As a Generation X music fan, I admit that prior to reading Terry Teachout's Pops, A Life of
Louis Armstrong, I fell into the Hello Dolly/Hot Fives and Sevens camp.
Louis Armstrong as a cultural icon of the post WWII generation and, later, got hip to Armstrong the musical revolutionary of the 1920s and 30s. Teachout's story of the journey between these eras is the core of Pops, and it offers fascinating insights into Jazz, Jim Crow and perseverance.
Teachout effortlessly traverses the party vs. musicology chasm that derails many musician biographies. The reader is presented with a grounding in New Orleans Jazz and the genesis of Armstrong's musicianship free of the pedantic tone that sours me on many Jazz books. We get some insights into Armstrong the viper, but stories of road life, broken marriages and the mob never take over the narrative of Armstrong the musician.
Besides his own writings (two books and hundreds of magazine articles), Armstrong recorded thousands of hours of audio tape throughout his life, capturing his stories, remembrances and occasional rants in his own voice. Teachout takes full advantage of these recordings to flesh out the role Armstrong played in the Civil Rights movement, detail the inter workings of the music businesses, and explore the relationships Armstrong maintained with many of the luminary figures of his age.
Pops reinforces Armstrong's place as the King of Jazz, but also reveals a master of stagecraft, a humanitarian and, in his own unique way, a powerful political operative.
This is a great read for the plane and a top-notch primer on hipster vocabulary! Be sure to check out the appendix for Teachout's list of the top 30 Armstrong tracks, all available via Itunes.
Look for the paperback release on October 7, 2010.
Want more? Check out Miles: the Autobiography, Bird Lives!, Can't You Hear Me Callin, the Life of Bill Monroe, or Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend