From Publishers Weekly
The legendary jazz trumpeter's final decades were not a collapse into lame minstrelsy, as critics complain, but a musical efflorescence, according to this exuberant biography. Journalist Riccardi surveys Armstrong's postwar career, during which he churned out recorded covers of forgettable pop tunes, got labeled an Uncle Tom for his grinning, clowning, eye-rolling antics before white audiences, and infuriated jazz purists by making signature tunes out of bland ballads like "Hello, Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World." Riccardi's Satchmo is certainly an eccentric coot, what with his epic marijuana and laxative habits. (He recommended the latter as a cure-all to President Eisenhower and Grace Kelly.) But he's also a consummate entertainer who knew what audiences wanted, took seriously his role as cultural ambassador, and vocally challenged racist conventions. Indeed, Riccardi argues, Armstrong's alleged musical decline actually produced his greatest jazz albums—the author's exegeses of these, based on session tapes, make for a luminous exploration of Armstrong's musicianship—and, yes, some sublime pop standards as well. Riccardi's narrative sometimes bogs down in the minutiae of touring, recording, and overlong reminiscences. But his lively prose and warm engagement with the music make this a satisfying appreciation of Armstrong's legacy. Photos. (June)
“The story of Louis Armstrong’s later years is the
great untold tale of postwar jazz. Now Ricky Riccardi has told it to perfection. What a Wonderful World
is a unique and indispensable landmark in Armstrong scholarship, a weathervane that will point the way to all future writings on his life and work.”
—Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
“This is not only a tale of interest to jazz fans or academics but the climactic portion of the inspiring life story of a man who, against all odds, rose from extreme poverty and discrimination to become, indisputably, one of the stellar figures of the twentieth century . . . We need this book.”
—Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers UniversityFrom the Hardcover edition.