Hooey About Louis: The "Jazz World" vs. Louis Armstrong

This is a post I've thought about doing for several years but never had the energy to put together, mostly because it consists of ground already covered in my two books. However, I think the time is right to run with it because of Michael Ullman's review of my new book, Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong, received last week in ArtsFuse

Let me get all disclaimers out of the way first: it's a very positive review, for which I am grateful for, and I respect Ullman as a historian and critic so what I'm about to write isn't personal. However, in the first half of his review, he took me to task for presenting an "unconvincing" argument that the mysterious "jazz world" was against Louis Armstrong and doesn't buy my contention that Armstrong "was 'vilified' by jazz fans and the jazz press." No, Ullman argues, economics were a bigger obstacle than “the jazz world” and besides, my argument is contradicted by the many positive quotes I include from jazz musicians during Armstrong's lifetime. And ultimately, Ullman himself attended an Armstrong concert and those present--"jazz fans all"--enjoyed it, plus "every critic" Ullman knows agrees on Armstrong's best recordings in this period.

Ullman tries to discredit my argument by focusing on "jazz fans" and "jazz musicians," but never goes as far as discussing the jazz press. And that's where this blog comes in. Over the course of my 25 years of studying Armstrong (this week's the anniversary of the “big band”!), I have become numb to all the invective hurled at Armstrong over the years, especially during his lifetime. I've collected the best (worst?) of it in my books and can admit that reading so many wrongheaded assertions is what sent me on my path when I was still in high school. I don't engage in hagiography but am driven by letting Armstrong defend himself with his own words.

That won't be the case today. Over the next several thousand words, I will paint an admittedly one-sided picture of the overwhelming negativity spewed by specifically the jazz press since the early 1930s. I'm leaving out the black press, the newspaper columnists and the music trades and I'm (largely) leaving out the musicians (though they will come through later). And let it be said right up front, that Armstrong always did have his defenders, including Dan Morgenstern, Ralph J. Gleason and many others during his lifetime so I know what I’m presenting is one-sided, but these are the dominant, most widely-read stories of that era. 

This post will be serve as a reminder that Louis started catching hell just a few years after his epochal 1928 recordings and had to spend the last 40 years of his life hearing mostly from white jazz critics telling him that all of his choices were wrong: his trumpet playing, his singing, his showmanship, his solos, his recordings, his repertoire, all of it wrong, wrong, wrong. Hell, I'm sure there are some people who feel that way and others who will read some of the below reviews and think, "Well, that makes sense." That's fine, but not the point of cobbling all of this together. Consider this a one-man Louis Armstrong version of Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time. (The late Michael Cogswell introduced me to that work; if you don't know it, check it out.)

Needless to say, there wasn't exactly a "jazz press" in the United States when Armstrong was changing the world in the 1920s, but Melody Maker in England was definitely picking up on what Armstrong was doing by the end of 1929 and devoted issue-after-issue to gushing reviews of his recordings in the next couple of years. In early 1932, Melody Maker hired John Hammond to write a column detailing what was happening in the States, or as they put it, “Slashing Comments on American Bands and Musicians.” In his second column, from March 1932, Hammond called Armstrong's recording of "Home" "absolutely atrocious,” adding, "It must be fairly obvious by now that the band should be changed, particularly in piano and brass departments." One month later, in a column titled "The Decline of Earl Hines" (“About five years ago, when he was recording with Armstrong, Hines had the enormous advantage of simplicity coupled with astonishing ingenuity. Now he seems merely a showman, and a most flashy one at that.”), Hammond wrote of Armstrong's performance at the Lafayette in Harlem, "Every show is different: he is original beyond belief. Unfortunately, he is almost killing himself by hitting high C about two hundred times in succession at the conclusion of ‘Shine,’ all for no reason whatsoever. Sometimes he does this three and four times a day, and then drops dead.”

The summer of 1932 was spent in England, the subject of an entire chapter of Heart Full of Rhythm so I don't feel the need to recap it here (needless to say, most of the reviews were very racist). The most interesting takeaway for me is the British jazz writers such as Edgar Jackson and Spike Hughes who worshipped Armstrong's OKeh recordings (issued there in Parlophone), began changing their tune after spending four months watching him on stage. An October 1932 Melody Maker review of the Parlophone coupling of "Them There Eyes" and "When You're Smiling" referred to it "nearly the worst couple of titles Armstrong has ever made, adding, "The main trouble is to reconcile the Armstrong of the stage with the Armstrong of the records before his appearance over here. It is all very difficult and worrying, for it means revising one’s whole attitude towards his records, an attitude which is the result of several years’ listening and study. So sad."

Armstrong returned to England in the summer of 1933, spending much of the trip listening to records with John Hammond. "Not that Louis and I always agreed. We had violent disagreements on such subjects as the Majestic’s evaporated milk, food, his new records, his old records; in fact, almost everything. But we did have just enough in common to get along gorgeously. Both of us were united in feeling that his best discs were made in the Earl Hines-Redman days of super-ensemble-and-accompaniment. As to his newly acquired showmanship, there still remains a marked difference." 
Armstrong opened at the Holborn Empire in London and immediately drew the ire of Percy Brooks of the Melody Maker, who published his review with this incredible headline: 

Louis Deliberately All Commercial

Here's a taste of the article:

"Only the ringing down of the curtain and the playing of “The King,” by the pit orchestra stifled the fervid applause. But Louis must have caused many of his most enlightened supporters to sorrow for him. His act was fifty per cent showmanship, fifty per cent instrumental cleverness, but about nought per cent music. 
He seems to have come to the conclusion that a variety artists only mission in life is to be sensational, to pander to the baser emotions, to sacrifice all art to crude showmanship; this from the most admired and outstanding individual dance musician in the world!
Later he announced 'Shine,' introduced by the band with an intriguing short phrase which Louis made it repeat perhaps a dozen times. This effective opening, however, flattered only to deceive, for the number was used merely to permit Armstrong to blow, unaccompanied and ad lib, a series of seventy high C's, culminating in a top F, a feat of endurance which caused many of the fans to cheer ecstatically, but which made the more thinking members of his audience ask themselves, 'Why?'
His whole show was more or less like this; mere gallery playing. Only a few notes and phrases here and there made one realise that his sheer musical ability still exists, although now subjugated to a policy of ostentatious showmanship. 
Unwise Showmanship
Throughout it all, Louis sweated as unnaturally as of yore, and, in fact, he deliberately drew attention to it with by-play with handkerchiefs and even more pointed references. 
It is not his fault that his nervous system causes this immense perspiration and, in fact,when he is playing real music one takes little or no notice of this physical reaction, but it is a commentary on the Armstrong of to-day that he endeavours to make capital out of it. 
Shall we never hear Louis Armstrong on a London stage supported by a first-class band and playing music for intelligent people? Or is this an end to him as a pioneer and a pattern? 
What a dreadful shame, and what a wicked waste."


