Louis Armstrong’s career covered many separate chapters and cemented a solid influential framework around just about every jazzman that followed. Columbia’s ballad compilation features several facets of that career and captures "Pops" in his prime. Recorded from 1929-61 (most are from 1930 and 1955 sessions), the program teams Armstrong with Lawrence Brown, J.C. Higginbotham, and later with Velma Middleton, Carmen McRae, Barney Bigard, Trummy Young and others. Billy Kyle, Arvell Shaw and Barrett Deems constituted a superb rhythm section for the trumpeter.
The album includes two slow ballads by Dave Brubeck with lyrics by his wife, Iola. From a 1961 session, "One Moment Worth Years" and "I Didn’t Know Until You Told Me" are performed with Brubeck’s quartet in support of singers Carmen McRae and "Satchmo" Armstrong. His trumpet doesn’t get a workout at that point; however, these two pieces stand out as an event tracing Armstrong’s deeper involvement in expressive vocal music.
Live performances of "All of Me" from Milan, Italy (closing out 1955) and "Ko Ko Mo" at Newport (1958) feature Armstrong fronting his sextet on the former and trading scat phrases and witty asides with Velma Middleton on the latter. The sweet trumpet sound and expressive vocal approach represented by Louis Armstrong will remain a pleasure for hundreds of listening generations to come. What makes performances such as his so special is that they appeal to such a broad audience. Rather than pinning on genre labels such as inside, outside, pre-this, post-that, classic, retro, or mainstream, the listener has only to relax, enjoy the music and remember that it’s all about jazz.