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Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  641 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
Product Description
Louis Armstrong was the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century and a giant of modern American culture. He knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts, wrote the finest of all jazz autobiographies--without a collaborator--and created collages that have been compared to the art of Romare Bearden. The ranks of his admirers included Johnny Cash,
Hardcover, 475 pages
Published December 2nd 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2009)
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Bill  Kerwin
Mar 21, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography

A relatively short biography (400 pages not counting the bibliography and notes) of perhaps the most influential jazz musician of all. Terry Teachout--not only a good writer but also a former professional bass player who loves trad jazz and yet is no "moldy fig" with an axe to grind--appreciates both Armstrong's seminal Hot Fives and his later more commercial recordings.

He shows us Armstrong in all his complexity: the sunny disposition and the explosive rages, the devotion to wife Lucille and h
Dec 06, 2015 GoldGato rated it really liked it
His name was pronounced as "Lewis", not the "Louis" the rest of the world preferred to call him. He changed music. Period. Before Louis Armstrong, there was ragtime and some beginnings of 'jazz', but it was Pops who made jazz, JAZZ. Yet by the time he died in 1971, he was known more for his singing and entertaining than for his pivotal use of the trumpet (instead of the cornet) in twentieth-century music.

 photo Album_Struttin_Louis_Armstrong_with_Edmond_Halls_All_Stars_Cover_zpsiyzrfrq6.jpg

Louis Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans, the Crescent City that could just as we
Mikey B.
Oct 10, 2016 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing
On a radio jazz show that I once listened to, the host remarked that “There is jazz, and there is Louis Armstrong”. He is in a class by himself.

Never has an American music personality risen to the very top from the very bottom of the heap. Louis Armstrong had every lined up against him – his race and wretched poverty. His mother was fifteen when he was born, and his father was absent. His formative years were spent in a rough area of New Orleans where brothels were plentiful and disputes were se
Jul 10, 2014 Forrest rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014, music
Pops is, by far, the best account of Louis Armstrong’s life I’ve ever encountered. Terry Teachout’s narrative is graceful and full of insight, and his esteem for Armstrong shines through every page. But reading it, I also realized for the first time how challenging it must be to write about the man.

Armstrong was an undisputed genius. He raised jazz above the level of novelty music and inspired an entire generation of artists with his 1920s Chicago bands and the seminal records of his “Hot Five.
Clif Brittain
Jan 12, 2010 Clif Brittain rated it it was amazing
This book explains as well as anything I've ever read the kinds of losses our country has suffered as a result of racism. Louis Armstrong is probably the greatest American musician of the 20th century, yet he had to develop his style and his music to conform to the confines of racism.

How much more could he have done in a culture free of racism?

The most difficult thing for Teachout to explain is the relationship between Glaser, Armstrong's white manager and promoter, and Armstrong. Armstrong hir
Fred Moramarco
Mar 29, 2011 Fred Moramarco rated it it was amazing
To give you an idea of how much I like this book, I should tell you that half way through it I downloaded "The Essential Louis Armstrong" for my IPod so I could play the songs after reading Terry Teachout's descriptions of them. Teachout is a drama critic and a former professional musician who writes about music with an enthusiasm and detailed accuracy I have never before encountered. He takes us into Armstrong's world, from his New Orleans beginnings through his Chicago stint with King Oliver's ...more
Mar 03, 2011 Melissa rated it did not like it
I didn't finish this book and I don't think I will. The author is clearly a fan of the artist, but between the fawning over Armstrong and name dropping, it was difficult to get a handle on the subject. At least I found out that Armstrong's mother and first wife were both prostitutes.
Nov 29, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
A few years ago I received a Louis Armstrong CD for Christmas from a family member who knew of my appreciation of the great man’s music. Unfortunately, to my mind at the time, it was a later CD, a collection of his songs with the All-Stars, the small combo band he formed in 1947 and continued performing with right up until his death in 1971. I had listened to little of Satchmo’s music from this period because I had the same opinion of it that many jazz fans had, i.e., that it was the music of a ...more
Dec 03, 2014 Roger rated it liked it
Shelves: music, americana
Pops is billed as the first biography of Armstrong written by a musician - Terry Teachout is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal,sometime Jazz Bassist and Librettist for Operas. A musician he may be, an Armstrong disciple he certainly is, which has both good and bad effects on his book.

Pops is a comprehensive life of the great man, leavened by much recent research on Armstrong, and by newly accessible material created by him, both on tape and paper. The famous birthdate of July 4th 1900
Dec 13, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-vine
Louis Armstrong stands as one of the legends of twentieth century music. During five decades as a performer he thrilled audiences with his cornet and trumpet virtuosity, while his gravelly voice made him one of the most popular and recognizable singers of his day. Such a career became the stuff of legend, making it difficult to discern the truth underneath. In this book, Terry Teachout undertakes the difficult task to sift though the legend to discover the man underneath.