Apparently, Armstrong toned it down the following week at the Palladium, winning praise from Brooks in the August 12, 1933 issue of Melody Maker:

"Critics of dance music agreed that  Louis had “gone off”--sacrificed his art (for art it undoubtedly is) to “fetching” the gallery. This performance, coming on top of the issue of a shockingly bad 12-in. Medley of Armstrong tunes, seemed to indicate that the star was waning. 
But Louis listened to the well-meant criticism. Of all big-timers Louis has the least “side.” He realised that his severest critics were really his best friends. 
In America an appreciation of what is good in dance music is even rarer than it is here. Although the best bands and players are in America and on the air daily, the great American public is even more dumb than the great B.P.
Artists of dance music, who really know what it is all about, have to play down to a public that just wants cheap sensation and belly-laughs. 
Gradually, therefore, Armstrong had slipped, perforce, into giving the American public what everyone told him it wanted. He overlooked the fact that it was just because he was “different” that his audiences sat up and noticed him in the first place. 
His clowning had “got” them there in the States and therefore was it not logical to believe that it would “get” them here?
But Louis overlooked the astonishing fact that the Holborn (and the other theatres he will play) would be filled every house with fans, their friends and the acquaintances the fans have brought in out of curiosity to see the “black man young Joe raves about.”
He is playing, every night and every house, to a fan public. 
It is to this faithful fan audience, then, that Louis has to play in this country. Whatever he did would be right for most of them. 
Louis, therefore, was leaving only one small section dissatisfied--the dance music critics. 
Louis knew, in his heart of hearts, that they were right in condemning his performance. 
So from the Tuesday onwards, he began to play--properly.
And we really sincerely hope that he will pursue his changed tactics. 
The world’s greatest trumpet player must not be allowed to deteriorate, even if we have to club him over the head to stop it. 
So take warning, friend Louis!"


By this point, Armstrong's RCA Victor recordings were being issued in England. Spike Hughes heard glimmers to praise, but more to criticize. Here he is on "Mississippi Basin" in the October 21, 1933 Melody Maker:

"For the first minute or so of this first side of Louis’ ‘Mississippi Basin’ it really seems that Louis has ‘come home, all is forgiven.’ In short, Louis Armstrong has not played in this unspectacular fashion for more records than I (and I hope others) care to remember. The first twenty-four bars of the chorus, as Louis plays them, might have been recorded in his dressing-room. There is no funny business, no terrific striving and straining. It is all very easy, lazy, and, above all, tasteful playing. But, of course, not (according to the master himself) playing for the musicians; the musicians must have lots of high notes, break-neck tempo and noise; playing quietly, as he does on this record, is almost commercial--for the folks who aren’t musicians. 
How mistaken Louis is in this! He must surely have realised by now that high notes do not impress a musician; he thinks his fans are musicians, but very few of them are. If they were, then the fans would listen to records like ‘Muggles’ and ‘Basin Street Blues’ and ‘Tight Like This’--not to the rowdy ‘Tiger Rags’ and ‘You Rascal You,’ played one-in-a-bar. 
"Miss. Basin," for the first half of the record, then, is the real Louis Armstrong. The vocal refrain is good enough, provided you can understand what on earth he is singing about. The diction in this part is so indistinct that it might be one of Louis’ imitators. There is a sudden fading in the recording at the beginning of this vocal passage which does not help things much either. 
But then--
The whole effect is ruined by a completely meaningless coda. High notes, achieved amid much puffing and blowing, which destroy the whole atmosphere, which has so carefully been built up from the very first bar. It is incongruous, unnecessary and completely lacking in taste. 
If you are wise and not impressed by the inevitable (as it seems nowadays) showing off with which Louis feels impelled to finish his records regardless of theme or mood, then you will not play this record any further than those exquisite bars of piano playing which follow the vocal refrain.
If you do, you will immediately hear Louis playing a couple of bars which were great when he first played them four years ago, but which have now, in his hands, degenerated into the most platitudinous phrase in the musical vocabulary of trumpet players." 
In January 1934, Hughes reviewed Armstrong's 1930 recording of "Dear Old Southland," calling it "Armstrong's Best Ever." In just four years, Hughes was now longing for the "good old days," writing, "Now, as you have guessed, ‘Dear Old Southland’ is getting on in years, but it dates from one particular period when Armstrong was well-nigh infallible. He played good numbers--never commercial songs in those days--he was spontaneous and grand himself, and his accompaniment was always by good people."

January 1934 also marked the Melody Maker debut of young Leonard Feather. In one of his first columns, Feather interviewed composer and bandleader Reginald Foresythe for a piece titled "No Future for Hot Music." Here's their exchange on Armstrong:
Feather: Well, now, let’s look at some of the other great solo men and see if they don’t show that busking is the backbone of jazz. If we can show that, we can show why jazz hasn’t advanced, because premeditation and spontaneity are like work and play--they don’t mix. Now, take Armstrong.

Foresythe: Louis is a great artist to this day--not because of his high notes and stunts, not even because his technique’s improved--perhaps it’s deteriorated--but because his playing is governed more by his intellect. His most enjoyable records, for instance, were the group he made comparatively recently, with Les Hite’s Band, such as ‘Shine’ and ‘Just a Gigolo.’ Good arrangements and supporting band, as well as good work by Louis himself. There you have the epitome of his art: it represents the mental influence on the spontaneous. 

Feather: Personally, I’d a thousand times sooner hear anything from the grand old Hines-Redman days. ‘Muggles’ and ‘Save It, Pretty Mama,’ and all those were just superb.

