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December 1997

Klaus Stratemann
Louis Armstrong on the Screen

Following his monumental Duke Ellington Day by Day and Film by Film, the late Klaus Stratemann has left us a similar invaluable volume about the other major jazz giant. There is rather less “day” and more “film” in it, because Hollywood was at least alive to Armstrong’s talent as both musician and comic actor, just as his manager, Joe Glaser, was undoubtedly aware of both the publicity and monetary value of movie appearances before TV.

What makes this book particularly attractive is its 270 illustrations. Even if one had access to them, it would be a tedious business to sit through all the old, full-length movies for the few minutes by Armstrong and his men they contain. More CDs like the recently-reviewed Rhino (R2-72877) of excerpts from M-G-M movies and Stratemann’s generous use of photographs, will together provide a satisfying amplification of a great career.

The book gets properly underway in 1930, after discussing the possibility of an early film with King Oliver in St. Louis. Nothing by the Hot Five is apparently known to have been made. A tremendous amount of information is subsequently given for each filmed production under such headings as Cast, Music, Synopsis, Record Releases, Video Releases, Background, Critical Reaction, Notes for the Production, The Armstrong Contribution and Odds and Ends. As the years pass, “Background” ensures increasing continuity, as in the Ellington book, via itineraries of the Armstrong group, whose personnel is always faithfully detailed.

In short, this is a mine of information that all Armstrong’s admirers will treasure, and one all too ready for the next biographer to plunder.

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