In this he is aided by A
Marc  A.
Jun 13, 2016 Marc A. rated it really liked it
I was inspired to read this after I saw the terrific one man show, "Satchmo at the Waldorf" that Mr. Teachout wrote based on his research for this fine book. Coming late to the field of "Armstrong-ography" , Teachout had the advantage of a wealth of earlier efforts (including two autobiographies by the subject himself), plus a trove of new material that has become come available relatively recently and includes hundreds of reels of private tapes recorded by the artist himself over many years. Th ...more
Apr 29, 2013 Josh rated it it was amazing
Immediately one of the best musician biographies I have read-- and among the best biographies, period-- Teachout's book presents us with a full,robust portrait of Louis Armstrong, his life and times, his towering personality, his art and his music. Everything is here: His troubled beginnings in New Orleans, his apprenticeship with Joe Oliver, the seminal Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions, his years as a working big band leader, his 1947 Town Hall comeback, the All-Stars, his uncomfortable relation ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Harold rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, bio-autobio
Seems like there's a new bio of Louis Armstrong every few years. This is an excellent one and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Jazz. As with the Monk bio, it sent me back to the recordings and I've been having a ball listening to Pops. I recently bought the Mosaic Decca 1930s reissues and I've been digging them in the best sound ever for that stuff.
Washington Post
Oct 28, 2013 Washington Post rated it it was amazing
An exceptional biography of, in Teachout's lovely phrase, "a major-key artist." The biography made our top 10 list for 2009.

Louis Bayard reviewed it for us:
C. Michael
Apr 11, 2014 C. Michael rated it it was amazing
Pops--The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong
Terry Teachout
508 Pages
ISBN: # 1906779562
Aurum Press

Critic Terry Teachout published his biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) in 2009, republishing it under the present title of Pops--The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong in Kindle and hardcover format. Qualitatively, the biographies are the same. Teachout as biographer has benefitted from all previous Armstrong reportage plus recently rel
In the cultural pantheon of 20th century America Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong occupies a unique place; revered as one of the seminal figures in the evolution of Jazz, he was also consistently disdained by critics and jazz buffs alike from the 1930s on for his penchant for artistic populism. A master player and brilliant innovator, he was also an endearing and beloved entertainer, who enjoyed clowning for audiences while he engaged in an habitual routine of grinning, eye rolling and mopping his brow ...more
Mar 06, 2014 Joe rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
Even for non-music/jazz aficionados Louis Armstrong's face, voice and the "sound of his horn" are easily recognizable. He's become inseparable from the city of his birth, New Orleans, and the birth of his music, jazz. The mention of his name immediately conjures up the image of Louis immaculately dressed, his trumpet in one hand, white handkerchief for his sweaty brow in the other, poised to entertain with his big smile and never to disappoint his audience. With his music and talent he transcend ...more
Jan 12, 2015 Mark rated it liked it
"Pops" is a comprehensive birth-to-death biography of popular jazz icon Louis Armstrong. And popular he was—the book describes an amazing journey, a rise from a child born of a prostitute in one of the poorest parts of New Orleans to artist, musician, movie star, TV star, diplomat, and, quite literally, one of the most famous and recognizable faces in all of the world. The litany of pallbearers at his 1971 funeral speaks to the breadth of his social and artistic life—Pearl Bailey, Johnny Carson, ...more
Dec 31, 2013 John rated it it was amazing
Pops is an eminently readable, compelling, and entertaining biography of one of the most important and monumental figures in jazz and 20th century pop culture.

Louis Armstrong personally witnessed the birth of jazz and apprenticed at the feet of the men who invented it. As much as anyone, Armstrong brought jazz out of its New Orleans-Chicago milieu and into the world at large, and he continued to work in the jazz industry past the point that rock ‘n’ roll superseded it as the pop music of America
Dec 27, 2014 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
finally, the biography Armstrong always deserved. tho it is painful to think of all the ways the great man suffered, most of all the awful ingrained & institutionalized racism in this country that shaped his personality as a poor street kid in New Orleans and dogged him even into the 1960s when he was an international star (but still had to use the "colored" washroom), ultimately his story of relentless openness & optimism & his rewarding work ethic coupled with an unmatched artistic ...more
Jul 30, 2010 Andrew rated it really liked it
Shelves: entertainment
This book uses new source materials, including letters and reels of private tapes Armstrong recorded) to provide a fresh look at one of the key figures in jazz. He was born in New Orleans (though not on July 4, 1900 as he always thought) among prostitutes and gamblers, and went to a waif's home for shooting a gun on New Year's Eve. There he 'straightened out' and learned the cornet.

