A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.
Note that the second track on both sides is slightly smoother and more natural than the first. Listen for it!
This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Louis Armstrong singing and Duke Ellington’s band playing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information. Strings and brass with get shrill and congested without enough top end air to breathe.
Tube smear is common to most pressings from the ’50s and ’60s and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich. (Full sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins much of the fun, certainly at the loud levels the record should be playing at.)
What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in 1963
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of Ellington’s big band having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
- No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above
Louis Is the Man
We’re always on the lookout for Louis Armstrong records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think. Far too many of his recordings are poorly recorded, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.
We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Classic Records remastered back in the mid-’90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group.
Devoting the Resources
Having long ago given up on Heavy Vinyl LPs by Classic and others of their persuasion — we refer to it as Setting a Higher Standard — these days we are in a much better position to devote our resources to playing every Louis Armstrong album on every pressing we can get our hands on, trying to figure out what are the copies — from what era, on what label, with what stampers, cut by whom, stereo or mono, import or domestic — that potentially have the Hot Stamper sound, the very Raison d’être of our business.
We have to play each and every one of the records we’ve cleaned for our shootout anyway, whether we think it’s potentially the best pressing or not. There is no other way to do it. Right Stamper, Wrong Sound is an undeniable reality in the world of records. It’s not unheard of for the same stampers to win a shootout, do moderately well on another copy and then come in dead last on a third.
It Don’t Mean A Thing
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
I’m Beginning To See The Light
Just Squeeze Me
I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
Louis Armstrong was the first jazz superstar, a trumpeter, singer, and occasional actor who became a global American icon. Duke Ellington didn’t lead the most popular orchestra of the swing era, but he led one of the most creative, and his popularity — and creativity — far outlasted the days of the big bands.
In 1961, the Duke sat in with Armstrong’s band, and the two got down to some serious good-time nostalgia. The session is a relaxed yet spirited one, with the leaders alternating between each other’s best-known songs. One of the best things about this configuration is the sound of the Duke’s piano — an underrated pianist, he seldom recorded in such an intimate context.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.