Essential Books on Louis Armstrong
There are numerous books on Louis Armstrong, and it comes with good reason, he was an American trumpeter and vocalist who is still celebrated for being among the most influential figures in jazz.
“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of music’s most consequential figures to the height of his field, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Louis Armstrong.
Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout
Louis Armstrong is widely known as the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century. He was a phenomenally gifted and imaginative artist, and an entertainer so irresistibly magnetic that he knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts four decades after he cut his first record. Offstage he was witty, introspective, and unexpectedly complex, a beloved colleague with an explosive temper whose larger-than-life personality was tougher and more sharp-edged than his worshiping fans ever knew.
Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout has drawn on a cache of important new sources unavailable to previous biographers, including hundreds of candid after-hours recordings made by Armstrong himself, to craft a sweeping new narrative biography. Certain to be the definitive word on Armstrong for our generation, Pops paints a gripping portrait of the man, his world, and his music that will stand alongside Gary Giddins’s Bing Crosby and Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis as a classic biography of a major American musician.
Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life by Laurence Bergreen
Louis Armstrong was the founding father of jazz and one of this century’s towering cultural figures, yet the full story of his extravagant life has never been told.
Born in 1901 to the sixteen-year-old daughter of a slave, he came of age among the prostitutes, pimps, and rag-and-bone merchants of New Orleans. He married four times and enjoyed countless romantic involvements in and around his marriages. A believer in marijuana for the head and laxatives for the bowels, he was also a prolific diarist and correspondent, a devoted friend to celebrities from Bing Crosby to Ella Fitzgerald, a perceptive social observer, and, in his later years, an international goodwill ambassador.
And, of course, he was a dazzling musician. From the bordellos and honky-tonks of Storyville – New Orleans’s red light district – to the upscale nightclubs in Chicago, New York, and Hollywood, Armstrong’s stunning playing, gravelly voice, and irrepressible personality captivated audiences and critics alike. Recognized and beloved wherever he went, he nonetheless managed to remain vigorously himself.
Satchmo by Gary Giddins
Gary Giddins has been called “the best jazz writer in America today” (Esquire). Louis Armstrong has been called the most influential jazz musician of the century. Together this auspicious pairing has resulted in Satchmo, one of the most vivid and fascinating portraits ever drawn of perhaps the greatest figure in the history of American music.
Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans by Thomas Brothers
In the early twentieth century, New Orleans was a place of colliding identities and histories, and Louis Armstrong was a gifted young man of psychological nimbleness. A dark-skinned, impoverished child, he grew up under low expectations, Jim Crow legislation, and vigilante terrorism. Yet he also grew up at the center of African American vernacular traditions from the Deep South, learning the ecstatic music of the Sanctified Church, blues played by street musicians, and the plantation tradition of ragging a tune.
Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans interweaves a searching account of early twentieth-century New Orleans with a narrative of the first twenty-one years of Armstrong’s life. Drawing on a stunning body of first-person accounts, this book tells the rags-to-riches tale of Armstrong’s early life and the social and musical forces that shaped him. The city and the musician are both extraordinary, their relationship unique, and their impact on American culture incalculable.
What a Wonderful World by Ricky Riccardi
In this richly detailed and prodigiously researched book, jazz scholar and musician Ricky Riccardi reveals for the first time the genius and remarkable achievements of the last 25 years of Louis Armstrong’s life, providing along the way a comprehensive study of one of the best-known and most accomplished jazz stars of our time.
Much has been written about Armstrong, but the majority of it focuses on the early and middle stages of his career. During the last third of his career, Armstrong was often dismissed as a buffoonish if popular entertainer. Riccardi shows us instead the inventiveness and depth of his music during this time.
These are the years of his highest-charting hits, including “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly;” the famed collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington; and his legendary recordings with the All-Stars. The necessary installment to the ever-growing index of books on Louis Armstrong completes and enlarges our understanding of one of America’s greatest and most beloved musical icons.
Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong
“In all my whole career the Brick House was one of the toughest joints I ever played in. It was the honky-tonk where levee workers would congregate every Saturday night and trade with the gals who’d stroll up and down the floor and the bar. Those guys would drink and fight one another like circle saws. Bottles would come flying over the bandstand like crazy, and there was lots of just plain common shooting and cutting. But somehow all that jive didn’t faze me at all, I was so happy to have some place to blow my horn,” so says Louis Armstrong, a tough kid who just happened to be a musical genius, about one of the places where he performed and grew up.
This raucous, rich tale of his early days in New Orleans concludes with his departure to Chicago at twenty-one to play with his boyhood idol King Oliver, and tells the story of a life that began, mythically, on July 4, 1900, in the city that sowed the seeds of jazz.
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