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December 28, 2009

60-second Review -- Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

pops by terry teachoutHope everyone is having a great holiday season. I received a couple of books as gifts, "How the Body Works" (from my wife, who is always shocked by how little I know about how the body works) and a novel by humorist Dave Barry. I also got a chance to finish reading "Pops." 

Synopsis: A biography of jazz great Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout, who has also written a bio of Baltimore's own H.L. Mencken

Review: Teachout lays out the magic and genius of Armstrong, a trumpeter who changed jazz. It's a great rags-to-riches story, from impoverished childhood in New Orleans to world tours. I'm partial to jazz piano and not very familiar with early jazz; this really helped me appreciate the significance of Armstrong, a pure entertainer. The book doesn't shy from more serious issues, including a lifetime of philandering that ruined marriages, marijuana use and charges of Uncle Tomming.

Read this if you like: Jazz, African-American history and/or well-written biographies.

 Avoid this if: You don't have access to Armstrong's recordings. I was flummoxed by the detailed descriptions of his revolutionary music technique. Teachout is a trained musician, but most readers aren't, and the technical terms lost me. Having access to online recording was helpful, but a CD would have been great to break down the music.  

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 8:54 AM | | Comments (0)
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About the blogger
Dave Rosenthal came to The Baltimore Sun as a business reporter in 1987 and now is the Maryland Editor. He reads a wide range of books (but never as many as he'd like), usually alternating between non-fiction and fiction. Some all-time favorites: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and anything by Calvin Trillin or John McPhee. He belongs to a book club with a Jewish theme.
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