Years ago I picked up a budget jazz CD set called Jazz Master Files. I figured I’d find three of four songs I liked on it — instead it turned out to be a treasure trove of excellent jazz covering most of the genre’s golden years. One of the tracks on it is a sizzling live performance of “St. Louis Blues” by Louis Armstrong and his band. I had never heard the song before, but instantly fell in love with it thanks to this version (sadly, the CD contained no information on the performance itself so I can’t place a date or venue).
Published in 1914 by W.C. Handy, “St. Louis Blues” remains one of the most popular and enduring songs in jazz history for good reason. It’s energetic and simple, yet has melody that just won’t quit. The most famous take of the song is probably the 1925 rendition from vocalist Bessie Smith, backed by Satchmo on cornet. For your enjoyment this Sunday, here’s a handful of other takes on “St. Louis Blues.”
- An undated live performance by Louis Armstrong and his orchestra (from Jazz Master Files). This one really captures the blues feeling, but man does it swing.
- A hot Big Band studio recording led by the Dorsey Brothers, Jimmy and Tommy (from An Anthology of Big Band Swing: 1930-1955).
- Scarcely recognizable at first, this 1959 take by Dizzy Gillespie brings the song right into the height of the bop age (from Have Trumpet, Will Excite!). That’s Les Spann on guitar.
- You wouldn’t believe this is just one man playing that piano, but in fact it’s the legendary Art Tatum blowing through this version with his trademark stride (from The Golden Years of Jazz, Volume 1).
- Finally, I love this percussion-heavy rendition by the Quartette Trés Bien, one of my favorite jazz groups from the 1960s (from Where It’s At!).