Louis Armstrong: High Society


High Society


Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra


The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (RCA Victor 68682)

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Louis Armstrong (trumpet),

Ellis (or Elmer) Whitlock, Zilner Randolph (trumpets), Keg Johnson (trombone), Scoville Brown, George Oldham, Budd Johnson (reeds), Teddy Wilson (piano), Mike McKendrick (banjo, guitar), Bill Oldham (bass), Yank Porter (drums)


Composed by Porter Steele, A.J. Piron & Clarence Williams; arranged by Carl Russell


Recorded: Chicago, January 26, 1933


Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

Louis Armstrong's 1933 big band recording of "High Society" is not only vastly different from his recording with King Oliver 11 years earlier, but different from just about any other version. The arrangement by Carl Russell includes complete strains that I've never heard in any other recording of the song. Louis offers a verbal introduction and promises a re-creation of a New Orleans street parade. Lawson starts a parade drum pattern on his snare and Louis plays the "horns up" motive, but when the band comes in, the modern chords don't sound anything like a New Orleans street band. The saxes fumble through a difficult passage and Louis covers them up with an upward slide, and then Keg Johnson offers the familiar first strain on trombone, with the band swinging the background riffs. Louis takes over from Keg to conclude the strain, but the next minute or so of the arrangement consists of original big band riff choruses that were never part of "High Society". When we finally arrive at the trio, Randolph or Whitlock plays the theme while the saxes have a go at the famous clarinet obbligato. The minor "dog-fight" interlude from the original march leads into a variation on the trio that provides a backdrop for Armstrong's high-register trumpet fireworks. While the arrangement is an interesting attempt to transform a New Orleans band standard into a solo vehicle, the effort isn't entirely successful, and it certainly falls short of the expectations we had from the introduction.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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