by David Bradbury

Life & Times paperback, Haus Publishing (UK), 170 pages

Includes Notes, Index, Chronology and Further Listening references

In this new biography of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, British author David Bradbury deftly balances history and hearsay, musicology and sociology. The result is a quick and fun read which enables us to feel how Louis Armstrong was shaped by his times and circumstances. Even more than that, we can see how deeply he touched and transformed music, and his world.

Bradbury draws upon the first-person accounts of the legendary Jazz innovator, which over the years contradict one another at times, as though the legendary Jazz pioneer fashioned new takes or interpretations of events over the years. Fortunately, many other sources were also sought out, including quite a number of fresh interviews the author was able to obtain while working as a British journalist in New York. What emerges is perhaps not a surprise to Armstrong's legions of fans and admirers, but I was struck by how his flexibility as a musician and entertainer was matched by his decency as a man. That Satchmo was never belligerent and seldom strident, in the face of pressures from many sides, and in the context of turbulent times, is remarkable.

Indeed, Armstrong increasingly saw himself painted as "behind the times" as far as the social consciousness and advancement of African-Americans. Bradbury handles this nicely, succeeding in showing us a man whose frankness in speaking, on occasion, about injustice or dishonesty, could rival that of his singing and cornet playing. It is a treat to savor how Louis could cut to the heart of the matter without prejudice, whether it be in his relations with Presidents, pimps or promoters.

The best part of this concise but rich account is how Louis absorbed and applied musical ideas and styles from all around him, effortlessly synthesizing them and expressing them so naturally in his horn and voice. As expected, there is abundant evidence of how much Armstrong influenced so many others musically. More than that, I was impressed by the loyalty Louis demonstrated towards key individuals in his life story, and by a sense of trust he had in his own path, his own voice. My best recommendation for this book is that this total picture, for me, makes his music resound even more brightly.

by Eric Golub

Jazz Now Interactive April 2004 Vol 13 No. 11 - Table of Contents

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