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Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life Hardcover – June 16, 1997
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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.
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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By Debra LaComette November 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Upon reading this book, which I really took my time, I felt completely immersed in the life of Louis.
Louis from early on seem to live on the edge.
He was fortunate in the aspect that he was able to discover at an early age, what his passion was and how it would develop into a lifelong career despite the many obstacles he faced.
His attitude and his approach to life and its variables was so incredibly positive.
That may have very well been 50% of his success.
He also had the uncanny ability to ward off anger, hate and pure racism which seemed to consistently be one step in front of him.
Louis also seemed to be unusually obsessed with his horn and his productivity with it. It makes one wonder, where did he get that drive? It appeared to be there day in and day out, he could not stop or rest till the 24 hour day was completed.
I felt the author spent much time and effort researching his text and also had the ability to remain objective in his relaying of the information.
I would highly recommend this book, not only if one is interested in the history of Jazz, but also to appreciate Louis Armstrong, not only as an incredible musical genius but as an extraordinary human being as well.
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