two heretofore unreleased versions of "Twelfth Street Rag and "Steak Face by 1949's All-Stars featuring trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Barney Bigard, pianist Earl Hines, bassist Arvell Shaw and drummer Cozy Cole, make for a program of both musical and historical interest.
Because of Storyville's impeccable reputation for integrity and its long term positive relationships with many musicians, the label has been able to enter into agreements with the estates of deceased performers to package difficult to obtain or unreleased archival works. Such arrangements continue to result in multiple CDs that precisely trace the careers of influential artists. Perfect places to begin exploring are two recent projects from very different but equally rewarding quarters: Duke Ellington and pianist Art Tatum. The eighth in a series of nine CDs dedicated to the great Art Tatum in performance, Art Tatum Live: 1955-56, follows this untouchable master of technique during what would be the final year of his life. That flawless Tatum touch is still much in evidence on these radio broadcast recordings with a trio that consisted of Everett Barksdale on guitar and either bassist Slam Stewart or Bill Pemberton. Three gorgeous solo pieces, including his rhythmically fascinating trademark version of "Willow Weep for Me , round out the program.
Ellington fans, and who isn't one, have been enjoying both Togo Brava Suite and The Duke in Munich courtesy of his personal "Stockpile that features recordings underwritten by Ellington but never commercially released. The third in this sequence covers the years 1966-67 and includes material Ellington composed for a British play entitled "The Jaywalker . This is the Ellington Orchestra that included trumpeters Cootie Williams, Cat Anderson and Mercer Ellington, trombonist Lawrence Brown, drummer Rufus Jones, Paul Gonsalves on tenor, Harry Carney on baritone and altoist Johnny Hodges . The nine selections composed specifically for the play also prominently feature percussionist Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim. These well polished and expertly recorded studio "rehearsal takes allow ample solo opportunities and paint a personal portrait of the incredibly exciting musicianship, arranging and compositional abilities of the Duke.
Traditional jazz has also always been a Storyville staple. The 15 CD series, The Golden Years of Revival Jazz, celebrates this music. Jazz bands led by the likes of clarinetists Acker Bilk and Henrik Johansen or trombonists Papa Bue and Chris Barber are presented at their hottest peaks on vintage tunes from the '50s and '60s. After purchasing eight CDs, coupons can be redeemed for a free scholarly companion book that details the bands and these sessions.