Louis Armstrong – Good Evening Ev’rybody (1970/2009)

by | Jan 30, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Louis Armstrong – Good Evening Ev’rybody (1970/2009)

Louis’ 70th Birthday at The Newport Jazz Festival
Produced & Directed: George Wein & Sidney J. Stiber
Guest Performers include: Dizzy Gillespie, Mahalia Jackson, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Ray Nance, Jimmy Owens, Eureka Brass Band
Narrator: Louis Armstrong
TrackList: Hello Dolly, I Want a Little Girl, Thanks a Million, Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, I’m Confessin’, Them There Eyes, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, I’m in the Market for You, Ain’t Misbehavin’, When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, Pennies from Heaven, Blueberry Hill, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Come On Children Let’s Sing, Elijah Rock, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, When the Saints Go Marching In, Mack the Knife, What a Wonderful World.
Studio: Image Entertainment ID6156EBDVD
Video: 1.78:1 color for 16:9
Audio: Dolby mono
Extras: The Story Behind the Film, Behind-the-Scenes featurettes: When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Length: 92 minutes
Rating: *****

This is an unforgettable musical celebration – never before released but seen recently in a shorter version on PBS – that we have to thank Newport Festival founder George Wein for getting together. It was sort of a last-minute project without much budget, but he realized it was an important event in Armstrong’s long career and assembled several cameramen to shoot the event and its rehearsal on 16mm color film with mono sound. The advances that have been made in the restoration of old films models that of the audio restoration world, and the visual quality of this DVD is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, they used the Dolby mono codec instead of just plain uncompressed PCM mono; the audio track is OK but would probably have had more clarity with the PCM.

Wein explains in the extras that he didn’t know much about filmmaking, but he showed great foresightedness in filming Armstrong in his home just talking to the camera about some of the people in the Newport event and incidents in his musical life. These were then intercut to intro the appropriate selections onstage and thus Louis provided his own narration for the film without realizing it. There are shots of the high-spirited rehearsal with Armstrong, but Louis doesn’t come onstage until somewhat into the concert.  He doesn’t play his trumpet at all, he was ill and it probably was getting difficult for him by this time, but he delivers several vocals in his inimitable style. (He passed away the following year.)  The trumpet theme is carried by six different top trumpeters who each get at least one tune, and at one of the closing tunes they all appear onstage together. Dizzy talks about the Louis impersonation he did when traveling the world with his band for the State Department, and then gives us a short hilarious example. Ray Nance is also a standout with his lounge-lizard-style delivery of “I’m in the Market for You.”  The first of the two behind-the-scenes featurettes is an extended version of a tune Louis does in the film, and the other is a very casual bit from the Preservation Hall Band, who usually sound that way. 

Near the end of the concert things swing into a gospel mode with Mahalia Jackson and her pianist and organist. For the grand finale she is joined by Louis and the rest of the performers for a celebratory “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  Everything is loose and casual, and everybody smiles ear to ear.  This is not your usual big concert production, but that’s part of its charm.

 — John Henry

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