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Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  191 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Louis Armstrong was the founding father of jazz and one of this century's towering cultural figures. The musical talents of Satchmo - as Armstrong became universally known - were prodigious and groundbreaking. After learning to blow his horn in the bordellos and honky-tonks of Storyville, New Orleans's bustling red-light district, he honed his sound on a Mississippi riverb ...more
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published June 16th 1997 by Bantam Dell Pub Group (Trd)
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Jan 26, 2014 Louise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: entertainers
You get not only a bio of a great musician & person, you get a detailed description how Blacks lived New Orleans through the turn of the century. You also get a better understanding of how the pre-recording (and therefore unrecorded) sounds of untutored musicians became the roots of the New Orleans musical genre and how the odds were stacked against Louis. You come to understand his workaholism and his deference to his eventual agent, who probably exploited him.

As the book progresses, the hi
Dec 07, 2013 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
When I was fourteen years old I went to a Louis Armstrong concert and was absolutely mesmerized by the man who filled the entire fieldhouse with his awesome presence and brilliant musicianship. Fifty-plus years later, I'm quick to tell you that Louis Armstrong is still my favorite musician. In the years following that October 1961 concert, Louis came across as the ambassador of goodwill around the world, and his gravelly-voiced rendition of Hello, Dolly and What a Wonderful World reintroduced hi ...more
Bill O'driscoll
Feb 09, 2014 Bill O'driscoll rated it really liked it
Thoroughly engaging and notably enlightening biography. I went into it an Armstrong fan, but came away with a full understanding of why he's arguably the most important figure in American popular music (at least in the first half of the 20th century). Crucially, Bergreen paints a fine-grained picture of New Orleans as Armstrong lived it in his formative years, including the stint at a boy's home which was a major turning point in his life. We also get nice portraits of jazz giants like Buddy Bol ...more
Jul 19, 2007 Brendan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Bergreen tells a good story, but that's not enough to make this biography work. Too many of his facts are wrong and he doesn't provide particularly good documentation of his sources. It seems clear that he doesn't know too much about jazz music either. Louis Armstrong deserves much better than that.
Nov 25, 2015 Potomacwill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography makes the man palpable. The biographer never makes the mistake of appearing to dissect his subject as though he were conducting an autopsy, an all too common mistake.

Most of the recordings mentioned in this book are available free on the Web, adding a postmodern dimension to the text. Armstrong's life, work, social relations, and musicality legacy have so many facets that readers doubtless would do well to read more than one book about him.

He has written an autobiography and I a
Aug 22, 2010 Rick rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Bought this after reading a favorable review some 13 years ago but then read a bunch of less than favorable reviews so it took me awhile to get around to it. Mostly the unfavorable reviews are right. This is only a serviceable biography with its best feature being the amount of talking the author allows Armstrong to do through his own writings. Armstrong wrote for almost all of his adult life. Letters, scraps of memoirs, articles. So his papers are a great resource and they pepper this biography ...more
Gary Comins
Dec 23, 2014 Gary Comins rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, especially the first few chapters that set the New Orleans scene. So many great musicians and a wonderful timeline of Armstrong's life.
Michael Hillman
Jan 31, 2014 Michael Hillman rated it it was amazing
I love Louis but what makes this book really interesting is the description of the early years in New Orleans and Chicago.
Dec 11, 2009 Spiros rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interseted in larger than life performers
A thoroughly workmanlike account of the life of a truly great American: short on analysis, but rich in detail. I was struck by the parallels between Satchmo and that other towering figure of the Jazz Age, Babe Ruth; both men grew up in shambolic circumstances, both spending time in institutions where, amongst hardship and deprivation, they were given the chance to develop the skills with which they revolutionized their respective fields.
Oct 21, 2008 Todd rated it it was amazing
Excellent portrait of the artist who can arguably be called the greatest jazz musician who ever lived. Bergreen gives us Armstrong the man and musician with a meticulously detailed look at his life and career. Armstrong more than anyone seemed to embody the jazz philosophy that permeated the 20th Century. This book captures that spirit and shows us why Satchmo is really the indispensible figure in jazz.
Mar 01, 2015 Mladen rated it it was amazing
Amazing. The book, the life, the music, everything.
A good book to read by any who love music, especially jazz, or by those who love Louis Armstrong.
Learned so much about the early 1900's, and about the birth of jazz.
The writter not only captures the life of Louis, but also you have glimpses into the lives of some of the more important people who had crossed paths with the great Satchmo.
Mar 22, 2013 Brian rated it really liked it
Much more than a simple biography. I found this book to be a historical account of jazz itself, how the recording industry began, civil rights, the mob connection. Really a huge insight as to why things are the way they are and especially how jazz would not have been jazz without Louis Armstrong.
Morris Nelms
Mar 23, 2009 Morris Nelms rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Outstanding biography, with plenty of things I didn't know about Louis. If you are a jazz fan it's a must. If you love music it's a must. If you simply want to read the story of an inspired and inspirational life, it's a must.
Rich Boyett
Jun 04, 2013 Rich Boyett rated it liked it
It was a very good read up until Louis became well known and successful and then the storyline dragged to the very end. Probably not the author's fault just how things played out.
Cheryl Mcenaney
Mar 25, 2013 Cheryl Mcenaney rated it it was amazing
One of the best biographies I've ever read, and definitely the best of the three Armstrong bios I've read so far. Outstanding research and presentation.
Apr 01, 2008 Jpaflas rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All
A really good bio on Louis. There is a reason he is so well known... most influential and one of the best jazz horn players ever.
Jun 17, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting in the early days but no real documentation of where the stories came from.
Dec 05, 2011 Daniel rated it liked it
Fascinating story, incredible musician, deftly told.
Where is my copy of this.
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Laurence Bergreen is an award-winning biographer, historian, and chronicler of exploration. His books have been translated into over 20 languages worldwide. In October 2007, Alfred A. Knopf published Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, a groundbreaking biography of the iconic traveler. Warner Brothers is developing a feature film based on this book starring Matt Damon and written by William Monahan ...more
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