Henry "Red" Allen spent his life in Louis Armstrong's shadow, usually figuratively but sometimes literally. Like his slightly older and far more famous predecessor, Red was born in New Orleans, journeyed jazzily upstream during the 1920s aboard Fate Marable's Mississippi riverboat band, landed with King Oliver in Chicago, and later joined Fletcher Henderson in New York. Red finally caught up with Louis in the late 1930s, becoming Armstrong's sideman for three years. (Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.) From 1940 onward, Red led his own bands, becoming in the mid-'50s a regular attraction at New York's Metropole Café, which daringly lined its musicians up in a single row on a narrow runway behind the bar. The music was always great, but probably at least a few patrons came to see whether or not some tipsy trombonist might topple with his slide in the 7th position and skewer a bartender en route to the sawdust.
This track was recorded earlier in the year of Red's widest national exposure, when he was featured on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz
. Besides exemplifying Red Allen's charm as both trumpeter and singer, "Ain't She Sweet" also features Buster Bailey's woody clarinet, the expected excellence of legendary tenorman Coleman Hawkins, and J.C. Higginbotham's rousing trombone. (Clearly, J.C. wasn't about to topple anywhere.) As drummer Cozy Cole flogs this 4-minute filly to a photo finish, we almost think: "Louis who?" Hey, I said almost
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