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Louis Armstrong book review

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" All in all, maybe Armstrong did “sell out”. But in doing so he secured his place in history. Roy Eldridge, “Hot Lips” Page, Henry “Red” Allen, Rex Stewart: the 20th century had plenty of trumpet gods, but they’re sadly forgotten to most. "

Armstrong may be the best known jazz jusician ever, even in the remotest countryside, here in Germany, due to his "selling out". They don't know Ellington, or Miles, or you name who, but they know Satchmo.

Edited by mikeweil

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Sold out or took over?

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Armstrong "selling out" just seems like a controversy that doesn't exist now, or at least doesn't need to exist. 

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7 minutes ago, Dub Modal said:

Armstrong "selling out" just seems like a controversy that doesn't exist now, or at least doesn't need to exist. 

Yeah, seriously.  What's next?  An either-or debate between the "moldy figs" and the modernists? 

 

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Let's be realistic - the book covers the time he was "selling out" so naturally its a question to be dealt with within.

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9 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

Let's be realistic - the book covers the time he was "selling out" so naturally its a question to be dealt with within.

Sure, it needs to be examined and understood in historical perspective.

OTOH, it would be strange to read a new book about Bob Dylan that characterized his transition from a protest-song singing folkie to a rock 'n roller as a "sellout."  The author would be bringing an out-of-date perspective to the table.  Yes, Dylan's "sellout" was a controversial and important moment -- and it's important to understand that history.  But, given the scope of Dylan's entire career, it's no longer the central story of his life.

I would make an argument that the same is true of Armstrong. Those old ways of understanding are important to understand.  But they're not the story anymore.

Plus, when one considers the element of race in Armstrong's story (that isn't there with Dylan), things get even more complicated.  The "sellout" narrative becomes reductive, too much of an over-simplification.

 

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14 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Sure, it needs to be examined and understood in historical perspective.

OTOH, it would be strange to read a new book about Bob Dylan that characterized his transition from a protest-song singing folkie to a rock 'n roller as a "sellout."  The author would be bringing an out-of-date perspective to the table.  Yes, Dylan's "sellout" was a controversial and important moment -- and it's important to understand that history.  But, given the scope of Dylan's entire career, it's no longer the central story of his life.

I would make an argument that the same is true of Armstrong. Those old ways of understanding are important to understand.  But they're not the story anymore.

Plus, when one considers the element of race in Armstrong's story (that isn't there with Dylan), things get even more complicated.  The "sellout" narrative becomes reductive, too much of an over-simplification.

 

Regarding Dylan, yes ... but. If this hypothetical book was about that specific time frame wouldn't it have to dig into the question of selling out?

by the same  token this Armstrong book is not a complete overview of his life but a very specific period.

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2 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:


by the same  token this Armstrong book is not a complete overview of his life but a very specific period.

Yes, it is. Ricky Riccardi already wrote a book on Armstrong's later years (excelent one, btw), and hopefully another one will follow in years to come, focused on his early years.

And if Armstrong's 'sell-out discussion' is intended as pejorative, I will forward this conversation to Ricky and you will have to deal with him. He can be very convincing! :) 

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5 minutes ago, EKE BBB said:

Yes, it is. Ricky Riccardi already wrote a book on Armstrong's later years (excelent one, btw), and hopefully another one will follow in years to come, focused on his early years.

And if Armstrong's 'sell-out discussion' is intended as pejorative, I will forward this conversation to Ricky and you will have to deal with him. He can be very convincing! :) 

I never bought the "sell out" accusation myself!

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Just now, Dan Gould said:

I never bought the "sell out" accusation myself!

Same for Dylan? :rolleyes:

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1 minute ago, EKE BBB said:

Same for Dylan? :rolleyes:

OH-VER RAY-TED.

 

:g

 

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14 minutes ago, Dan Gould said:

OH-VER RAY-TED.

 

:g

 

Anathema! 

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57 minutes ago, HutchFan said:

Plus, when one considers the element of race in Armstrong's story (that isn't there with Dylan), things get even more complicated.  The "sellout" narrative becomes reductive, too much of an over-simplification.

 

Race, no. Religion? I don't think that the conversation has really been explored. Seems like a few people got really excited for a quick minute and everybody else just shuffled their feet and said okay sure whatever. 

But you tell me which is a more profound change - recording ' Hello Dolly" or deciding to reevaluate your relationship with who and what you perceive to be you creator?

