Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

Major label executives, producers and (quite possibly) Washington insiders envisioned a new direction for Louis Armstrong once producer Bob Thiele brought him into the studio for this session. Sounding like a hardened lobbyist with greater political aspirations, this "contemporary" version of "What a Wonderful World" swings uncharacteristically amidst Armstrong's strange reflections upon society.

Intoning as if he is sitting back in a rocking chair as an old grandpa smoking a pipe filled with tobacco, he says, "Some of you young folks been saying to me, "hey, Pops, what you mean what a wonderful world," continuing, "How 'bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful?" A quick change in tone finds him pleading with listeners, stumping for public support for a message which is the exact same as John Lennon's ("Give Peace a Chance").

My first reaction is one of disappointment, for I was unaware that this was not the original version until I heard it. As a result, my second (and final) reaction is to wonder who the "young folks" that turned to Louis Armstrong for political leadership in the late 1960s were and if they knew what brand of youthful folly they were dabbling with by doing so.

August 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Mitchel Forman: What a Wonderful World

Mitchel Forman is one of the most inventive and skilled jazz pianists around. He plays with a deep natural instinct that allows him to get to the very core of each tune. You could first hear this way back in the early 1980s on his solo piano masterpiece Only a Memory. He is a remarkably gifted composer and a first-rate improviser and interpreter of other people's music as well.

Forman's solo take on "What a Wonderful World" is beautiful and touching. His empathetic playing focuses on the hopeful aspects of the tune while not ignoring its wistfulness. Forman delves into the nooks and crannies of this classic to expose the emotions that lie just below the surface. A well-placed accent or a carefully held note can convey just as much emotion as any word could. In that sense, Forman's playing speaks volumes. If this performance doesn't move you, I am glad I don't know you.

Forman's own fruitful solo career and outstanding work over the years with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny and many others should compel investigations into the whole of his impressive discography. "What a Wonderful World" would not be a bad place to start.

February 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong, photo by Herb Snitzer

Aside from Satchmo singing throughout, this track has nothing to do with jazz. But that's like saying, "Aside from the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor has no towering monuments." The single exception is a tad conspicuous. And certainly jazz has no monument more towering than Louis Armstrong. Here he transforms a platitudinous ditty that, done by any other singer, would make us cringe, and instead makes us rapturous. What other voice so embodied dignity, heartache, humor, compassion and downright love of life? By the mid-'60s, Louis Armstrong was the world's most endearing and uplifting American. This song shows why.

November 05, 2007 · 1 comment


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