Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong

Oxford Univ. Sept. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780190914110. $34.95. MUSIC
Riccardi (director, research collections, Louis Armstrong House Museum; What a Wonderful World ) tackles the neglected middle period (1929–49) of jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s career. Starting with Armstrong’s rise to national prominence in New York City, Riccardi details how the artist faced troubles with warring gangs, a nagging sore lip, angry wives, a marijuana habit, rising boppers, and the musicians’ union while gradually crossing over to a pop audience. Compellingly, the author illuminates the pivotal role of managers Tommy Rockwell, tough guy Johnny Collins, and Al Capone associate Joe Glaser on Armstrong’s climb to pop stardom. He portrays his subject as a generous, ambitious, hardworking, comedic, and audience-focused musician and entertainer who retained a sunny optimism despite the unrelenting racial discrimination that plagued him throughout his career.
VERDICT Though sometimes overly enthusiastic about Armstrong and presenting more detail than most general readers need, Riccardi produces a meticulously researched but readable account that jazz fans will embrace as a standard work about the iconic trumpeter. [See Q&A, p. 69.]

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