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.