This was the start of Feather's mission to educate his readers about "the grand old Hines-Redman" days, writing numerous columns in 1934 that blasted both the early Hot Fives and the latest big band recordings (“booming, pretentious orchestrations of 1933”) at the expense of Armstrong's 1928 output.
Feather's columns in this period, even when knocking various Armstrong eras, clearly had respect for the trumpeter, who befriended young Feather in this period. The same could not be said for R. Edwin S. Hinchcliffe, who published "Hooey about Louis" in the Melody Maker on December 8, 1934:
"Perhaps no person in the whole world of jazz arouses such deep controversy as “Satchmo.” He is either reviled beyond reason, or deified beyond reason, and few people attempt to get a true perspective on his powers. 
An article in a contemporary describes him as the genius of jazz; the greatest of all hot soloists. This is typical of the overstatements which his frenzied admirers are constantly letting loose about their idol, for, according to them, he is the most significant and outstanding figure in the world of jazz. How does this viewpoint stand when examined in a cold and analytical spirit?
To begin with, it places Louis on a higher level than one who has done at least as much as, if not more than, the Great Fun Man to raise jazz to its present position, where at last, however grudgingly, it is beginning to be recognized as a definite art form. I refer, of course, to Duke Ellington. 
The facts must be faced. Up to two years ago, Louis was a genuine artist; there was a sincerity in his work, a genuine conviction in his playing. His stupendous high notes were used only when they were fitting, as logical steps in his constructions, to lend force to his meaning, and for building up climaxes. Then he began to decline from being Louis, the great artist, to Louis, the great personality-monger and the music-hall comedian. 
Going Up On Top
Examining his later records, what do we find? A striving after unnecessary top-notes--not always too successfully reached; breaks that are exaggerated and in all too many cases, not particularly rhythmic. And, worst of all, a patent lack of sincerity. It is this last that deprives Louis of any vestige of claim to be the “one true genius of jazz,” etc., etc.
Louis is still technically a great trumpet-player. But the greatest ever? Or, as so many of the Armstrong fans would have it, the only jazz trumpeter of any worth?
A bit far-fetched, you may think, but I have heard some Louis fans say that, and there are probably many more who have heard the same. Which, of course, wipes out at one fell swoop the late Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Henry Allen, Junr., Mugsy Spanier . . . (fill in according to taste). What supreme bias and bigotedness! In fact, how delightfully naïve!
All these stars have as much a place in the ranks of great jazz trumpeters as Louis. And as to calling Louis the greatest hot soloist--maybe these fanatical soloists have never heard of Venuti, Teagarden, Hawkins...but why continue?
Place In The Sun
No, Louis has a place, a very definite place, in the sphere of jazz--a place which is held more by his past performances than his recent. The Louis who gave us ‘Muggles,’ ‘Mahogany Hall Stomp,’ ‘Black and Blue,’ ‘Some of these Days,’ and others of the same standard, was an artist--even a great artist. 
But the Louis who inflicted on us the ‘New Tiger Rag,’ ‘Snowball’ ‘That’s My Home,’ and the semi-comedy ‘High Society’ is inclined to become rather boring; except to those drunk with his very charming personality. And personality alone, alas, does not make genius."


Back in the States, John Hammond was getting more publicity for his writing on the music, both past and present. In a February 1935 article, Hammond mentioned Bessie Smith's "Reckless Blues" and wrote, "Accompanying is an amazing organist, Fred Longshaw, and Louis Armstrong, who does some of the most skillful obligato work ever recorded--in the old days before he had been spoiled by cheap showmanship and exploiting managers. The record is of another world entirely, enormously moving and truly original folk music." In May 1935, with "Swing" on the rise, Hammond contributed a column for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "A Survey of Recent Jazz Recordings--With a Digression on Native 'Swing.'" As part of his "digression," Hammond wrote, "The downfall of Louis Armstrong as the supreme jazz artist is probably the severest blow of all to the swing connoisseur. In the middle twenties Louis had a naivete and sincerity which combined with a fantastic grasp of the trumpet and a guttural voice, produced completely satisfying results. Fortunately, Brunswick has just come across with an old Armstrong record, “King of the Zulus” and “Lonesome Blues,” which has not been obtainable for many, many years. They plan to reissue it with considerable fanfare as an example of the greatest of his work. 'Lonesome Blues' is really a masterpiece of the only authentic blues vocal choruses Louis ever recorded plus a few bars of matchless trumpet playing. The other side is a wild and uncontrolled affair about a 'chittlin’ rag' in which some one indulges in West Indian jive and Louis blows the strangest notes that ever came from his horn. Emphatically it is a record that should be heard."

[Commentary: it's hilarious that Hammond could rail against "cheap showmanship" in one column, then praise the "West Indian jive" on "King of the Zulus."]

Hammond wrote the above columns when Armstrong was off the scene, nursing sore chops in Chicago without any gigs in sight. But after hooking up with Joe Glaser, Armstrong mounted his comeback, recording for Decca Records in October 1935. Hammond wasn't impressed, writing in his column of "Recent Jazz Recordings" that he only recommended, "Louis Armstrong’s singing, and not his playing, in 'I’m in the Mood for Love.'" Leonard Feather was even more despondent, writing in "A Survey of 1935 In Jazz" in The Era, "On the other hand, Louis Armstrong has reached a stage where his showmanship overpowers his musicianship, his new Decca recordings showing that his greatest days are, alas!, over."

We have now come to the Feather portion of the program as he spent the rest of the 1930s reviewing Armstrong's Decca recordings for the Melody Maker, always under the pseudonym, "Rophone." Here's a batch:

Review of “Lyin’ To Myself.” “Eventide.” “Thankful.” “Swing That Music”:
“The first side is perhaps the least weak of those four, and the last is the weakest. All four present the worst features of Armstrong and his band. Neither record is worth your attention in this prolific month.”

Review of "Dippermouth Blues" (3 stars) and "If We Never Meet Again" (2 stars):
“The first side is mostly played by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, with a short contribution by Louis playing a variation of the identical solo created two decades ago by his mentor, king Oliver. On the reverse Louis has Luis Russell’s Band with him again, struggling through one of those doctored-up commercial arrangements in the usual manner.” 

