Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism by Thomas Brothers: a review

Not so much a review as a recommendation.

This book’s a biographical study of Louis Armstrong’s development as a musician in the 1920s and early 1930s, discussing his influences and musical vocabulary more than the details of his everyday life–though those everyday events are necessarily a part of Brothers’ story. The best parts, though, are the author’s analysis of how Armstrong constructed his recorded work, how the recordings related to live performance, and how those things changed over time. He presents a vision of Armstrong as musically literate, consciously developing as a musician to meet the needs of his career, and perhaps a different sort of genius than he’s often been presented. Brothers explicitly rejects the notion that Armstrong “sold out” when he began singing popular songs, and argues that musicians, analysts, and critics who’ve presented that thesis have pretty much missed the point.

This is not a general biography–it’s a musicologist’s biography, and best read as such. Those looking for a general biography of the artist would probably be better served by reading Terry Teachout’s fine Armstrong biography, Pops.

All that said, this is a great book, and highly recommended.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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