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Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 1998
Louis Armstrong is one of the central figures along with Duke Ellington of Giddins's incredible Visions of Jazz, and that sent me to Satchmo, a mindblowing collection of photographs and a biographical and musical discussion that brings the man and his work to life. Although Giddins covers some of the same ground here as in Visions, it is a far more expansive study built on the idea that Armstrong was at once a great artist and a great entertainer and that his role in one area did not diminish his role in the other. The pictures are remarkable, and numerous excerps from Armstrong's own writing show what a decent and joyful man he was. Highly recommended.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 25, 2003
Shouldn't the term "genius" be reserved for names like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven? Does the term even come close to fitting Louis Armstrong? Absolutely. If you have any doubt as to Armstrong's place in music history, pick up this book and dive in. Giddins embraces not only the talent and genius of Armstrong, but also the humor, warmth, and generosity of the man. `Satchmo' is not so much a biography of the jazz pioneer as it is a celebration of the man's gift to the world: his music.
Giddins follows Armstrong's early days in New Orleans to his final days of touring and recording. The book focuses heavily on Armstrong's music, but readers won't need a degree in music to understand what Giddins is saying. The author quotes copiously from Armstrong himself, giving us an in-depth look at who Armstrong was and how he thought about music, race relations, friends, wives, and his philosophy on life.
`Satchmo' is a perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Louis Armstrong. If you want to know if a piece of non-fiction works, ask yourself after reading if you'd like to learn more about the subject. I warn you - after reading `Satchmo' you'll want to read more AND listen to each recording mentioned by Giddins...over and over and over. And you'll do it. And the songs won't ever grow stale. And you'll hear something different each time. That's the sign of genius.
190 pages
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2002
This is one of the best books about Louis I've read and the reason is simple. Giddins clearly lays out the reasons why Pops was the greatest influence on modern music that this country has produced. His love for the man and the music comes through on every page. This is a wonderful almost poetic homage to a great and deserving artist. I loved the Bergreen biography and rated that 5 stars as well. That book is a fine chronological story of a fascinating life. This book is a musical biography that truly captures the essence of Louis Armstrong as well as anything written posthumously can be expected to. If you're a fan of Louis Armstrong you cannot afford to miss this. If you are curious as to why Louis Armstrong has become such an American icon this book will provide the answer.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2000
This book is brilliantly put together with great photos, newly found and well-crafted biographical information, and personal writings from Armstrong himself. It's a joy to read from cover to cover. Amazingly, it gets more interesting and fun to read a second, and third time. For any lover of Louis Armstrong this book is a must! Gary Giddins has written a great book. Look for his biography on Bing Crosby (Volume one)!!!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2005
Who knew that someone from such humble beginnings could become one of the greatest trumpeters and entertainers of all time? Well, meet Louis Armstrong. He came from the wrong side of the tracks, in a "red light district." Only in Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong by Gary Giddens can this be discovered. This book was published by De Capo Press on January 16, 2001. The story is inspirational, showing that anyone can become famous, from the most humble beginnings.

Louis Armstrong's story is an example of the life one can create in America. Being born into such poor conditions, it was amazing he could rise from pennies to diamonds. However, he had another disadvantage, being black. This story demonstrates anyone can be successful, no matter what race or ethnicity.

The story opens with a description of the doonies of New Orleans. The time was 1908, the year of Louis Armstrong's birth. The neighborhood was horrible, nothing but criminals and prostitutes. His own sister became a prostitute. However, even though most in his family were failures, he would show the world that he would not become one.

The following is a list of the main characters:

Louis Armstrong: Jazz trumpeter, and soon to become one of the most unforgettable voices in the world.

Mayann: Louis' older sister, who helped raise him, became a prostitute, but then repented as her brother became more famous.

There are many other characters, including his first wife, Daisy. He later married three more times. His home life was not so hot. He had many fights with his wives, and ended-up leaving each one for another.

Louis' life grew more successful as he moved on. Even when Rock and Roll the big hit on the pop charts, he was able to make a huge comeback. He had many hits, such as "What a Wonderful World." Earlier in his career, he would seldom be allowed to sing. He would play second fiddle to many different bands. Whenever Louis had the chance to play and sing in front of an audience, they adored him. However, his bandleaders always held him back.

The best part of the book was when he finally got his chance. He quit the band he was a member of and started his own group. He recorded his first song, "Lazy River." The people running the studio thought this man will not go anywhere. However the song hit number one. An overnight sensation was born.

Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong will stay popular because it is a loving portrait of a man who would change the face of music forever. It is a wonderful example of the American Dream, with a happy ending.
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"Every great improviser is a great editor. It's easy to run scales up and down the horn, but picking out the notes that mean something is hard. Interpreting a phrase in a way that makes it personal is the mark of a master."

You don't find music writing that succinct and accurate very often, just like you don't find many Louis Armstrongs. Giddins is fully up to the task of detailing one of the most interesting of American artistic lives, and is clearly inspired at every turn by Satchmo's sublime music. Giddins has real love for his subject but is never hamstrung by it, and boy does he know the man's (massive) recorded oeuvre. Yet for all its technical brilliance, this book, like Louis, swings hard. It's a joy to read, full of enthusiasm and joy in the music that changed the way world played and listened to songs. Giddins transcends scholarship and conveys the fun and relaxed sophistication that made Louis' music supreme, examining man and his songs in detail but never falling into trite worship.

Also excellent are the many many photos, showing a true character who very obviously loved living and celebrated life at every turn. Some of the pictures are almost revelatory; the shot of Louis and Billie Holiday is wonderful: she has a deep smile that is very rarely seen in photos of her. Like most everyone who ever played with Satch, she loved the guy. And why not? He not only spent most of his time laughing, he spent the rest playing the hell out of that horn, laying out lines that are still beyond the reach of most of us mortals. Louis had a long career, and seeing him change through these photos is a pleasure.

As is this book in general. I was sad to see it end. It's one of the few books I've borrowed from the library that is so good I just had to go out and buy my own copy. And may I add, you want the hardcover edition. The photos are crisper, the paper is better, and a good used copy will cost you half of a new paperback. As Louis' music makes clear, very often the finest quality lies in that which is older and more well-crafted.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2012
I loved every minute of reading this book, and felt that the author obviously shared my amazement at the talent and presence of one of America's greatest.
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on February 21, 2015
It wasn't until I watched Ken Burns JAZZ that I realized what a great and pivotal talent Pops Armstrong was. When I saw his biography offered on my Kindle, I jumped at the chance to read it. The author cuts cleanly through the mythology and misinterpretations of his life, and through his, the authors, obvious extensive knowledge of music, manages to convey what an ingenious talent Louis Armstrong was.
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on July 22, 2014
Can not read enough of Satchmo's life and story. Thank you Mr Giddens , Thomas Brothers, R. Riccardo* and Satchmo for keeping life long journals.
* Riccki Riccardo" is the great archivist and writer of Louis Armstrong's life and legacy. Louis Armstrong Museum, Queens, NY and archives at Queens College
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on January 3, 2015
This is a good beginning to understanding the genious of Louis Armstrong. It is a good accompaniment to Ken Burns' series on jazz.
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