He was highly influential for transforming ragtime and other musical forms in to jazz, and his early small-combo re
Jeff Crompton
Mar 25, 2011 Jeff Crompton rated it really liked it
If I could give this biography of Louis Armstrong four and a half stars, I would. It's excellent; certainly far better than James Lincoln Collier's Armstrong biography, which is more an attempt at armchair psychoanalysis than an objective account of Armstrong's life and music. I would dock Teachout half a star because I found myself wishing for a more detailed account of Pops' young adulthood: his time playing on the riverboats, with King Oliver's band in Chicago, and the period of the amazing H ...more
Jun 21, 2011 John rated it really liked it
Probably in between 3.5 and 4 stars, but worth it. My main fear is that it would be a hagiography -- and it gets close at times. But, the book succeeds regardless b/c (1) his life and surroundings are very interesting (NOLA to Chicago to Harlem to superstardom); and (2) the author lays out enough of *others'* criticisms that you get a pretty good sense of what his shortcomings were (e.g., mob ties, sell-out in late career, alleged by later black artists to be Uncle Tom/socially non-activist/etc. ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
It's hard to imagine a better biography of Louis Armstrong. The author, a former jazz bassist turned full-time writer and critic, traces and analyzes the contributions of the artist to the birth and evolution of jazz with an admiring but clear-eyed objectivity. He knows jazz and is well-qualified to break-down both the sublime and the ridiculous of Armstrong's extant recordings, as well as the myths and rumors of his personal life and professional associations. Mr. Teachout gives credit to the f ...more
Eric Bittner
Mar 09, 2011 Eric Bittner rated it really liked it
As a huge jazz fan, I have always been a bit uncomfortable with my lack of knowledge about the life and music of Louis Armstrong. Lately I've been attempting to remedy that situation. I've acquired some recordings of his Hot Fives and Sevens, and read this fine biography of the man. The author does a good job placing Armstrong into the proper perspective. Too often, Armstrong has been judged by the standards of a time other than his own. Specifically, his on stage behavior, which has been denigr ...more
Dec 29, 2012 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: jazz, biography, music
Terrific biography of Armstrong; does a great job telling not only the story of his life but also the story of jazz and of 20th-century American popular culture. Owes a fair amount to Gary Giddens'Satchmo, as does every Armstrong bio after Giddens, and embraces but doesn't really advance Giddens' revisionist theses: that Armstrong's post-1920s work is as important and interesting as his classic Hot 5 and Hot 7 sides, and that Armstrong was not an artist who sold out but rather a genius who never ...more
It took me 7 months to get through this book. (I read 23 other books in between these pages.) Shame on me for allowing that to happen. This book is so interesting and thoroughly researched. I've long adored Louis Armstrong, and wanted to find the ultimate biography to learn more about his life. This certainly is that. The parts that bogged down for me were those that any trumpet player or jazz aficionado would find fascinating. For me, those were the places that felt like 10th grade history text ...more
Dec 19, 2009 Steven rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I remember as a child getting a Disney album with songs sung by a man with a very gravelly voice. At first I found it kind of off-putting, but I remember my mom especially enthusing about him and his music. I also remember being impressed with the fact that you could have a real name, and then a really cool nickname, like Satchmo.

I'm not a connoisseur of biographies, usually only picking them up when I feel I want to know more about someone I've run across. In my opinion, though, this is a parti
Feb 23, 2012 Spiros rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who appreciate greatness of soul
Louis Armstrong, similarly to Babe Ruth, grew up in rough, unpromising circumstances, was institutionalized as a child, and developed a profusion of talent while under the eye of authority that would revolutionize his field of endeavor, and leave an indelible stamp on American culture. I just think it's kind of interesting, that's all.
This is a very well paced, readable biography, paced like one of Pop's clarion solos. Louis Armstrong revolutionized jazz in the 1920's, then spent the rest of his
Dec 24, 2009 Bobsie67 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Excellent biography of Louis Armstrong, who is indeed the greatest trumpet player that I've ever listened to. If yoo sound great on those old recordings, you must be great. What I enjoyed most about this biography is that it really was a reassessment of Armstrong's work--both as an artist and as a person. Teachout was quite compelling in bringing forth the humanity of Mr. Armstrong, who, as Teachout points out, is sometimes seen too often only as a caricature. My only reasons for not giving this ...more
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Terry Teachout is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal and the chief culture critic of Commentary. His latest book, "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong," will be published on December 2 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He blogs about the arts at His other books include "The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken," "All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine," and "A Terr ...more
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