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What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years
Synopses & Reviews
Prodigiously researched and richly detailed, this is a comprehensive account of the remarkable final twenty-five years of the life and art of one of America’s greatest and most beloved musical icons.
Much has been written about Louis Armstrong, but the majority of it focuses on the early and middle stages of his long career. Now, Ricky Riccardi—jazz scholar and musician—takes an in-depth look at the years in which Armstrong was often dismissed as a buffoonish, if popular, entertainer, and shows us instead the inventiveness and depth of expression that his music evinced during this time.
These are the years (from after World War II until his death in 1971) when Armstrong entertained crowds around the world and recorded his highest-charting hits, including “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly!”; years when he collaborated with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck; when he recorded with strings and big bands, and, of course, with the All Stars, his primary recording ensemble for more than two decades. Riccardi makes clear that these were years in which Armstrong both burnished and enhanced his legacy as one of jazz’s most influential figures.
Eminently readable, informative, and insightful, here, finally, is a book that enlarges and completes our understanding of a peerless musical genius of commanding influence as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist.
"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)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Ricky Riccardi holds a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University. He has lectured at the Institute of Jazz Studies, at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and at the annual Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans. He is the author of a popular Armstrong blog (dippermouth.blogspot.com) and is himself a jazz pianist. He is the project archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum. He lives in New Jersey.
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