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Louis Armstrong : An Extravagant Life by Laurence Bergreen

Laurence Bergreens book on Louis Armstrong is most satisfying in terms of exposing Armstrong not just as a musician but as a human. Bergreen brings a fresh perspective to the life and times of this seminal jazz artist.

As Bergreen points out Armstrong was clearly influenced by what was going on around him. The squalor of New Orleans where he grew up the crushing property and racial discrimination which plagued him and other black musicians throughout his life even during his days when he was one of the most well known and popular entertainers in the world. But to his credit while he resented the treatment he and other black musicians received it did not make him bitter. It is amazing that despite his poverty being black and the conditions of his childhood and early manhood managing his career. He did not want to be distracted from his great love his music and performing it as often as possible. He loved to play and cavort and was fully aware of his enormous talent.

Joe Glaser was Armstrong's manager for many years. Glaser had very close connections with the mob community. Mob associations notwithstanding and allegations he was cheating Armstrong. Armstrong adored Glaser and gave him credit for much of his success.

The author notes several instances where Armstrong literally destroyed competitors in cutting contest. The unrelenting search for caretakers to provide his basic needs led to some unfortunate alliances.

Armstrong had four wives. It was only the last one which gave him some sense of family life.His second wife Lil Armstrong made significant contributions to Louis' career finally convincing him to break away from "King Oliver" and to try New York to play with Fletcher Henderson. She worked with him to expand his musical repertoire although Armstrong continued to play the old New Orleans songs for most of his career both on his recordings and in his live appearances despite ever decreasing attendance at these performances. It was only late in his career that he turned to "pop" music such as "Hello Dolly" "What A Wonderful World" Dream a Little Dream of Me" and he had to be pushed into that. But to Glaser's credit his career was revived and once more he was a headline attraction.

The author cites many sources for this book. But a major source was Armstrong's' own writings. Armstrong was a prolific writer dashing off letters observations etc. on his typewriter. Despite his hectic schedule especially later in his life he always found time to comment on anything that came to mind. He even wrote a couple of books which while revealing were not literary master pieces.

BerGreen's book does not neglect Armstrong's musical history and contributions to jazz. His beginnings in the clubs of New Orleans his tenure with Fate Marable on the Mississippi and then King Oliver whom he adored. The Hot Fives and Sevens the Stompers his orchestra and then his All Stars are treated intelligently and informatively. His various relationships although stormy with other musicians: Hines The Dodds' Brothers Zutty Singleton Mezz Mezzrow Kid Ory Jack Teagarden Barney Bigard and other greats of his era and their influences on Armstrong's musical development are similarly explored by Bergreen.

Armstrongs' role as ambassador for the United States is given a lot of attention especially his trip to Ghana which moved him considerably.Like all great men of any profession Armstrong was bigger than life and had little sense of his own mortality. He continued to perform despite numerous warnings from doctors that he had to stop for his health's sake. He was planning gigs two days before he died.

Bergreen's biography is well written fair and honest. Louis Armstrong- An extravagant Man should be an authoritative statement on Armstrong for years to come. A highly readable book and strongly recommended not only for jazz fans but for those who enjoy a well written biography.'Laurence Bergreens book on Louis Armstrong is most satisfying in terms of exposing Armstrong not just as a musician but as a human. Bergreen brings a fresh perspective to the life and times of this seminal jazz artist. As Bergreen points out Armstrong was clearly influenced by what was going on around him. The squalor of New Orleans where he grew up the crushing property and racial discrimination which plagued him and other black musicians throughout his life even during his days when he was one of the most well known and popular entertainers in the world.'

Additional Info

  • Book Title: Louis Armstrong : An Extravagant Life
  • Author: Laurence Bergreen
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Year Published: 1998
  • Book Type:: Biography
  • ISBN: 767901568
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 592
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