Review of "On a Cocoanut Island" and "To You Sweetheart Aloha" (1 star each):
“Just play these two and then play ‘Muggles’ or ‘West End Blues’ or ‘Save It Pretty Mama.’ Then you’ll know just how tragic it is that Louis has descended to making records with a Hawaiian orchestra.” 

Review of "Cuban Pete" and "She’s the Daughter of a Planter From Havana":
“Poor Louis! My heart bleeds for him when I think of the recording moguls sitting round a conference table, deciding which titles will be the hardest and most unsuitable for him to do on his next session, and then making him go ahead and do them. I can only imagine that that is the way they work it, though I can’t see what good it does anyone.”

Review of  "Yours and Mine" (3 stars) and "Public Melody Number One" (2 stars):
“In his trumpet chorus in ‘Yours And Mine’ is a rare glimpse of the real Louis emerging ephemerally from the shroud of commercialism and offering a truly lovely performance in which he works up to a high-note ending which is logically placed, without the usual synthetic suspense. And what a superb note it is!
It is obvious that Russell’s band has improved considerably. There is now some sort of tone in the ensemble and considerably more team spirit. Louis’ vocal is the shadow of the old days; he still harps on the dominant, as if too weary to introduce any real variations of the melody; and his  gruffness seems to have lost the personal warmth that used to qualify him as the world’s greatest jazz singer. To-day it is just gruffness.
'Public Melody Number One’ is a repetition of Louis’ infamously short and inadequate appearance in the film ‘Artists and Models,’ dished up in the worst commercial fashion with an appalling, gallery-courting finish.” 

Review of "Struttin'' With Some Barbecue" (4 stars):
“Good Armstrong discs being so rare nowadays, I have given this four stars; but if you have sentimental recollections of the original version of ‘Barbecue,’ which he waxed in 1928, or if you expect a background worthy of its leader, be prepared to adjust your standards.” 

Review of "Sweet as a Song" and "Let That Be a Lesson to You" (1 star each):
“Have you ever seen a racehorse pulling a milk cart?”

Review of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Red Cap" (2 stars each):
“An intro better suited to a newsreel; first chorus shockingly arranged with bleating first alto; vocal at the nadir of Louis’s ability; and a swell trumpet chorus--that’s all there is to ‘Alexander,’ in which the improvement I noted lately in Luis Russell’s band is no longer to be observed. ‘Red Cap’ is the latest addition to the series of sagas of lower-middle-class jobs for which ‘Shoeshine Boy’ started a vogue. It means pullman porter. Louis does nothing that he has not done ten times better in scores of earlier records.”

Review of "I Double Dare You" and "True Confession" (1 star each): 
“The time has come for a showdown on this Armstrong band and the reason for its poor work on recent recordings in spite of a star personnel that might well be expected to turn in terrific work. 
The limp work behind the opening vocal of ‘True Confession’ is a lifelike illustration of the band’s morale. Note also the very sentimental tenor and the alto which, though nice, is but a shadow of the old Holmes.
Louis, I double dare you to make something out of this band.” 
Review of "On the Sentimental Side" and "It's Wonderful" (1 star each):
“If you are inclined to be a little on the sentimental side, you will wonder how the man who made ‘West End Blues’ and ‘Muggles’ and ‘Confessin’’ could lose even his sense of tempo and play this number just twice as fast as necessary.
There are the usual spots of welcome trumpet at the end of both sides, but the gross result is another couple of gross caricatures of the old Louis. “


All of the above reviews appeared in England, but by this point, Down Beat was off and running, covering the scene in the U.S. Armstrong quickly took his place in their crosshairs, especially in reviews by young George Frazier. "ARMSTRONG IS PLAYING COMMERCIAL ‘JUNK’” ran a front-page headline in March 1936. “Louis Armstrong’s playing at the Metropolitan Theatre here in town this week,” Frazier reported. “From the swing angle, it’s really a bringdown show, giving Louis no opportunity to do anything but mug and play pure commercial junk. He sings ‘Shoe Shine Boy,’ ‘Old Man Mose,’ and ‘I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,’ which should give you a faint idea of the Rockwell-O’Keefe influence.”

In May 1936, Armstrong closed the famous "Swing Concert" at the Imperial Theatre, getting great notices in the black press and in the general music press. But Hammond wasn't pleased, writing in Down Beat “Novelty was the keynote of the evening” and “The audience, whose musical sensibilities were about as deep as a song-plugger’s, lapped it all up.” Of Armstrong, Hammond said, “Louis Armstrong’s band could not conceivably have been less suited to its leader’s genius.” Hammond might have referred to Armstrong’s “genius” but his writing had featured almost entirely anti-Armstrong commentary and he would not let up in the ensuing decades. When the Decca “Mahogany Hall Stomp” was released, Hammond wrote that Armstrong “committed the unpardonable sin of sullying the memory of his Okeh release of Mahogany hall Stomp first by a poor Victor record...and now by a godawful Decca effort utilizing the present Luis Russell bunch. All the old verve and invention are gone; in their place stodgy, unexciting virtuosity by a self-conscious soloist.”

Down Beat also sent Frazier to review the Imperial concert, using another subtle headline, "SATCHLMO'S BAND IS WORLD'S WORST." "...Louis Armstrong went on closing--which was too sad," Frazier wrote. "Louis, by the way, played like a virtuoso and did nothing to disprove my commentary on his job at the Metropolitan in Boston. That band of his is just about the world’s worst.” During this period, Down Beat was running a reader’s poll to name an “All-Time Swing band.” Given Down Beat’s coverage of white artists--and it’s patronizing, sometimes downright racist cartoons about black musicians--it wasn’t a surprise that the leading vote getters were all white, with Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa amassing the most votes. "Louie’s recent commercial playing has hurt him with swing fans, many either voting for the ‘old Louie’ or giving their preference to [Roy] Eldredge or Bunny Berigan,” the accompanying article stated. In the end, Armstrong  came in second to deceased trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke and his band amassed only 38 votes in the "Swing Band" category (Benny Goodman won with 3,534). This pattern continued throughout the rest of the 1930s, Armstrong eventually settling into fourth place in the trumpet category by 1939.

