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Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words.

Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words

edited by Thomas Brothers Oxford University Press, 1999, $25.00 ISBN 0-195-11958-4.

"My mother May Ann and my uncle Ike Miles used to tell us about slavery times. They said slavery wasn't half as bad as some of the history books would like for you to believe."

Between jam sessions, Louis Armstrong typed up personal thoughts and memories such as this, and now they can be read in Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words. Edited by Thomas Brothers, these selected writings provide new insight into the musician's life--much more than what most previous biographies have given the reader or fan.

The majority of In His Own Words consist of Armstrong's writings on his ex-wives and lovers and a jazz musician's life in general, from sharing the stage with Bill Robinson and Lionel Hampton, to other such "exciting" moments as wearing blackface in a Mardi Gras parade. Phrases such as "hep to the jive" and "suffering with the shorts" (financially broke) are commonplace throughout Armstrong's writing, helpful in conjuring up his moods and atmosphere. Brothers' decision to use Armstrong's "jive" talk and idiosyncrasies, as opposed to standard English, succeed in presenting to the reader a style that is uniquely Armstrong's.

However, despite all of the book's different topics, it is Armstrong's first chapter which may make one most uncomfortable. The first chapter details the admiration Armstrong held for the Jewish community, and how "lazy" African Americans were. Armstrong strongly believed that Negroes did not appreciate the great "things" he had done for his race. He blamed blacks for his personal failures, and felt that were it not for a lack of encouragement, "I could have really done something worthwhile." But long before controversy was fashionable, Armstrong held contentious opinions that often made him unpopular. As Brothers notes in one chapter preface, the jazz trumpeter John "Dizzy" Gillespie summed up the opinion of many: "Louis is the plantation character that so many of us younger men resent."

Nevertheless, lessons of hard-time survival, cultural history and jazz are offered in these selected writings, making for a rare portrait of a complicated man. Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words successfully presents Armstrong's unique thoughts and views, and will be most appreciated by fans of the author, the musician, and jazz culture.

Tracy Roberts is a freelance writer and music critic based in St. Louis, MO.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Roberts, Tracy
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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