Satchmo: The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong

By STEVEN BROWER

For the fortunate few, personal creativity can act like an overflowing river come the thaws of spring. The urge to construct something out of nothing will take whatever forms it must, spilling from one medium to another. An actor might also paint, a photographer make music, an author sculpt. Contacting an additional muse might not reap the same aesthetic benefits as the primary art — looking forward to Russell Crowe?s next album, are you? — but at times the extracurricular impulse for self-expression reaps surprising rewards. Louis Armstrong was music incarnate. His revolutionary trumpet playing and vocalizing effectively remade American music, jump-starting jazz improvisation and the interpretation of popular song thereafter. But like those gifted others with fecund imaginations, Armstrong? s extraordinary talents for sonic invention couldn?t entirely satisfy his artistic urges. A gifted and prolific writer of letters and a colorful memorist, Armstrong also began creating — purely for himself and friends — collages on the covers of the many reel-to-reel tapes that made up his voluminous collection of recorded music and conversation. A beautiful book in both presentation and spirit, Satchmo brings together dozens of these imaginative and delightful creations. Interpolating personal and newspaper photos, illustrations, and clipped-out text, Armstrong constructs artless art objects that burst forth with the same joy and humor as his best music making. With a natural eye for adroit composition and playful juxtaposition, he devised what we can now perceive as miniature memoriams to himself and his wife Lucille, his showbiz pals, his friends and fans. The timeworn condition of the box cover art adds an extraordinary poignancy; like everything he did in his grand life, Armstrong drew this art straight from a larger-than-life heart maxed out with love.

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