The other major publication covering the jazz scene in the United States was Metronome. In March 1940, young Barry Ulanov reviewed a live performance of Armstrong's big band. Here are some extended excerpts:

"If the band has a style, it is chiefly one of playing without discipline or musical organization. And yet, there are some of the greatest hot musicians extant in this Louis Armstrong band. Upon occasion they stand out. For the most part, it is a matter of uneven, uninspired, undistinguished playing of similarly afflicted arrangements." 
Very rarely, indeed, are the soloists, except for Louis himself, allowed to get off anything resembling an improvised solo. Even Louis is limited to spectacular blasting and monotonous one-note repetitions which suggest nothing so much as a circus entertainer. 
From all of his, you may gather that I was much disappointed in Louis Armstrong’s Orchestra. You are right. For it is a disgrace to the art, and even to the commerce, of jazz, that so many fine people should be buried in such musical desolation, so that, as one of them said to me, “Man, we don’t get a chance to really play no more!”
Louis Armstrong’s solos, as I noted above, are more spectacle and blast than fine music. But every once in a while you hear a spark of the old Louis -- pretty, big tone, lovely melodic ideas and a wealth of genuine feeling. And that is reason enough to listen to this shapeless band. 
Vocals: Louis’ famous gruff vocals seem to have brought on a laryngital approach to singing that takes all the joy and amusement out of his hitherto delightful warbling. 
Last Words: Enough said!"

By 1941, Armstrong’s 1920s recordings were being reissued by Columbia, which set into motion a whole new series of criticisms that Armstrong had hit his peak in 1928 and was now out of gas (it took everyone about seven years to catch up with Feather and Hammond). This article from Paul Eduard Miller in the January 1941 issue of Music and Rhythm--titled “Musical Blasphemies”--is a particularly forceful example:

"Armstrong no longer is a vital force in hot jazz. His influence on other players, admittedly a widespread influence, has pretty much petered out. He has accomplished nothing as creatively and artistically eloquent as West End Blues (1927). His “improvisations” today display none of the sparkle and genuineness of his 100 or more accompaniments for blues singers, and his performances on the approximately 64 sides by his own small group for the Okeh label. 
Creatively and artistically, Armstrong is dead. Only the performance of really good music can again make his voice heard forcefully. 
Exactly 18 years after his first junket to the Windy City to join King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, at the age of 41, again came to Chicago to lead and play with his own orchestra. 
The Armstrong face had matured, and the excitement of playing no longer disturbed him. Presumably he was a wealthy man. Certainly he was a famous one. His picture had been printed in countless magazines and newspapers, and his technical virtuosity had been the subject of high praise by critics, hot jazz vans, college professors and musicians both academic and practical, classical and popular. The praise had come from Europe, from Australia, from Canada, from South America, as well as the United states. 
The Armstrong playing had matured too. It was completely confident; it never hesitated, never groped for ideas, or for musical phrases to express those ideas. But with this maturing came other things as well. Armstrong’s showmanship improved, but sadly enough, it improved so much that it became an outright commercial attitude. His forehead  was dotted with beads of sweat as he reached for high C. Gradually he substituted these meaningless pyrotechnics for the more sober, more sincere performances of the days of the Armstrong Hot Five. Armstrong had chosen to play exclusively for the box-office. 
Armstrong’s justly deserved fame as a great virtuoso of the trumpet is not to be denied. But the time had come for the hot fan and critic to ask himself: What is the purpose, the goal, of a technically skilled instrumentalist who understands his medium and can thus eloquently and feelingly express the music of that medium?
Is it merely to attempt laboriously to pump into the meagre musical material of a popular song meanings which are not there? Assuredly not. Therein lies Armstrong’s failure."

Such reviews came hot on the heels of the publication of Jazzmen in 1939 and the rediscovery of trumpeter Bunk Johnson. As interest in early New Orleans jazz grew, some critics, Leonard Feather especially, fought the trend. “Harmonically, both the arrangers and the soloists have broadened their horizon amazingly,” Feather wrote in December 1943. “The hot man who in 1929 might have been scared to insert an extra chord suggestion or dissonance, brings so many advanced effects into his improvisations in 1943 that the old-time soloists in many instances sound utterly naïve. As an example of this, compare Art Tatum or King Cole or Mel Powell with an old-time pianist like Art Hodes or Jelly Roll Morton. It seems almost fantastic that the differences can be so vast with the passage of less than a generation. They are the differences between a master of oratory and a child just learning to talk. This progress in the subtleties of hot playing is one of the most potent arguments against clinging to one’s old beliefs in the heroes of the past."

Just a few weeks after writing that, Feather was present at the first Esquire “All-American Jazz Concert” at the Metropolitan Opera House. Again, this concert takes up about half a chapter in my book and I don’t want to rehash it here but it’s worth mentioning that the harshest reviews towards Armstrong came from Feather and Ulanov, both now champions of “progressive” jazz. Here’s some excerpts from Ulanov in Metronome:

"There were several obvious causes for the frigidity and lack of motion of most of the evening. Louis and Teagarden were out of place; neither by style nor technique were they fitted to play with Roy and Hawk and Tatum. Barney Bigard didn’t seem altogether at ease either, but that certainly wasn’t because of any musical deficiency. 
Next year, if this concert is given again, let’s hope we’ll be spared the pathetic spectacle of a giant of the past, like Louis, hopelessly trying to play with his younger betters. Perhaps we’ll get someone like Cootie Williams in his stead. Maybe modern musicians, and leaders, like Lionel Hampton and Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins will be allowed to take over. Then we’ll really get the great music this gathering of the great presaged but only briefly presented."
And here’s a taste of Feather in Melody Maker

