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Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life Hardcover – June 16, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1st edition (June 16, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553067680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553067682
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #961,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The author of a terrific Irving Berlin biography (As Thousands Cheer), Laurence Bergreen produces a similarly astute character analysis of the renowned trumpet player, too often viewed as a musical genius but an Uncle Tom in race relations. On the contrary, Bergreen shows, Louis Armstrong (1901-71) was that rarest of human beings, someone who could respond to injustice with a determination to overcome that never included bitterness. Slightly stronger on milieu than music, Bergreen conveys such zest for the material and such obvious fondness for Armstrong that his book is a delight to read.

From Booklist

Louis Armstrong was a musical genius who left indelible marks on jazz and a legend so potent that it has taken a slew of biographers years to render harmless and formless. Bergreen, the author of As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1990) and Capone: The Man and the Era (1994), brings a great deal of insight to Armstrong's "extravagant" life, because he does not so much try to denounce or confirm the myths (he was born on 4 July_ 1900, he bought his first coronet with money he earned performing in the streets of New Orleans, his mother was a prostitute, and on and on) as establish that Armstrong was a musical genius who embraced his origins and brought the past into the formidable body of music he produced. Bergreen, an empathetic soul, seeks understanding. For instance, it may appear that Armstrong's managers took advantage of him (he worked close to 15 years without a break until he split his chops in London in 1934 and was forced to stop blowing, yet his then-manager sued him for breach of contract). Bergreen suggests that Armstrong may knowingly have paid for what the "ofays" gave him, which was the freedom to devote himself to his music while they took care of life's details. A deeply moving biography that fascinates from beginning to end. Bonnie Smothers

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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His life simply makes a great story.
Bradley K. Stilwell
All in all, this book is an inspiring work and testimonial to the life and music of one of the greatest trumpet players and entertainers to grace this planet.
S. Finefrock
This was one of the best biographies I have ever read.
Drak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gordon C. Duus on June 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This biography of Louis Armstrong presents the rich mosaic that was the life of one of the greatest musicians and entertainers of the 20th Century. It uses his life story to describe the history of early jazz--from his childhood on the streets of New Orleans, his move to Chicago where he made his famous recordings with the Hot Five and Hot Seven, and on to New York and Europe. I was surprized to learn that in many ways his charismatic stage persona was his real personality. But at the same time he was quite a complex character (four marriages, daily marijuana use, managers with mob connections, laxative proselytizations). Aside from his musical genius, he was a cultural icon--the first African American entertainer to cross over to broad popularity throughout America. The story is often told in Louis's own words, making it easier to get to know him. I loved the story about his first trip back to New Orleans after he spent nearly a decade going from being a local talent to an international star. When I got to the last chapter I put the book aside for a little while--I didn't want the book or Louis's life to end.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Don Gervich on January 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Louis Armstrong, An Extravant Life is superb because it recreates the man and his times--and how the man changed his time. Laurence Bergreen details the poverty of Storyville, New Orleans: its honky tonks and violence, and the surprising sustenance a resilent child found there. We see how Louis Armstrong found his family among the white, Jewish Karnovskys, and in the stern Waif's Home where he became a musician.
Bergreen shows us the shameful racism of the South (and North), and how Louis' exuberant personality and music helped transcend it. The Armstrong we come to know is humble, humorous, brimming with the energy of jazz itself. We learn how Armstrong invented solos and scat singing, and how his jazz went beyond even music. That is, he mesmerized America with a personality that brought rich and poor, black and white, hip and square together.
Armstrong's blowing and singing, his restless amiable spirit, is a bracing ode to being alive. Bergreen's meticulous empathy lets us share the extravagance.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By G. Whiz on August 26, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I believe I've read them all and nothing ever written about Louis Armstrong is as detailed as this book. Moreso than the "tired old stories" you see repeated in version after version of other tales of Armstrong, this one actually delves into the personal life as well as the persona of the man. Every Armstong fan needs to read this book - it's an awakening!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By appaloosa on February 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a discography of Louis Armstrong, don't look to this book. However, if what you want is the life and times of the man - then this is the book for you. Personally, this is what I want in a jazz biography - I'll listen to the CD's or radio for a discography. Mr Bergreen describes in telling detail the early stages of Louis's life in New Orleans - and believe me, it was no paradise! He (Bergreen)is also adept at giving the reader the overall feel of New Orleans at the turn of the century. So at the beginning we get a view of Louis hauling coal to make money for his mother amidst abject poverty and racial discrimination. It is really beyond belief that Louis - at the very bottom of the heap - was able to struggle through this and become an American icon. We are also introduced to a cast of characters that entered or played significantly in Louis's life. None of these people were angels - so in effect they all make for interesting reading. And although Louis is "King of Jazz" he is no saint himself (his 4 wives could attest to that!). This book is a great read - not only if you are interested in the rise to fame of a great African American, but it truly captures the spirit and tough times of that era from New Orleans to Chicago to New York.
Kim C.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Finefrock VINE VOICE on October 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This biography does an excellent job of painting a portrait of a man who changed 20th Century music, not only in America, but across the globe. Learning the details of Louis' life and struggles only enhances my appreciation of his music.
The impact of Louis Armstrong is still felt on several levels in our society. While Armstrong did not have a hand in inventing jazz, he was instrumental in pushing it artistically. With a minimum of formal instruction, he revolutionized the trumpet as well as singing in Jazz and popular music. He was also instrumental as one of the early African-American celebrities, in breaking down racial barriers.
Laurence Begreen does a fine job of illustrating the joys and struggles that Armstrong encountered. The devatating poverty and harsh socail environment of Louis youth are keenly detailed. He shows how these obstacles are overcome by Armstong's love of music and of life. He also shows the prejudice and mob intimidation that Louis had to endure on his road to stardom.
All in all, this book is an inspiring work and testimonial to the life and music of one of the greatest trumpet players and entertainers to grace this planet. I would seriously recommend this to anyone with an interest in music, especially jazz.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1997
Format: Hardcover
An Extravagant Life is much more than a biography of Louis Armstrong. Having been born at the turn of the century, in New Orleans, this book is a travelogue of that city from a unique perspective (the underside), a history of jazz, a snapshot of race relations and segregation in America for this entire century, AND a rich tapestry of the life of a man who started out with no advantages except his musical gift and a positive attitude.

Armstrong was a man of very strong tolerances: alcohol, marijuana, food, women, gansters, laxatives, and music, to name just a few. The essence of Louis is captured in Bergreen's book: We like him, we care for him, we pity him, and we almost understand him. We are definitely fascinated by him.
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