I review a lot of contemporary jazz albums that are tributes to jazz legends. A big chunk of the jazz canon is about honoring traditions and keeping those musical pioneers at the forefront of the genre. But have I ever reviewed an album from a jazz impressionist, someone who wants to do more than just remind me of a towering star? I’m asking because John Redmon, a Colorado Springs-based singer, pianist and composer/arranger, is a Louis Armstrong impressionist. On Honoring Louis Armstrong, it’s clear that this is a role he takes seriously.
Founder, president and CEO of Reaching Records–a position achieved when he was just 16 years old–John Redmon has recorded an album that emulates a big show at Satchmo’s peak. He teams with the Thomas J. Dawson, Jr. iOrchestra, a smooth and opulent ensemble that can handle both big band jazz and modern R&B, to perform some of Armstrong’s signature tunes such as “What a Wonderful World, “Smile,” and the obligatory “When the Saints Come Marching In” medley.
Does John Redmon sound exactly like Louis Armstrong? He’s an impressionist and not an impersonator, so Redmon succeeds at letting everyone know he’s “doing Louis” while still bringing something deep inside of himself to the party. He’s a deeply religious man, and his faith comes out occasionally in this program with songs such as “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “Blessed Assurance,” making this album veer more toward Satchmo’s Revival Meeting than a rare night at a downtown club. You can tell that this is all tied in with John Redmon’s purpose at Reaching Records, and he wouldn’t change a thing if he had to do it all over again.
The all-star approach to this charming album truly brings out the feel of a variety show. John Redmon enlists plenty of guest stars such as Linda Purl, the actress whose jazz career is really taking off, Charles Buie, the Fresh Start Baptist Church Male Chorus and a few more. Honoring Louis Armstrong is light and fun, but it also has a serious undercurrent with its respect to contemporary social issues. That’s the balance John Redmon creates here, of bringing Satchmo to life and letting him comment on the world around us for just a little bit. That’s a strong tonic for a week like this.