"An aggregation of talent like this could hardly fail to produce some exciting music. Although the rehearsals were short and hectic and the musicians felt they would have done better if they’d had more time to prepare the show together, the fact is that only three things, fundamentally, were wrong with the concert and everything else was wonderful.
The three wrong things were Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and the audience. Louis’s performance was pathetic. I had voted for him myself in the pool, but after hearing his performance, I had to remind myself again that sentiment should never influence critical opinion. 
Louis is simply getting old and hasn’t got the power, the imagination or the lip to keep up with the younger stars who have built on the foundations he set so many years ago and have since gone far ahead of him. 
His singing, because it required less physical effort, was fine. But not on one number at the trumpet did he dispel that awful uneasiness that kept me wondering all the time whether the next note was going to be a good one or a clinker. It wasn’t just the clinkers, though; it was the lack of inspiration. 
And you couldn’t excuse him on the basis of surroundings, because the same thing happened at rehearsals, on a previous broadcast and everywhere else. Louis was hopelessly outclassed by Roy Eldridge, whose playing inspired the whole band. The other musicians talking about it afterwards, all felt the same way about Armstrong. 
Jack Teagarden played a few good solos, but his vocal qualities have almost disappeared, and altogether he seemed ill at ease and out of place in this combination. With Higgy or Lawrence Brown in this chair, and with Roy unencumbered by Louis, this jam band would have been just about perfect. 
The third fault, the audience, caused such displays as the long drum solo by Catlett which ruined the end of Bigard’s great job on “Tea for Two.” It was a stupid, undiscerning audience, which reacting to showmanship instead of musicianship. 
I don’t like jazz in opera houses and concert halls, but if that’s the only way to bring musicians of this caliber together, it’s worth doing. All I hope is that next year we won’t hear Louis’s pathetic efforts to get the release of “Stomping at the Savoy”--he couldn’t even get those chord changes--and that next year’s band will be elected on the basis of current performance instead of past achievement. 
That will only necessitate two changes in the line-up, but they’re very important changes." 


Feather’s column drew some backlash, with “Detector” in the Melody Maker writing a response after hearing Armstrong play on a radio broadcast with his big band. “The notes came out as clear and as spontaneously as ever in the past,” “Detector” wrote. To break up the negativity, here is the rest of this defense:

"It was still the same grand old Satchmo, especially in ‘Lazy River.’ But perhaps that is what was worrying Leonard Feather. New young players spring up with new ideas while Louis remains just Louis….Practically everything he did he himself originated, and the fact that no one else has appeared on the scene who has invented even a tenth of what Louis invented proves that he was the greatest creative artist jazz has ever known. Secondly, Louis’s playing is not only one of the very few things in jazz that have not dated, but because of its undeniable artistry probably never will date as long as jazz remains in existence, so what need is there for him to attempt to change it? There are many clever new trumpet players in the limelight to-day, and many of them have originated tricks and styles of their own.  If Leonard Feather had left it at saying they have built on the foundations Louis laid I would have had no quarrel with him. But when he goes on to say that  they have gone far ahead of Louis I can only just wonder which way “ahead” is supposed to be." 


Naturally, not everyone felt that way when listening to Louis’s big band. George T. Simon heard a broadcast at the Zanzibar in December 1944 and wrote in Metronome, “I’ve heard several of them and never in my life have I heard anything that does anyone a greater injustice. The choice of tunes, many of the arrangements, the pacing of the shows, and, in many instances, the band behind him are positively abominable. Nothing could possibly do more harm to such a great artist. It’s absolutely murderous. If Louis can’t be presented to the radio public in a better light that that, he shouldn’t be presented at all. I sincerely hope that by the time this gets into print somebody will have give this subject some thought and rectified the ridiculous conditions, or else that Louis will be spared future embarrassment and the rest of his broadcasts be cancelled.”


In 1945, the “Jazz Wars” heated up. As discussed in my book, Feather and Ulanov went to Armstrong’s home to interview him in March and were shocked when he criticized those who wanted to stick to playing jazz like in the old days. In turn, they devoted the following month’s Metronome to him and praised him up and down, even going back on their original views about the Esquire concert. 
Feather and Ulanov were now openly at war with the traditional jazz disciples, now known as “moldy figs.” In The Record Changer, the bible of New Orleans jazz, Rudi Blesh wrote in March 1945, “Jazz is a fine art and therefore a subject that concerns everyone, and therefore an activity too large and important to be dominated or directed by a few individuals. Should there exist within Jazz a small clique or hierarchy devoted to such an idea, it would be at once as harmful and much more dangerous than the Goffin-Feather-Ulanov triarchy which are at least openly on the other side of the fence.”

The following year, Blesh did his part for those on his side of the fence by publishing a history of jazz, Shining Trumpets. Up to this point, I have only dealt with magazines and newspaper articles but here, for the first time, was the “tragedy of Louis Armstrong” in a major book. If you haven’t read it--you can find it on Archive.org--here’s a long excerpt from Blesh’s Armstrong chapter: 