 

 

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5 minutes ago, JSngry said:

deciding to reevaluate your relationship with who and what you perceive to be you creator?

The Wiki page on Louis' religion is funny. Raised Baptist, wears the Star of David in honor of the Jewish family that raised him, baptized (when?) Roman Catholic, met 2 popes and was/was not a Freemason but a Knight of Pythias. 

Something tells me it was more complicated/interesting/deeper than that. 

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IMO Louis Armstrong most of the time remained himself in whatever he recorded and performed - just a category of his own which you may like or may not like and find too easily digestible or not, but that's how he was. But wasn't it so that to those who remained convinced that jazz and fun and entertainment do not rule each other out - particularly after 1945 - he remained rather more in the "sell" (and not much wrong with creating or being a hit with the public, right?) than in the "sell out" camp.
I wouldn't give that much attention to those who may have accused him of selling out e.g. in the 50s - at least over here many of the scribes who claimed so were those who idolized beyond all reason those musicians in jazz of whom some fellow musician (from the R&B field IIRC) one once said they looked on stage as if they had not smiled for at least two weeks.

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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The recently deceased Stanley Crouch and the very much living Wynton Marsalis were champions of his. Mr.Crouch served as a president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation.

https://wyntonmarsalis.org/news/entry/wynton-and-stanley-crouch-speaking-about-louis-armstrong

On 12/18/2020 at 4:12 AM, Big Beat Steve said:

IMO Louis Armstrong most of the time remained himself in whatever he recorded and performed - just a category of his own which you may like or may not like and find too easily digestible or not, but that's how he was. But wasn't it so that to those who remained convinced that jazz and fun and entertainment do not rule each other out - particularly after 1945 - he remained rather more in the "sell" (and not much wrong with creating or being a hit with the public, right?) than in the "sell out" camp.
I wouldn't give that much attention to those who may have accused him of selling out e.g. in the 50s - at least over here many of the scribes who claimed so were those who idolized beyond all reason those musicians in jazz of whom some fellow musician (from the R&B field IIRC) one once said they looked on stage as if they had not smiled for at least two weeks.

You couldn't be more ambiguous. Who were these 'scribes' ?

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Louis Armstrong was sui generis and a genius.

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On 22.12.2020 at 9:36 PM, Dmitry said:

You couldn't be more ambiguous. Who were these 'scribes' ?

Sorry - saw your reply only now. I did not name names because they probably would not have meant much to most of the forumists here.

Some of these scribes were the staff at the German jazz magazine JAZZ PODIUM (including Dieter Zimmerle as the editor-inchief). They idolized the MJQ and their likes, including "everything Third Stream" (though I seem to remember the musician who originated the remark about the lack of smiles referred to quite different modern jazz musicians), damned and blasted Lionel Hampton and (though they did acknowledge the core of his work as "sui generis") were disappointed at Louis Armstrong's "commerical" leanings. Remember (though this may be hard to imagine for US jazz fans decades after the fact) that many European jazz publicists and scribes of the 50s (and sometimes later on) were constantly trying to "elevate" jazz to the level of classical music not just as far as its "art" status went but above all in its presentation, audience approach etc., demanding the same kind of "respectability" as a yardstick (and what they wrote often came down to ANOTHER attempt at "making a lady out of jazz"). I appreciate what that mag and its staff (and others with the same leanings) did for jazz over here but IMO this approach in this respect was a dead end and did a disservice to the vitality of jazz.
 

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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Christmas present for me. Next in my to-read pile.

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It's funny, because I skipped over clicking the link in the first post, and read the whole thread-to-date, only then going back and reading the Guardian review. From the forum discussion, without the benefit of seeing the review, I somehow concluded that the book excoriates Armstrong for selling out. Now, having read the review, I see that it does pretty much the opposite, rejecting the accusations of selling out.

I just ordered the book for my Kindle, because the scope of the book, Armstrong's big band years, fits in perfectly with my favorite way to hear him--with a big band. The small group recordings of the twenties and thirties are too old-timey for me. I know that Armstrong was a true revolutionary, but I know that in my head, not in my ears or in my nether regions. As for mid-1960s Armstrong, that was too square for me. But I love him with a "larger aggregation," as they used to say in Downbeat. One of my desert-island discs is the one on which he's accompanied by Billy May--"Bing & Satchmo." Crosby is great on it too. 

Edited by riddlemay

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On 12/25/2020 at 1:34 PM, Big Beat Steve said:

Sorry - saw your reply only now. I did not name names because they probably would not have meant much to most of the forumists here.

