Even at two discs and 37 tracks, it's difficult to say that this set contains everything that is truly essential from Louis Armstrong's monumental five-decade career. It does, however, do a great job of touching down at key points, and nicely balances Armstrong's various guises as a groundbreaking sideman, soloist, bandleader, singer, and ultimately, American legend, icon, and the very embodiment of the face of jazz. Opening with Armstrong blowing accomplished blues choruses on 1925's "Sugar Foot Stomp" while a member of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra
, moving through his revolutionary Hot Five
sessions and his years fronting and leading the Armstrong All-Stars
, and concluding with 1968's poignant summation "What a Wonderful World," this lovingly assembled overview sketches a broad outline of perhaps the most important American musician of the 20th century. Armstrong's genius on the trumpet is aptly documented here, but so too is his equally innovative vocal style, which raised scat singing to the level of art, and brought the fluid, bending flow of the horn line into pop vocal phrasing, resulting in definitive versions of "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Black and Blue" (one of the most subtly important vocal performances in the history of Western pop), "Lazy River," "Georgia On My Mind," "Stardust," "Blueberry Hill" (before Fats Domino
), "Mack the Knife" (before Bobby Darin
), and "What a Wonderful World." Serious Armstrong fans and collectors will already have everything here, but if you only have room in your collection for a single Armstrong set, and you want something that touches on the full sweep of his jazz and pop contributions, then this is the one to get.