"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

True Genius


From Michiko Kakutani’s review of the new Louis Armstrong biography:

Louis Armstrong, a k a Satchmo, a k a Pops, was to music what Picasso was to painting, what Joyce was to fiction: an innovator who changed the face of his art form, a fecund and endlessly inventive pioneer whose discovery of his own voice helped remake 20th-century culture.

His determination to entertain and the mass popularity he eventually achieved, coupled with his gregarious, open-hearted personality, would obscure the magnitude of his achievement and win him the disdain of many intellectuals and younger colleagues, who dismissed much of what he did after 1929 as middlebrow slumming, and who even mocked him as a kind of Uncle Tom.

With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists, building upon Gary Giddins’s excellent 1988 study, “Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong,” and offering a stern rebuttal of James Lincoln Collier’s patronizing 1983 book, “Louis Armstrong: An American Genius.”

You can order the book, here. Man, it sounds terrific. Which makes sense, because Louis Armstrong is the top of the heap, man.

The Greatest. Everything. Ever.


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1 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:03 pm

Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I certainly rank him as one of the top jazzmen and musicians ever, and he definitely needs to be revisited considering all the scorn he's received over the years after he became a matinee mainstream idol, if you will. Pops was more learned and daring than more people know.

Same goes for Nat King Cole, who endured the same labeling from the younger generation; many of whom didn't realize how pioneering he actually was. At any rate, they certainly don't have as far to go in that regard as Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry...

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:12 pm

You can argue that Pops was the single most influencial musician of the 20th century.

3 thelarmis   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:18 pm

i've got a really nice Satchmo hardcover book. it's not listed in the above box though. i'm moving next week and all my shit is in boxes, so i'm not sure where my Louis Armstrong book is. i've got a best of cd. i don't own the full louis & ella cd, which is kinda blasphemous.

i understand the younger generations feeling toward pops. i started with the 'newer' jazz and worked my way back. as great - and important - as the super early stuff was/is, it's definitely not my favorite.

still, it's hard to argue how great, seminal and important Satchmo is.

4 thelarmis   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:22 pm

it's funny - just yesterday, i ordered 15 more jazz cd's, at least a third of which are "early jazz" discs. actually, about half, methinks. sidney bechet, who some put up there w/ satch and wild bill davison, who apparently was on the level, as well.

5 thelarmis   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:22 pm

[2] dude. i sincerely hope you'll join ed & me in the Shitty on saturday! : )

6 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:43 pm

You can argue the same thing for Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller >;)

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:45 pm

restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists

I find it difficult to believe he was ever out of that pantheon. His Hot Fives and Sevens, stuff with Ella, and album with Ellington are on heavy rotation via Amelia's playlist, and with Christmas coming "Zat You Santa Clause" will be joining them.

8 thelarmis   ~  Nov 23, 2009 6:51 pm

[6] i recently got a 2cd Fats Waller set and it's pretty awesome! i'm still working my way back and picking up the early stuff for my collection.

[7] check your email in a few mins!

9 gary from chevy chase   ~  Nov 23, 2009 7:08 pm

{2} - without a doubt, he is one of the most influencial musicians of the century. His trumpet playing style informed his singing style. And virtually every singer from the '20's to the '60's was greatly influenced by him. Ella, Lady D, Sinatra, Bing, etc. etc. all the way into early R&R. Chuck Berry's use of emphasis on alternative beats, and sliding his syllables around the measures comes directly from Satchmo. You can hear him in Clapton, BB King, and almost every blues or jazz artist who swings.

10 Just Fair   ~  Nov 23, 2009 8:00 pm

Some people seem better equipped to do what they're supposed to be doing. Satchmo. Mo. Coincidence. : D

11 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 23, 2009 9:37 pm

[10] :)

Pops Armstrong..he changed the course of music history. People must have just flipped hearing him solo for the first time.

12 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 23, 2009 9:59 pm

A bit o' insomnia last night..was poking through Bill James' Historical Abstract, always a fun read. But man, how wrong was he on Pete Rose? Several pages just attacking all the accusations..wonder if he's ever ammended that section of the book in new printings?

Hot stove chat...reading eveyrthing here but zero to add. Still just happy about the WS win!

13 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 23, 2009 10:19 pm

No, I don't think you can compare Louis' overall achievement with Fats Waller. And I LOVE Fats Waller and listen to him more than I listen to Louis. Great songwriter, but as an overall musician, nah, I don't buy that.

14 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 23, 2009 10:34 pm

[13] Yes, agree with that. What's amazing is not just that Armstrong was the first soloist to step out of the ensemble with something profound to say through his horn..it's that his solos were SO ridiculously profound. He moved straight from steam trains to the Enterprise. A horn-playing friend of mine said you can transcribe his Hot Fives & Sevens solos (like people still do with Charlie Parker solos from the 40s and 50s) and be amazed at their logic and beauty...wish I could read music to see that angle too!

15 Chyll Will   ~  Nov 24, 2009 12:27 am

[13] Okay, I'm just bustin' your chops, B. When I was in second grade, I dressed up and gave an oral presentation on Louis Armstrong; not that I was given a lot of choices. I bought a toy cornet and borrowed my youngest sister's cap (good thing she was a tomboy then) and did a pretty good imitation of his gravel voice in giving the report.

Ironically, it was because of the lack of options I was given to do a dress-up oral presentation that my family took it upon themselves to inspire me to seek out and learn more about Black History. The fact was, Louis was a financial backer of MLK and other civil rights leaders, some of whom had criticized him for not taking a more visible stance. Did they know that his vocal criticism of Eisenhower's inactivity during the conflict over integration of Little Rock High School and his subsequent cancellation of a tour of the USSR on behalf of the State Department helped to land him on J. Edgar Hoover's watch list?

So yeah, he had a strong influence on music in general, which also afforded him a subtle influence on American domestic policy. But I digress... >;)

16 vockins   ~  Nov 24, 2009 1:41 am

[2] You could, but you'd arrive at James Brown at the end.

17 The Mick536   ~  Nov 24, 2009 11:51 am

[2] hard to argue with you, but I go with Duke Ellington.

I grew up with jazz on the victrola. You had to wind it. Then we got a web/something and then an emerson. Father who worked his way through U of Michigan and its law school during the roaring 20s and early depression playing sax and clarinet loved Louis. My parents met in a roadhouse during one of his gigs. She was a journalism student who became a social worker.

Remember him going to Philadephia with Mother when I was a kid to see Louis. I cried because they left me home. Listened to Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, the Duke, Ella, Garner, Monk, damn, just about everyone. Grandfather repaired horns for musicians. He was an intinerant watch maker. Loved the big bands too with the girl singers. I could name many and identify them. Remember Make Believe Ballroom.

I didn't need to get a subscription to Capitol records, a la the serious man, we went to the record store all the time. Took discs into the booth and listened. It was like playing catch between me and him.

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