Some of these scribes were the staff at the German jazz magazine JAZZ PODIUM (including Dieter Zimmerle as the editor-inchief). They idolized the MJQ and their likes, including "everything Third Stream" (though I seem to remember the musician who originated the remark about the lack of smiles referred to quite different modern jazz musicians), damned and blasted Lionel Hampton and (though they did acknowledge the core of his work as "sui generis") were disappointed at Louis Armstrong's "commerical" leanings. Remember (though this may be hard to imagine for US jazz fans decades after the fact) that many European jazz publicists and scribes of the 50s (and sometimes later on) were constantly trying to "elevate" jazz to the level of classical music not just as far as its "art" status went but above all in its presentation, audience approach etc., demanding the same kind of "respectability" as a yardstick (and what they wrote often came down to ANOTHER attempt at "making a lady out of jazz"). I appreciate what that mag and its staff (and others with the same leanings) did for jazz over here but IMO this approach in this respect was a dead end and did a disservice to the vitality of jazz.
 

Thanks. I appreciate the time taken to explain what you'd meant. Certainly this perspective needs to be taken through the prism of the time passed. Mid to late-sixties was a period of civil unrest and racial tension in the USA, and the Western World in general. 

I wonder how Louis Armstrong would be appreciated, had he been a current entertainer, touring and performing while the BLM protests and other sundry movements were taking place in America's cities.The 'scribes' of today, those who are firmly perched on our tv screens and write, seemingly day and night, for uncounted internet news publications, would they call him Uncle Tom?

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I wonder what Louis Armstrong would be playing today as a 20-Something Black Life.

Remember, he wouldn't have been born in 1900...

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49 minutes ago, JSngry said:

I wonder what Louis Armstrong would be playing today as a 20-Something Black Life.

Remember, he wouldn't have been born in 1900...

Geez, Jim, it's obvious. He 'd be playing just like Wynton Marsalis. :g

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1 hour ago, Dmitry said:

Thanks. I appreciate the time taken to explain what you'd meant. Certainly this perspective needs to be taken through the prism of the time passed. Mid to late-sixties was a period of civil unrest and racial tension in the USA, and the Western World in general. 

I wonder how Louis Armstrong would be appreciated, had he been a current entertainer, touring and performing while the BLM protests and other sundry movements were taking place in America's cities.The 'scribes' of today, those who are firmly perched on our tv screens and write, seemingly day and night, for uncounted internet news publications, would they call him Uncle Tom?

It's interesting how Armstrong got put down by the mid-60s, considering that many Black musicians in other genres had had little or nothing to say about race.  Sam Cooke has been retrospectively re-engineered on the basis of "A Change Is Gonna Come," a one-off moment.  Armstrong had his own one-off but very revealing, moment when he condemned Eisenhower's handling of Little Rock in 1958. Berry Gordy, Jr.'s roster of Motown/Tamla artists didn't speak out in the early 1960s. Gordy put out a spoken-word line of records, including King's speech at the March on Washington, but the Supremes and the Temptations? What Black artists appeared at the March? Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson. There were Black musicians in attendance, including Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, and Sammy Davis, Jr., but they didn't perform (why that was so is an interesting topic).  Duke Ellington? His urbane polish let him do things that Armstrong couldn't--but Ellington's wonderful music about race evoked Black history and "Black Beauty," but was never overtly political.

Which makes a point about Armstrong's critical reception. There was a kind of condescension towards him because he was a working-class man of limited education, but he was too sophisticated to fit the beloved white stereotype of the unlettered Black blues musician. Much of the criticism of Armstrong came from non-Southerners, who expected Blacks to carry themselves differently--rather presumptuous, especially on the part of white critics such as Andrew Kopkind.  In part because of his experience growing up in the South, Armstrong was understandably cautious about the more violent-sounding side of Black Power. And, as his Reverend Eatmore and "Lonesome Road" records indicate, he was suspicious of smooth-talking leaders who would leave ordinary people in the lurch.

In a way, Armstrong shared a lot with James Brown who finally did put Blackness at the center of popular music (rather than the periphery) in the later1960s ("Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud"). Both came out of the South, both believed in Black entrepreneurialism, both believed in "crossing over" musically. Who knows what Armstrong would have been like if he had been born later, but in some ways, his career would might have been like Brown's; Armstrong might have put race more towards the center of the music he created.

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