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Louis Armstrong by Michel Boujut

A coffee-table-sized art production, this sturdily bound, attractively laid out tribute is divided into two major sections, one dealing with the major events in Armstrong’s life and the other with encomiums to the impact of his genius. Following a brief Q&A interview with Wynton Marsalis by Katherine Adzima on the importance of Armstrong and his contributions, Boujut offers a succinct overview of his career before embarking on a year-by-year breakdown of the highlights. Entitled “A Life,” this first 60-page section begins with his birth in 1901 and proceeds in terse summary from his childhood and early adulthood through the years of his growing accomplishments as a cornetist/trumpeter and singer, his various bands, gigs, and recordings, his films, tours, marriages, global concerts, and TV appearances, to his latter-day problems with his health, his death in 1971, and a few posthumous honors. Although sparked by scores of direct quotes from Louis, his colleagues and admirers, and others, for the most part this section is best regarded as a handy, condensed tracking device for significant landmarks. But for the many brilliantly reproduced, often large-sized or full-page classic photos that enliven these pages, the factual aspects of the text could easily be found in more detail in any of the standard reference sources, i.e., Louis’ own writings, the various biographies and discographies, and Klaus Stratemann’s admirable filmography, Louis Armstrong On The Screen. Only two misspellings were found here, that of Billie “Holliday” and “Joan” Woodward.

The same cannot be said, however, of the next section, the flawless “Trumpets of Fame.” Although full-page photos continue to be the major appeal, here the opposing page text is taken from remarkably well-chosen quotations about Armstrong, as found in both fictional and non-fictional writings by James Baldwin, Gunther Schuller, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Jean Cocteau, Charles Trenet, Truman Capote, James Agee, Nicholas Ray, Bing Crosby, Jean Renoir, Milos Forman, Duke Ellington, Simone de Beauvoir, Darius Milhaud, and the notorious founder of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara. Besides their words, we also read highly impassioned, frequently rhapsodic lines from other members of the French art world and intelligentsia.

Originally Published