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A collector’s item, The Great Summit places two fathers of jazz together in the studio with a small ensemble. It was Louis Armstrong’s all-star band with guest pianist Duke Ellington, and 1961 marked a gradual turning in both artists’ careers. In time, both would use their instruments less often, as matters turned toward other paths. Armstrong’s trumpet was still sparkling full and bright with his distinctive phrasing. Trummy Young and Barney Bigard made ideal sidekicks. Three of the 17 numbers are instrumental arrangements without vocals. Over two hours, the 2-CD set offers quite a few subtle surprises. Disc two contains rehearsals, false starts, miscues, and session conversation. It’s interesting to sit and listen as the band agrees on particular musical ideas and then performs them.
The extensive liner notes by Dan Morgenstern provide ample information on the session; he and Stanley Dance were present. Duke Ellington wrote "Azalea" 20 years earlier with Armstrong in mind. The phrasing does seem made for this trumpeter/singer, and of course it turns out as one of the session’s high points. "Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me" is an unusual arrangement of the classic song, with nonstandard harmony and tension. Same for "The Mooche." These are unique arrangements. "Just Squeeze Me" contains a loping cowboy rhythm in the trombone part; recall that television westerns were then quite popular. With his trumpet tone wearing a bit thin, Armstrong was moving toward more frequent use of vocals. He scat sings "Cottontail" with that sound we’ve heard only from this source. The trumpeter’s characteristic shake, his expressive vocals, the all-star band’s cohesiveness, and Ellington’s lovely piano support make this collection a special item. Don’t miss it.
Track Listing for The Great Summit: The Master Takes :Duke’s Place; I’m Just a Lucky So and So; Cottontail; Mood Indigo; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me; The Beautiful American; Black and Tan Fantasy; Drop Me Off in Harlem; The Mooche; In a Mellow Tone; It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing); Solitude; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; I’m Beginning to See the Light; Just Squeeze Me; I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good); Azalea
Track Listing for The Making Of The Great Summit :In a Mellow Tone; I’m Beginning to See the Light; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Duke’s Place; Drop Me Off in Harlem; I’m Just a Lucky So and So; Azalea; Black and Tan Fantasy
Personnel: Louis Armstrong- trumpet, vocals; Duke Ellington- piano; Trummy Young- trombone; Barney Bigard- clarinet; Mort Herbert- bass; Danny Barcelona- drums.