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Literature, Poetry, and Books

Louis Armstrong

There is a new book on Pops, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years, by Ricky Riccardi.  I like it.  Combine this with Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout, and you have a whole view of the great man.  Here are a few cuts from Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy (1954) and then his great West End Blues (1928).  Ted Gioia (in The History of Jazz) on the propulsive momentum of the piece:  "Armstrong leads off 'West End Blues' with an unaccompanied introduction that has justly been praised over the years.  It lasts a brief twelve seconds, but what an amazing twelve seconds!  Armstrong's singular mastery of the horn is packed solid into those few bars of improvisation."  Someone accused him of making the horn sound like a clarinet, of just showing off. Le Corbusier said this of Satchmo: "He is mathematics, equilibrium on a tightrope.  He is Shakespearean!"

This open-hearted man, this always happy man, didn't speak about his music in musical terminology, but in terms like these: "I seen everythin' from a child comin' up. Nothin' happen I ain't never seen before."  "When I blow I think of times and things from outa the past that gives me an image of the tune.  Like moving pictures passing in front of my eyes.  A town, a chick somewhere back down the line, an old man with no name you seen once in a place you don't remember."

"I'm playin' a date in Florida years ago, livin' in the colored section and I'm playin' my horn for myself  one afternoon. A knock come on the door and there's an old, grey-haired flute player from the Philadelphia Orchestra, down there for his health.  Walking through that neighborhood, he heard this horn, playing this Cavalleria Rusticana, which he said he never heard phrased like that before, but still to him it was as if an orchestra was behind it.  Well, that what I mean by imagination.  That the way I express myself because I read that story and I just put it in spade life--colored life--where this guy in the story, he fooled around with this man's wife and this cat finally picked up on it and stuck him in the back with a knife or somethin' like that."

Pops claimed that he was born on July 4, 1900.  He always claimed this, including in his two published memoirs, until the day he died.  In 1988, a researcher located an entry in Latin for "Armstrong (niger, illegitimus)" in the handwritten baptismal register of New Orleans's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.  According to that record, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901.  I say poetry is finer and more philosophic than history, and not only because lovers are given to poetry.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Culture Vulture Alert

Cancel your regular Sunday paper subscription and read the Wall Street Journal Friday and Saturday editions instead.  Its books and culture sections are far superior to anything in the NY Times and WaPo, for example.  Theater criticTerry Teachout is the most instructive writer on the performing arts in America.  (See Peter's notes on Teachout's Pops.)  It's too bad past movie critic Martha Bayles is no longer with them, having moved upward to the Claremont Review of Books. Such splendor comes of owner Rupert Murdoch's laudable ambition to destroy the NY Times

With the WSJ, CRB, and the Weekly Standard's often ingenious book review section, thoughtful readers will find a generous store of books and reviewers to pick from.  But first the political season. 

Pop Culture

Armstrong reviews

Two more very positive reviews of Terry Teachout's Pops, by Louis Bayard and Stefan Kanfer (I haven't found a negative one yet).  When he died in 1971, British poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin praised Armstrong as "an artist of Flaubertian purity, and a character of exceptional warmth and goodness."
Categories > Pop Culture

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Joyous Exuberance

David Margolick gives a fair review of Terry Teachout's Pops, but a very fine review is to be found in the Dec. 14 edition of The New Yorker (not available on line).  It is by John McWhorter and he explains both Satchmo's "joyous exuberance" and "loud dignity."  Very much worth reading, as you listen to West End Blues.

Literature, Poetry, and Books


I am reading Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout.  It is terrific.  Of course, I am  listening to him as I read (and smoke).  So will the whole weekend go

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