What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years aims to rehabilitate Armstrong’s tarnished reputation. Ricky Riccardi, the book’s author and an unabashed fan, examines both the music and the man from 1947 until his death in 1971.
As an archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and a jazz pianist, Riccardi brings a unique bag of qualifications to the task, including unprecedented access to private Armstrong archives and thousands of hours of tape recordings of the man himself – horsing around backstage, auditioning potential recruits, and interacting with fellow musicians. As the tape rolls, Armstrong speaks candidly about racism, segregation, and touring in the South. And while Riccardi’s efforts to rehabilitate Armstrong’s postwar reputation as a man don’t fully succeed, the rich details of the musicmaking, colorful personalities, and Armstrong’s life on the road with his beloved All Stars band is priceless.
Riccardi makes a convincing case that it was not the critically lauded “Golden Era” of the 1920s and ’30s – when Armstrong nearly single-handedly invented jazz with his Hot Fives and Sevens in swinging support – that should define the pinnacle of Armstrong’s artistry. It was, he argues, the years from World War II through the mid-’60s when Armstrong shone most brightly. Those were the decades when he constantly toured the world with various aggregations of the All Stars: a revolving door of traditional jazz greats such as pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, clarinetist Barney Bigard, trombonist Jack Teagarden, and peerless drummers Big Sid Catlett and Barrett Deems.