Book Report Time

Two books came my way this past Christmas so it's time for my book report.

One I've been want­ing to read for a couple of years now is Terry Teachout's bio­graphy of Louis Armstrong.  That's pro­nounced Lew-iss not Lew-ee, as he was appar­ently fond of say­ing to folks.

I heard Teachout inter­viewed on the radio when it was first pub­lished and he talked about his sources.   Seems that Pops was among the early pur­chasers of a port­able 7‑inch reel-to-reel tape record­er back in the 1950's and recor­ded hun­dreds of hours of stuff, not just music but the world and con­ver­sa­tions around him in his home and on the road.  He had a lot of mater­i­al oth­er bio­graph­ers had no access to.

Teachout is a com­pel­ling writer when he brings to life the early 20th cen­tury in New Orleans and the type of child­hood Armstrong had.   The student/​teacher rela­tion­ship between Joe Oliver and Armstrong is explored at bit, but the early days of jazz are essen­tially lost without record­ings, as it is always about the music.
Somebody once said some­thing along the lines of; writ­ing about music is like dan­cing about archi­tec­ture.

This is a good place to begin almost any jazz study.

The rather well worn ter­rit­ory of Uncle Tom-ism and the verbal spar­ing between Dizzy Gillespie and Armstrong is giv­en a going over once again.  Also present and accoun­ted for in the book is Da Mob, the guys with the bent noses, who played a role in Armstrong's grief and his ulti­mate suc­cess.

I came away from the book with pretty much the view I had always had of Louis Armstrong.  The view I got as a child through his music.   My Dad had an Armstrong record­ing and an Aker Bilk one too.   He pre­ferred Bilk on the cla­ri­net but Dad was a Moldy Fig any­way, I was into the mod­erns and before The Beatles there was Pops. Armstrong was an enter­tain­er, plain and simple, he loved what he did and did it to such a degree that he set the stand­ard.

The Book

I rate Terry Teachout's Pops 60 keys out of 88 with a flat­ted 7.

The second book and more piano related, is A Natural History of the Piano, by Stuart Isacoff.

Good book, but then you might expect me to say that with any­thing about pianos.

Not a dif­fi­cult read and hav­ing read it cov­er to cov­er I'm not sure it has to be read that way.   There were enough little asides in boxes and fairly short chapters that it could also be suit­able for just dip­ping into.   You could start at the Index since it is a fairly well indexed book and sort of ana­log 'Google' your way through.

Lots of good stuff about Mozart hav­ing to work the bars and res­taur­ants.

Mozart played restaurants too.

From Craig's List may or may not be true but is quite funny.

Beethoven break­ing pianos, Liszt and Chopin wow-ing every­body, Oscar Peterson wow-ing them all again and then Lang Lang doing it with feel­ing one more time.

Some details emerged on the Cat Piano, which led me to this video.

Watch the Film

Not all fun and games though,there is some ser­i­ous dis­cus­sion around the vari­ous improve­ments in the piano mech­an­ism and the styles of music the instru­ment cre­ated.

Isacoff is him­self a jazz pian­ist who stud­ied with jazz great Sir Roland Hanna and he writes know­ledge­ably about the genre and the cross-pol­lin­a­tion with European clas­sic­al piano.  He has long lists of great pian­ists clas­sic­al and jazz.  He explores the styles and lives of some of them, how­ever, for me con­spicu­ous by his almost com­plete absence bey­ond a few curs­ory men­tions, is Keith Jarrett.   He has a tre­mend­ous body of work across genres and is surely one of the most influ­en­tial pian­ists of our time.   Keith does not get the atten­tion he deserves in a book of this nature.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book it is an enga­ging read, and although there is much dan­cing for archi­tec­ture, I heart­ily recom­mend this book for all three types of people in the world, piano play­ers, piano tech­ni­cians and music lov­ers.

The Book

I give Isacoff's Natural History of the Piano 68 keys with an arpeg­gio.

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