Culture-Changing Genius

Christopher Lydon in conversation over at Open Source:

Pops Terry Teachout’s fine reconsideration of the man called “Pops” solidifies Louis Armstrong’s standing as not just the greatest horn player since the angel Gabriel, but an all-transforming artist at the level of James Joyce or even Shakespeare, and a black American freedom fighter of character and conscience, too. Louis Armstrong’s power to astonish was never in doubt. Hoagy Carmichael, the songwriter of “Stardust” and “Georgia,” dropped his cigarette and gulped his drink the first time he heard Louis, barely out of his teens, in 1921. “Why,” Hoagy moaned, “isn’t everybody in the world listening to that?” Over the next 50 years the whole world heard Louis, and marveled, but there were always questions, too: Could honky-tonk music from red-light New Orleans get standing, really, with Schubert and Bach? Was Louis in artistic decline after the Twenties? Was he an Uncle Tom in all that Satchelmouth clowning?

All the modern answers as Terry Teachout documents them are over the top now in favor of Louis Armstrong. Listen to the testimonies his fellow horn players Ruby Braff and Wynton Marsalis gave me on Louis’s legendary centennial, July 4, 1900: that if Louis wasn’t actually God, he was at least proof of God. His grandeur, complexity and consistency as man and artist seem now beyond question. Harold Bloom, keeper of the cultural canon and an astute jazz listener, too, pairs Armstrong with Walt Whitman as the greatest American contributor to the world’s art, the genius of this nation at its best. It turns out we could believe our ears after all.

More here. (Note: Thanks to Bryon Giddens-White)