Mini-Book Review: "What A Wonderful World: The Magic Of Louis Armstrong's Later Years"

What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrtong’s Later Years.
Ricky Riccardi.
Pantheon.
306 pp. $28.95.

He told Benny Goodman where to stick some contracts, and referred to him in 12-letter language. He told his white manager—the one who most music historians believe controlled him—that if he didn’t set up with the police and everybody else that he could smoke as much weed as he wanted, forever, he would put his horn down for good. He went to Ghana and talked about his African blood.  He wrote Dizzy Gillespie, who went from one of his be-bop, Young Turk public critics to his great public admirers as the decades went zooming as fast as the never-ending, one-night peformances: “There’s one thing that you should always remember—you can’t kill a nigger. Ha Ha Ha.” The Satchmo here grins for his (white and Black) audiences, but also explains—on reel-to-reel tapes he made—what a serious mo-fo he is. Ricky Riccardi, who has devoted so much of his life to studying Louis Armstrong he is project archivist of the artist’s House Museum, is intent on showing a multi-faceted Louis Armstrong who was no white man’s stooge, no Uncle Tom, and a serious musician who followed his own counsel. He does that, even when the reader winces at some of Armstrong’s choices. The story of a strong Black man who made classical music out of American classical music.

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