Music Is My Life
Louis Armstrong, Autobiography, and American Jazz
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Title Page, Copyright
Introduction. “Music is my life, and I live to play”: Louis Armstrong’s Jazz Autobiographics
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To study jazz, we are often told, means to study something uniquely and centrally American. In his opening remarks to the seminal anthology The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (1998), Robert O’Meally calls jazz “a massive, irresistibly influential, politically charged part of our culture” and “the master...
1. “I have always been a great observer”: New Orleans Musicking
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Reviewing Louis Armstrong’s second autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, the music historian Henry Kmen wrote in 1955: “Unfortunately, the earliest jazz musicians were not given to keeping written records, and their music was not, nor could it be, formally composed on...
2. “I done forgot the words”: Versioning Autobiography
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For Louis Armstrong, discussing his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings for Esquire was nothing out of the ordinary. Writing and typing were part of a daily encounter with the past. Two letters from his vast epistolary output elucidate the nature of this encounter. In 1952, he wrote to Betty Jane...
3. “Diddat Come Outa Mee?”: Writing Scat and Typing Swing
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One of the most frequent claims about Louis Armstrong’s speech and writing is that they resemble his trumpet playing and singing. An early reviewer of Satchmo, for instance, noted that the autobiography was “less a book than a literary jam session”; others have argued that Armstrong “used...
4. “A happy go lucky sort of type of fellow”: The Productive Ambiguities of Minstrel Sounding
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The Louis Armstrong House Museum owns an anonymous watercolor caricature that depicts Armstrong with his Jewish manager Joe Glaser (ca. 1950). Armstrong is grinning somewhat uneasily, flashing a row of white teeth, holding his trumpet and clutching in his hands the white handkerchief...
5. “He didn’t need black face—to be funny”: The Double Resonance of Postcolonial Performance
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In the opening paragraphs of Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong portrays his social surroundings as well as the characters that inhabit these surroundings: “James Alley [. . .] lies in the very heart of what is called The Battlefield because the toughest characters in town used to...
6. “My mission is music”: Armstrong’s Cultural Politics
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For many, Armstrong’s King Zulu appearance of 1949 signaled the end of his relevance as a figure of modern racial identification. If a mass audience was able to see him in minstrel terms as a reassuring figure of the past, he was clearly out of step with the growing unrest among African Americans...
Conclusion. “What do you know about that?”: Final Thoughts on “Laughin’ Louie”
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In one of the most impressive studies of black music in the United States published in recent years, Ronald Radano turns to the historical and musical significances of Louis Armstrong’s music twice. Two brief passages of Lying Up a Nation: Race and Black Music (2003) discuss Armstrong’s recordings...
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Suggested Further Reading
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Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 10 halftones
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Jazz Perspectives