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Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life by Laurence Bergreen

This is the biggest Armstrong biography yet, and it incorporates a lot of fresh, diligently researched material. For those primarily interested in the music, however, there may be too much about the great man’s private life, his ladies and marijuana, but too little about his musician associates. (Marijuana, after all, was widely used by musicians in the ’30s and ’40s, before the entry of bebop and heroin.)

No celebrity, alive or dead, is apparently entitled to privacy in 1997. Reviewing Mia Farrow’s recent memoir in The New York Times Book Review, Kathryn Harrison wrote that it would satisfy “a Peeping Fan readership.” Perhaps jazz books are now being written with a similar readership in mind. Jazz fans, of course, have long been fascinated by naughty tales of Storyville and its brothels, despite the fact that the proprietresses would never have permitted trumpet players and tailgate trombonists to lurch about in their establishments. A few gigs for piano “professors” was about the extent of their contribution to jazz, a music that was shaped far more in dancehalls and saloons than in street marches or whorehouses, even in New Orleans.

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