Recorded for the Okeh label between 1925 and 1928 in Chicago, these three albums (86999, 87010 & 87011) contain historic material that offers plenty of insight into all the jazz that was to follow in its footsteps. Columbia has preserved the sound, so that we get nothin’ but good music and no distractions. Their decision to release the material in three separate CDs, after winning a Grammy Award in 2000 as part of a box set, works well for the jazz collector who wishes to focus on a particular aspect of Armstrong’s roots. Each of the three albums includes a separate Gary Giddins essay tied to that volume’s individual characteristics.
The tracks flow in chronological order. Volume 1, with the Hot Five, stands apart for its reliance on the banjo as keeper of the rhythm. Johnny St. Cyr and Lil Armstrong provide a sizable foundation to fill the void that we’ve all come to expect from the inclusion of bass and drums in any jazz band setting. Mr. And Mrs. Armstrong are at the peak of their form, delivering hot and saucy instrumental licks as well as lovely vocals aimed at a broad audience. Scat singing made its way into history through “Heebie Jeebies” (February 26, 1926) and “Skid-Dat-De-Dat” (June 23, 1926). Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory shone as prime instrumentalists in a small band that respected improvisation and a creative spirit.
Volume 2 introduces the Hot Seven with its inclusion of tuba and drum set. Introduction of the guitar in 1927 does not go unnoticed, since St. Cyr gets due recognition as a solo voice on the instrument. Ten tracks include members of the Carroll Dickerson dance band. It’s at this time, in ’27, that Louis Armstrong begins to apply his singing voice more toward lyrical beauty, with less of a tie- in to vaudeville comedy. His bright cornet continues to serve as a beacon of leadership for all those who followed.
A return to the Hot Five format carries through Volume 3, with continued reliance on the leader’s powerful trumpet voice. Lonnie Johnson brought a considerable change to the small unit, holding true to the Blues and eschewing flights of entertainment-oriented fancy. 1928 saw a change in personnel that was to last for a long time. Zutty Singleton joined the Hot Five on drums, and Earl Hines replaced Lil Armstrong on piano. “West End Blues” continues to stand apart as a classic session. The duet on “Weather Bird” between Armstrong and Hines makes a lasting impression, as does the ensemble’s interpretation of “Muggles.” “St. James Infirmary,” a personal favorite, gives you an added something to carry with you all day long. The seminal music of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven lasts and lasts and lasts.
Track Listing: Volume 1: My Heart; Yes I
Personnel: Louis Armstrong- cornet, trumpet, vocals; Lil Armstrong- piano, vocals; Earl Hines- piano, vocals,
celeste; Kid Ory, Harry Clark, Fred Robinson, John Thomas, Honore Dutrey- trombone; Bill Wilson-
cornet; Pete Briggs- tuba; Johnny Dodds- clarinet, alto saxophone; Don Redman- clarinet, alto
saxophone, vocal; Boyd Atkins- clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Joe Walker- alto
saxophone, baritone saxophone; Jimmy Strong- clarinet, tenor saxophone; Albert Washington-
tenor saxophone; Johnny St. Cyr, Rip Bassett, Dave Wilburn- banjo, guitar; Mancy Cara- banjo,
vocal; Lonnie Johnson- guitar; Tubby Hall, Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton- drums; Clarence Babcock-
added vocal on