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The lost years

The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
The Complete RCA Victor Recordings
By Louis Armstrong

BMG Classics: 1997

This review first appeared in the April 11, 1997 issue of the North County Times.

Well, shoot, what's left to write about Louis Armstrong? He was to jazz what Babe Ruth was to baseball – not the first player, maybe not even the best, just the one who made America fall in love with his avocation.

A larger-than-life character with as much charisma as talent, Armstrong personified jazz from its arrival on the national stage in the early 1920s right up until the big band era. And even after that, he was a major celebrity until his death in 1971.

This new four-CD set is a complete collection of Armstrong's recordings for RCA Victor, and range in time from 1932 through 1947, encompassing two separate recording contracts (with a 13-year break between the two periods).

You'll find neither Armstrong's groundbreaking Hot Five recordings from the '20s nor his grandfatherly persona from his later years here. Instead, you'll find Armstrong in his middle, perhaps best, years, not as popular as the big band giants then topping the charts, but still able to play as much trumpet as anyone.