Satchmo and the Scholars
The trumpeter Louis Armstrong was universally recognized in his own lifetime as the key figure in the history of jazz. Though his reputation with the general public went into a partial eclipse after his death in 1971, the filmmaker Ken Burns rehabilitated him 29 years later with Jazz, a widely viewed (if controversial) 10-part PBS documentary in which Armstrong’s pivotal contribution was extensively discussed. Virtually all of his commercial recordings have been transferred to CD, and his New York City home has been restored to its original condition and opened to the public as a museum.
Despite his unquestioned preeminence, however, there has been surprisingly little serious academic research into Armstrong’s life and work. Moreover, the only primary-source biography, Laurence Bergreen’s Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life (1997), is so full of errors and misinterpretations that it cannot be considered a reliable source. And while Armstrong gave hundreds of interviews and published numerous essays and articles (many of them written without editorial assistance of any kind), few have been collected. Of his surviving correspondence, only a small portion has been published in book form.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.