While my personal opinion is that there could never be enough books on Louis Armstrong, by anyone's standards this is a supremely important addition to the body of attention focused on Pops. If good art makes us see something new, and great art makes us see in a new way, this book is both good and great in bringing even the experienced reader and listener to a new relationship with the depth of Armstrong's art and humanity.
If it is fair to judge a person by the standards of the times in which he lived, Pops was well ahead of the social curve of racial justice in America - much of the view of him as a Tom was made through a generational lens by younger musicians for whom he was a father figure who must be superseded. What he did behind the scenes in his own way is revealed in this book, and it should put to rest the notion that Pops was merely a genial entertainer, bowing and scraping before the White Establishment (what he really called Orval Faubus in 1957 - instead of "an uneducated plowboy" as the press rewrote his remarks - is instructive).
Whatever your take on the music some call jazz, at some point in the middle of the last century it came to be acknowledged as an art form. That this made some of its greatest musicians begin to think of themselves differently was a natural development, and over time the message of the music came to mirror more and more the message of mid-twentieth century art in general - it showed the changes in the human spirit inflicted by one of humanity's most brutal centuries. A crisis in faith, an increase in alienation, a dessication of sincerity in the face of monstrous cynicism - all these elements may be found in the music of the generations who followed Pops. Yet even though he came up under crushing circumstances, had to fight his way in a business where white criminals were your only potential protectors, had to endure indignities and injustice in order to keep his livelihood, mastered his own form of expression to a level none other reached yet was still misunderstood and undervalued by the white race and even his own during his lifetime, what do we remember above everything else? His unique distillation of joy in the midst of a precious yet flawed world, and his unrivaled power in the expression of personal freedom in music. His was a spirit of such towering strength that he could look at life in all its limitations and still make a joyful noise. That's why his music will be a beacon to humanity hundreds of years from now, in whatever condition of life it finds itself.
In the end it's the revelations Riccardi is able to make about Armstrong the musician that are the most telling. The vast resources available to him at the Armstrong Archives and from experts and private collectors around the world support his contentions that Pops was himself - singing, creating, perfecting, entertaining - from the beginning of his career, and he continued to be himself until its end. The proof is in the documentation, and even more in the music itself, which is why Riccardi's invaluable Armstrong blog The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong ([....]) is the natural complement to this book. In its priceless audio and video clips, and Riccardi's knowing and sharp-eared essays, you'll hear the most detailed study of Pops' musical legacy yet assembled for the public.
This book should be required reading for every fan of Louis Armstrong. The scope of the book deals with Armstrong's later years when he was traveling and performing with his small group. It effectively refutes the impression that Armstrong's creative years were behind him. Author Ricky Riccardi is a researcher/archivist at the Armstrong House Museum in Queens, NY Take advantage of any opportunity to tour the museum and see examples of Armstrong's talent. Armstrong was a "recording nut." There are hundreds of reels of audio-tape in which the listener can get a "slice of life" listening to conversations at home and in Armstrong's dressing rooms. Ricdcardi had first access to these tapes when the home became a museum. Also, Armstrong would decorate each tape box with a collage of cut-out from papers or magazines and/or hand decorated in ink. Many are very clever.
At many Satchmo Summerfests in New Orleans, I have heard Riccardi talk about his researches and show numerous videoclips of Armstrong performances.
F. Norman Vickers Jazz Pensacola Member Jazz Journalists Association
It's much easier to parrot what we hear or read rather than challenge it, so it was with admiration that I read Ricky Riccardi's attempt to dispel the standard lines regarding the latter portion of Louis Armstrong's career. Whether one agrees with Riccardi or not that the often accepted perceptions of Armstrong and his music are misguided, it cannot be denied that Riccardi is uncompromising in his research to make his case. Though not a jazz enthusiast myself, Riccardi's passion quickly becomes contagious, and the narrative of Louis's days with his All Stars becomes a page-turning insight to the artist's humor, goodwill, and, at times, his hurt.
Though Riccardi handles the events of Armstrong's years (detailing just the right amount of minutia) with expertise, the book's life, like Louie's, centers around that horn. As the author describes the subtle nuances of recordings or performances that have long been dismissed as inferior to Armstrong's earlier work, his frustration almost seems palpable. Truly, Riccardi is at his most energetic in the text when he's allowed to wax poetic on material that he knows defies the criticisms people have swallowed for so long.
And it is not attacks on Armstrong's music alone that Riccardi defends, but on the man himself. In the book, facts about Armstrong are revealed that contradict common held beliefs that often taint the memory of this great artist, almost as if still posthumously robbing him of his dignity. This lack of respect is one Riccardi simply cannot abide, apparent by the tenderness in the way he describes Armstrong's final days. Indeed, as Riccardi describes the twilight of Armstrong's life, filled with days the jazz man spent making collages with pictures of former bandmates, Riccardi can't help but betray the fourth wall, seeming to suffer right along side Satch from his own nostalgia for the characters he had spent previous pages and chapters chronicling. Because make no mistake - much of the charm of this book stems from how Riccardi is not merely an objective recorder, but an enthused fan, living along side his idol as he writes about him.
Very interesting book- I'd put off buying this as I thought it would just be a rehash of his greatest hits but found it to be a serious discussion of the background of a lot of my favorite records with a lot of information about the comings and goings in the All-Stars. Riccardi had access to Armstrong's archives and took good advantage of it.
This book provides a nice perspective on Louis' later career, which has far, far more to offer than many of us are willing to admit. He remained a phenomenal trumpet player at least to the late 50's (speaking as a player myself), was always a gifted and moving singer, and (if I may be frank for a moment) was more authentically black than any of his politically correct critics ever thought of being (yeah, you, Mr. Suburban Coffee Table Radical of whatever color).
A brilliantly written and totally absorbing account of the latter years of America's greatest musical genius. With unprecedented access to Louis Armstrong's own archives and a musician's ear, Ricky Riccardi has written an engrossing biography of Armstrong as international ambassador of goodwill, giving an fascinating insight into what it was like on the road with Pops, playing hundreds of shows a year and continuing to do so well into his sixties. This book is essential for anyone interested in jazz, music in general or just the story of a great human being, who through his artistry, rose from the lowest levels of poverty to the highest levels of creativity and resultant international acclaim. Very Highly recommended.
I have read practically every available book on Louis Armstrong that has been published over the last 50 years and I can say, without any reservations, that this latest book by Mr. Riccardi is a masterpiece. It should be on the shelf of every lover of jazz, specifically Louis Armstrong. Where would "jazz" be today but for the influence of Louis Armstrong? Mr. Riccardi ranks right up there amongst the greatest writers on jazz and its exponents.
This is a very thorough, yet immensely readable, bio of the last third of Pops' life. Mr. Riccardi shows how Pops had an ever-changing set list and various artistic sub-periods within his final, "All Star" period, roughly 1947-1971. His integrated bands and he kept swinging and playing contemporary tunes (even "Give Peace a Chance") all the way to the end.
It was in this period, too, that Pops became Ambassador Satch and toured the globe, spreading love and joy "in the service of happiness." Highly recommended not just for music fans, but anyone interested in mid-century American history.