Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life by Laurence Bergreen - review by Justin Wintle

Justin Wintle

Saint Satchmo

Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life


HarperCollins 564pp £25 order from our bookshop

The last time I cried at the cinema was when Louis Armstrong welled up on the soundtrack of Good Morning, Vietnam, singing ‘What A Wonderful World’ in that black croon-drawl of his as scores of raw American recruits, poor boys all, trundled past the camera on their way to faraway deaths. It was a devastating pincer movement. On the one hand, Vietnam, which, for reasons too various to enter into here, always produces strong emotions; on the other, old Satchmo himself, the most loveable and, yes, the greatest musical entertainer of this or any other age. Just as he stole the picture in High Society from the likes of Bing Crosby, now he stole it from Robin Williams: only this time without even appearing on the screen.

But what of Armstrong’s loveability? In one respect, it was a late development; in another, it had been there all along. He was one of nature’s gentlemen, or at least he gave the impression of being so when on stage. Trumpet in hand, he exuded bonhomie, even in those small

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