Louis Armstrong,
An American Icon
(Hip-O, 1998)

I am not a jazz fan. I am chiefly a rock and folk freak, with a moody taste for raw blues of the 1940s and '50s. Nonetheless, I always knew that an entire universe of music awaited me patiently, with a wise grin, whispering to me, "I'll always be waiting for you."

I occasionally dabbled in some Duke Ellington and maybe a paltry Louis Armstrong compilation, but my ears just weren't mature enough. That whisper, I now know, came from within the songs contained on this magnificent box set, An American Icon. I always knew that Armstrong would wrap my ears in brass one day and hook me in, and finally he did.

The flawless sound on each of these three CDs certainly helped to flutter my heart on each track. I expected the first CD to be fantastic, but even I was not prepared for the luscious moodscape of songs on this collection, from the heartbreaking horn solos on the first CD to the cacophonies of jazz explosions on later tracks like "Hello Dolly" and "Mack the Knife."

This collection's saving grave is that it was compiled not by fat 'n' happy record execs beholden to contractual and monetary limitations, but by two of Armstrong's best-known producers. That is why every single song on this set has something to offer. Whereas other collections focus on narrow facets of Armstrong's expansive career, An American Icon will inundate you in the full breadth of Armstrong's creative peak, from 1945 'til the "What a Wonderful World" days of 1968. Make no mistake about it, no one in the world could possibly be disappointed by this set. This was done the right way by the right people, so if the price seems a bit exorbitant, buy it anyway and you will soon realize that you will never again spend a more rewarding 50 bucks.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 17 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.