"Speak of jazz to a group and three out of four people will think of Louis Armstrong. The trumpet, leader of the polyphony, and its player come naturally--if not quite justly--to stand for the music. The public, which likes and no doubt needs to personify whole movements and eras of human activity in single figures, naturally finds the triumvirate of New Orleans horns too complex and depersonalized a figure. Yet on this triumvirate--if not, indeed on the whole band--should such a symbolic designation fall. So, from the earliest days of record, New Orleans crowned its trumpeters as Kings; in the fine cooperative days of true jazz such bestowals carried the weight of a dignity and an honor in which the entire band shared. 
"Louis Armstrong inherited naturally the honors relinquished in turn by Bolden and Keppard, took the scepter from King Oliver’s failing hand. Bunk Johnson was in an eclipse that bade fair to be permanent.
"Had Armstrong understood his responsibility as clearly as he perceived his own growing artistic power--had his individual genius been deeply integrated with that of the music, and thus ultimately with the destiny, of his race--designated leadership would have been just. Achievement is not without responsibility ; progress is not always what it seems; the revolutionary must himself be judged by the fruits of his revolution. 
"Around Louis clustered growing public cognizance of hot music and those commercial forces, equally strong and more persistent, which utilize the musical communication system of the phonograph record, the then new radio and talking motion picture, and the printed sheets of the Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths. And behind this new symbolic figure was aligned the overwhelming and immemorial need of his own race to find a Moses to lead it out of Egypt.
"One criticizes the results of Louis Armstrong’s fine work with the greatest reluctance, indeed sadly, because, more than a man of true personal charm, he is one of personal artistic integrity. His grasp of what jazz means, the sort of group effort which it must represent, unfortunately failed to match his genius. For, ironically, any of Louis' solos, executed as they are in front of a large swing band as before a tinseled backdrop, are a part of pure and authentic jazz that could be translated bodily, note for note, into the context of the small band polyphony. Louis was--and remains--an ineffably hot individual creator. But the trumpet is not jazz; it is only the leading voice of the polyphony and an occasional soloist; the lead, by its nature, can be transferred to harmonized large band swing, where the inner voices of clarinet and trombone cannot. 
"It is therefore no wonder that the public, dazzled by Armstrong's true brilliance, was fooled; that to this day swing is considered to be that which it is not--a development from, and of, jazz. Swing borrows two qualities from jazz : hot accent and characteristic timbres. The average listener does not go deeply into musical structure; even in listening to pure jazz he is likely to concentrate only on the trumpet as, in watching football, he sees only the man carrying the ball. Even today, with swing deep in the narrowing walls of its blind alley, the public thinks that it is jazz which has reached its senility! 
"The crucial point is that Louis Armstrong himself was fooled; however misled, his sincerity cannot fairly be brought into question. Armstrong did not invent the large band. As a tendency, it has existed parallel with jazz almost from its beginnings. His seemingly revolutionary act was that he appeared to effect an amalgamation of jazz with the large-band form; this hybrid is what is known as swing. It was not obvious to him-- or, for that matter, to scarcely anyone else--that everything vital in jazz was left out in a sterile crossing. Jazz itself is revolutionary: Armstrong's act was that of counter-revolution.
"Ellington's later act, the crossing of swing with the music of various European composers, is a further countermove that seems abortive enough now but may, ironically enough, complete the process of de-Africanization so that the large band will lose its last vestiges of hotness and African accent to become a variety of music thoroughly and solely in the western tradition. Such an end development, regardless of its musical value, might help to clear away the clouds of confusion which now obscure the subject. Nevertheless, revolutionary or counter- revolutionary, Armstrong, like Ellington, must be judged in the end by the value of what he has done. 
"Ferdinand Morton was the rare individual who combined two functions in his work. He completed an entire period of jazz and marked the pathway the future should take. He was personally identified with the whole development of the music to a degree that seldom happens in any art. When Jelly Roll said that all the jazz styles are "Jelly Roll Style,” his words are, if obviously not actually true, at least symbolically so. It is a wholly remarkable indication of the scope, insight, and great-ness of the man, that Morton, a powerful individualist if there ever was one, could be so thoroughly imbued with the principle of group creation as to direct a great part of his activity into it. We find his greatest qualities as an individual creative artist not in his solos but in his work with, and as a part of, the group. 
"Louis Armstrong, an equally powerful creator, falls, on the contrary, into the category of the individualist. Although in has early phases he joined with the collective group playing improvised polyphony, obviously feeling in those years the stimulus and incomparable satisfaction from so doing, lent to that group new and powerful characteristics and might, in common with Morton, have contributed vastly to its continued logical development, he chose, nevertheless, and chose unfortunately, another course. At a time when the whole development of hot music was at a crisis, he directed his vast creative power toward the growing big-band swing that is opposed to jazz. 
"Events robbed Morton in his later years of the opportunity to serve the music of his race; Armstrong had the opportunity and threw it away. So, although all of Louis Armstrong's work is impressive, even in relation to all music, that from his mature period is in a field hostile to jazz and, it may be believed, to his own truest expression. 
"Had Armstrong chosen to develop polyphonic jazz, together with the utmost employment of the solo within, and in just relation to the polyphonic framework, this would have necessitated working with the greatest of the other instrumentalists. It would have meant a continued and continuous association with Ory, St. Cyr, and the Dodds brothers; it would have meant working ultimately--as he never did--with Jelly Roll Morton. But this is to speak of what might have been. Armstrong's path led him elsewhere and herein lies not merely a serious blow to art but the tragedy of Louis Armstrong, the artist."

Blesh also wrote, “Louis Armstrong could conceivably return to jazz tomorrow; he did it once before, from 1925 to 1928, when he left Henderson and returned to Chicago to record.” Armstrong did indeed “return to jazz” in the eyes of folks like Blesh in 1947 by breaking up the big band and forming the small group All Stars. In the September 1947 Record Changer, editor Nesuhi Ertegun wrote, “By the time this issue of the Changer reaches you, Louis Armstrong will be leading a seven-piece band at Billy Berg’s here in Hollywood. I don’t know who else will be in the band, and frankly I don’t care much. As long as Louis plays at Berg’s, the editorial office of the Changer will be transplanted there and we will be in much too mellow a mood to be campaigning against the bad sides of the jazz scene. That’s why this piece had to be written now. As soon as Louis starts blowing everything in the world is bound to look wonderful.”

Indeed, the formation of the All Stars seemed to be greeted with unanimous praise at first. “Louis Armstrong had forsaken the ways of Mammon and come back to jazz,” Time magazine famously opened its September 1 column. But any goodwill was gone by the end of the same article when Armstrong got his first digs in at bebop. 'Take them re-bop boys,” he said. “They're great technicians. Mistakes--that's all re-bop is. Man, you've gotta be a technician to know when you make 'em. ... New York and 52nd Street--that's what messed up jazz. Them cats play too much music--a whole lot of notes, weird notes. . . . That don't mean nothing.”

Armstrong had survived the “Jazz Wars” between the critics in the mid-40s but now he was in the front line in the “Jazz Wars” between musicians. “Modern” musicians lined up to take their shots at not just Armstrong but more broadly, the musicians of his generation. Naturally, Leonard Feather was happy to give them a big platform with his “Blindfold Test” series in Metronome. “These oldtime musicians and fans romanticize themselves into a false conception of how things were played years ago,” Dave Tough said in the December 1946 installment, blasting Kid Rena’s Jazz Band of New Orleans with the caveat, “All the same, these musicians are less ridiculous than the fans who idolize them. How can they be sincere? It’s just one of those esoteric cults.” “I think it’s a bad idea for kids or youngsters who are interested in music to pick up on Dixieland; everyone should try to progress,” Mary Lou Williams said in the September 1946 installment after beating up Feather targets Johnson and Art Hodes. Feather played Coleman Hawkins his 1925 recording of “Money Blues” with Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson and Hawkins said, “I’m ashamed of it,” gave it “No stars” and said, “It’s an amazing thing, there are kids 22, 23 years old who get hold of these records and they don’t think anything has ever been made that’s better than that sort of thing and never will be. I don’t understand it! To me, it’s like a man thinking back to when he couldn’t walk, he had to crawl.” Hawkins concluded, “That’s amazing to me, that so many people in music won’t accept progress. It’s the only field where advancement meets so much opposition.” Even with the “moldier” Mezz Mezzrow--who gave “Congo Blues” with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker “no stars” and said, “If that’s music, I’ll eat it”--Feather played him a record by Johnson and elicited this response: “Is that one of Bunk Johnson’s abortions?”

