Louis Armstrong tribute band honours jazz legend with A Gift to Pops
By Adam Feibel2021/09/07
An officially endorsed group comprising some of New Orleans’ most prolific young jazz musicians has put together a tribute album to the great Louis Armstrong.
The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars’ recording A Gift to Pops celebrates the legacy and influence of the jazz legend, 50 years after his death in 1971.
The group is comprised of first-rate New Orleans musicians including trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and trumpeter Nicholas Payton, with special guests including Wynton Marsalis and Common. The band also features tenor saxophonist Roderick Paulin, trumpeters Ashlin Parker and Wendell Brunious, pianist Courtney Bryan, banjo player Don Vappie, vocalists Niki Haris and Menia Chester. Guitarist Derwin “Big D” Perkins makes a guest cameo appearance on Black and Blue.
For A Gift to Pops, the band has reimagined music associated with Armstrong during his five-decade career, including new arrangements and performances of tunes ranging from The Peanut Vendor, which Armstrong recorded in 1930, to his late-period hit What a Wonderful World.
“We decided to make a recording that captures the essence of Pops,” Gordon said in a media release. “We wanted to perform the music the way he might have played it if he were still alive. We all had ideas for how to pull this off, by including songs influenced by gospel, the blues, the traditional brass band sounds, popular music and rap.”
The band is the only one of its kind that’s officially sanctioned by the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, created by Pops himself. The project originated in 2018 on the recommendation of its executive director Jackie Harris. Four members of the band — Gregory Agid, Courtney Bryan, Joseph Dyson and Calvin Johnson — met while they were students at the prestigious Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp.
“We wanted to make this recording of the major 20th century artist who instructs and intersects with artists of the 21st century,” Harris explained. “Each artist had a say on the music. We allowed all the musicians to put their own signatures on the songs.”
Here’s what renowned jazz impresario George Wein writes in the liner notes for A Gift to Pops: “With this recording, this music of Louis Armstrong demonstrates how he created the language of jazz and influenced all the music that followed — from swing to bebop and even to rap, as demonstrated by Common. But there’s one thing for sure: This band and record demonstrate that there was nothing common about Louis Armstrong.”