July 2008

Louis Armstrong - Live in Australia, 1964
Medici Arts 2056838
Format: DVD
Originally Broadcast: 1964
DVD released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

Louis Armstrong is such a defining figure in the development of jazz that Ken Burns’ exhaustive documentary examines his career and Duke Ellington’s in more depth than any another musician’s. Armstrong played his music throughout the world and became for many the face of America. At the time of this appearance in 1964 for Australian television, he had scored an unexpected hit with his version of "Hello Dolly," which succeeded in pushing the Beatles off the #1 spot on the charts. He was apparently unaware of that fact at the time of this performance, since the song is not included. Many other signature Armstrong tunes are here, such as "When It’s Sleepy Time Down South," "Basin Street Blues," and "Mack the Knife."

Armstrong’s All Stars then included trombonist Trummy Young, who cuts up with his boss onstage, and bassist Arvell Shaw, who played with Armstrong off and on since 1945. These guys are pros and the show is light-hearted and entertaining, but when the musicians get to play -- and the leader gives each of them time to show off -- they get down to business. Armstrong is more entertainer than innovator here, but he is in good voice, and when he picks up his horn he plays with precision, a clear tone, and great feeling.

The sound is sometimes erratic -- a solo might begin off-mic and Joe Darensbourg’s clarinet is frequently behind in the mix -- but the recording captures the spirit of the show well enough. The film is grainy black and white, which gives it a likable period charm. Not an essential entry but an enjoyable example of this important musician’s work.