Louis Armstrong: Basin Street Blues (live, 1956)

This live recording opens with Louis Armstrong's spoken introduction of the song title. The immediate roar of approval from the audience is a good illustration of how, by the mid-1950s, so many reveled in Louis and his All Stars, and how the band had brought this music to a wide public and made something of a cultural icon of "Basin Street Blues," one of the songs that presents the essence and spirit of original New Orleans jazz. As Barney Bigard, the great clarinetist who formerly played with the All Stars and Ellington, said: "…it was just that the time was right. That band was to be the main group that brought jazz to the people, all over America and all over the world." And: "The band bridged the gap between show business and art."

It did indeed. With Louis Armstrong as the musical master of ceremonies and maestro of the trumpet, they brought this art to the audience in a most engaging way. "Engaging" is meant literally, as Armstrong's personal magic, love of the music, and unique connection with his audience brought them into active involvement with the experience of making this music (and thus, was an updated version of the original New Orleans jazz setting as a collective activity). One can hear this in the audience response; beyond the rousing applause at Satch's announcement of the tune title and the storm of applause at the end, the audience is part of the action when Armstrong, after singing "…in New Orleans, the land of dreams," goes into a scat line with flair (no doubt accompanied by some delicious mugging) with the audience's delighted response completing that part of the performance.

Musically, Armstrong is in fine form, playing with excellent tone, style and verve. Trummy Young adds his usual superb trombone work, as does Billy Kyle on piano; and adding to the rousing spirit of this refined New Orleans jazz, we are also treated to two bang-up drum solos by Barrett Deems. One negative here is the thin, shrill tone of Edmund Hall's clarinet. He swings like crazy, but the tone is hard on the ears. (For ultimate examples of good clarinet tone, check out Barney Bigard on "Mood Indigo" or "Black and Tan Fantasy", or Sidney Bechet on "Blue Horizon".)

February 24, 2009 · 1 comment


Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: Basin Street Blues

Bob Wills's syndicated radio show distributed by Tiffany Music in 1946-47 found his Texas Playboys tackling a wide range of material, encompassing country, jazz, blues and traditional songs. Here they deliver a carefree "Basin Street Blues" with a Dixieland sensibility. Tommy Duncan impresses with his conversational vocal delivery—was there was ever a more plainspoken jazz singer? Wills interrupts with his usual shtick, but can't dislodge Duncan's poker face. Louis Tierney, for his part, sets down his fiddle to fiddle with the sax and Alex Brashear offers up some credible New Orleans trumpet. But the highlight here is Noel Boggs's steel guitar, which sounds like it just came back from a luau. Is there a Basin Street in Honolulu? Put some pineapple on my po' boy, and please play that record one more time.

January 17, 2009 · 1 comment


Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis: Basin Street Blues

Wynton Marsalis's credentials as an exponent of New Orleans jazz are well known. But Willie Nelson sounds like he has spent a fair amount of time on "Basin Street" too. His relaxed, behind-the-beat delivery is very jazzy, and the whole band gets into the mood on this track. I am favorably impressed by Mickey Raphael's harmonica contribution here, and elsewhere on this live date. But Marsalis threatens to steal the show with his stop-time solo. I wish he had taken another chorus, or maybe two or three. In short, this meeting of the reigning monarchs of jazz and country turns out to be a celebration of mutual respect and brotherly love. Visitors to Basin Street today are often surprised to see monuments to Simón Bolívar, Benito Juárez and Francisco Morazán. Maybe it's time to add Willie and Wynton to the mix.

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments


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