10. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon by Grant Overstake
"What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years" by Ricky Riccardi
"What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years" by Ricky Riccardi (Pantheon, ISBN 9780307378446, $28.95)
There are two kinds of mid-century jazz fans: my father, who's all Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong--you know, dance and swing; and me, who's all Miles, Trane, maybe Oscar Peterson and even Bad Plus--the introspective artists of improvisation. His old guys were just entertainers who played their fans' favorites; my guys played the music for the music's sake and themselves. Wrong!
Ricky Riccardi (jazz pianist, graduate of Rutgers' famous Institute of Jazz Studies and currently archivist for the Louis Armstrong House collection of Satchmo's audio tapes) tackles my common misperception in his first book, What a Wonderful World. Drawing on a wealth of original papers and personal tapes of the writing-averse Armstrong, Riccardi colors in the second half of Pops' remarkable career, the half critics wrote off as his "Uncle Tom," clown years. Riccardi shows that Armstrong was a consummate musician to the end, one whose goal was to give fans the best music he could while taking no guff from people who made his and his fellow black Americans' lives difficult, at best.
Through countless references, conversations, anecdotes and taped private moments of anger and frustration, Riccardi brings to life a complex man who was a genius in many ways. He shows us an Armstrong whose goodwill and big pop-eyed smile brought his native New Orleans music to millions of fans throughout the world, earning him a comfortable living and paving the way for the often brooding, and reclusive Miles and Parker and Trane who created their own modern jazz followings.