Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson

 

Do you wanna come over and play?

This is jazz as it is in movies not made by Spike Lee. This tight little 5 piece is the kind of band playing at the party where Harry makes his move on Sally; formal wear, open concept space lit by tiny white lights, and meticulous, complex music used as window dressing.

This record is actually one of a handful that I can say is directly responsible for me starting to collect records. At a certain point in high school I had a handful of friends who were into mail ordering punk and indie 7” and 10”s. I resisted this trend at the time. Until one day, while working at my job at Goodwill a box of records came in as a donation that included Coltrane Live at Birdland, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, and Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson, as well as some others. My heart stopped looking down at this box full of great music that I was interested in exploring—and I could have them for 50 cents a piece! I made the decision right then and there that I was now a record collector and took that box home with me that night. That was the start of it all. I think at the time, before that box, I owned two records. I don’t think it took me long after that box to reach my first hundred.

Louis Armstrong sings on every track and plays on a few. It seems obvious, but it never really occurred to me that Tom Waits would have been influenced by Louis Armstrong. Listening to this recording of “How Long Has This Been Going On” really highlights the connection between them for me. I don’t know if the growly rasp of Waits is a direct attempt to emulate Armstrong, but I do believe that he developed a style around that voice type, particularly the vocal flourishes accentuating each phrase, at least partially from listening to Armstrong.

In high school I used to hang out with a couple of friends inside the orange crawling-tube on the nearby playground apparatus and sing, with my best Louis Armstrong growl, Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” I’d really lean into the chorus, rolling that “Ooooooh Mama” in my throat and letting it echo in the confines of that polymer tube. The routine always got a laugh and I loved doing it.

The ballads on this record are songs I feel I could pull up to my neck like a favourite blanket and just stay curled up inside of all day. I love the clean mid-range tone of the guitar. Herb Ellis sliding up into his chords on “Blues in the Night” is everything I love about this kind of understated guitar accompaniment.

There’s fire in the performance of “Moon Song.” Peterson accenting the vocal with triplets that feel influenced by the rock n’ roll music that would have been burgeoning at the time. Armstrong’s solo here is more adventurous and passionate than the other, more straight-forward, representations of his horn playing on this record.

I feel weird that I’ve written this much and not yet mentioned Oscar Peterson being Canadian. I don’t really have anything worth saying related to this fact, but I feel like it has to be said anyway because I am Canadian and that is what we do.

Sorry.

***

Favourite song: You Go To My Head

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