In Dizzy Gillespie’s installment, he said of a record by Bechet and Mezzrow, “That must have been made in 1900….No harmonic structure here; two beats; bad rhythm, nothing happening; just utter simplicity, but how simple can you get? You can get a little boy eight years old to play that simple.” Played a Wild Bill Davison record with Eddie Condon, Gillespie said, “Reminds me of carnival days. When I ran away from school and wanted to join the carnival. But this isn’t even a good modern carnival….Condon in there with his mandolin. No stars, no nothing.”

Finally, Feather played two Armstrong performances for Gillespie, “Savoy Blues” from 1927 and “Linger in My Arms a Little Longer” from 1946. Of the Hot Five classic, Gillespie allowed, “Louis always sounds good to me--he might not have the chops he used to have, but his ideas are always fine.” He then admitted, “No, I wasn’t influenced by him because I’d never heard his records.” He gave it “One star,” saying, “I only like Louis on this.” For “Linger in My Arms,” Gillespie said, “Louis shouldn’t play a solo with a straight mute--it only sounds good with a section...I prefer to hear him play legato...the tune holds him down here; it’s a wasted effort. Vocal is wonderful. No voice, but lots of feeling. I’d buy this just to hear Louis’s voice.” On the surface, there are plenty of complimentary phrases--”Louis always sounds good to me,” “Vocal is wonderful”--but there’s just as many backhanded comments: “He might not have the chops he used to have,” “No, I wasn’t influenced by him,” “No voice,” “It’s a wasted effort,” “One star.” 

Critics had been taking shots at Armstrong for years, but musicians did not, something mentioned by Ullman in his review of my book. That changed in the late 1940s. Dizzy became the most vocal critic, calling Armstrong a “plantation character” in Down Beat in 1949, the same year he gave the story of the birth of bebop to the Philadelphia Tribune: “Man, that was fun. A couple of us who hated straight jazz used to get together at Minton’s playhouse in New York and blow our brains out. We couldn’t take any more of that New Orleans music. That was Uncle Tom music. It was for kids and birds. We simply had to get away from that!” Others who publicly disagreed with Armstrong’s takes on modern jazz included Stan Kenton and Woody Herman.

Musicians aside, critics of all backgrounds sharpened their knives when the All Stars hit the stand in the late 1940s. What follows is the tip of the iceberg.

British writer Hugh Rees’s “Let’s Take Stock of Armstrong,” written after hearing Armstrong at the Nice Jazz Festival in February 1948: 

"It seems high time for a reassessment of Louis Armstrong's importance. If we can forget the sentimental attachment which we all have for the good old 'bad old days,' how does Armstrong's contribution to the world's entertainment of the 1920s strike us today? Fortunately, many records survive for us to refer to. And almost without exception they are rough, without 'beat,' ill-formed and lacking the technical competence of, let us say, Jean Goldkette's Orchestra. Certainly Louis himself showed signs even then of the showmanship which was to make him a box-office draw in the 'thirties. But the rest of his recording combination (the vaunted 'Hot Five') were no more than musical illiterates, unaware it seems of their own incompetence. Nor was Louis without his faults. For all the charm and hard work which he put into his playing there were all too many fluffed notes, rushed phrases and embarrassing silence when the great man just didn't make it at all.
It was fortunate for Armstrong that, around 1929, he was taken up by a commercially-minded manager. Louis is a natural showman, an adequate if unimaginative trumpeter and an original if sometimes incomprehensible vocalist. Negro artists are frequently at an advantage over their white competitors (so long as they remain on stage!) and Louis' pigmentation together with his charming personality undoubtedly justified his manager's hopes. And though lacking the surprises of Ellington, the technique of Benny Goodman or the swing of Fats Waller, some of his records of those days succeeded in capturing that charm to an astonishing degree. But a truly great artist can never be satisfied with his achievements. Were Armstrong, as M. Panassie would tell us, 'one of the greatest musicians that humanity has known,' he would have developed. Instead, his approach has remained the same. His technique in a world of Gillespies, Hawkins, and Tatums seems childish. Every phrase that he uses he's used a hundred times before so that now they all sound faded.... After hearing that sad little broadcast from Nice one must face the truth. Louis Armstrong is a bore, whose manner of telling the old, old story has not improved in the least after twenty-odd years of repetition!"


Here’s Orrin Keepnews in The Record Changer after seeing the All Stars at the Roxy in early 1948:

"The Record Changer does not ordinarily concern itself with reviews of specific concerts and night club or theater shows. Performances of that sort are generally only of timely interest and forgotten long before any review by us could get into print. But a recent stage show at a New York movie theater has caused us to break this rule. Sadly, it is not to shout anyone’s praises that we do this, but rather to point out with some anger the unmistakable signs of commercialism and tawdriness in a most unlikely and unseemly place--the band with which Louis Armstrong is now touring the country. 
The program ran like this: A bored, jumpy, band version of “Muskrat Ramble.”  A fluid, empty solo by Bigard that started as “Tear for Two” and ended sounding for all the world like Artie Shaw’s “Concerto for Clarinet,” except that it ended in a tasteless lower register instead of a tasteless upper. There was a ghastly vocal by a very plump girl named Velma Middleton, after which Louis joined her in a vulgar, mugging duet of “That’s My Desire.” (...) Catlett then demonstrated that he, too, could throw drumsticks in the air and catch them, while the band fumbled through that old New Orleans classic, “Mop Mop.”
It cannot be denied that Louis is the greatest. His exuberance is unbounded; when coupled with his superb talents it makes him the greatest experience in jazz. But unfortunately, the Roxy stage he brought nothing with him but his exuberance, and a pretty commercialized, Uncle Tom version of it at that. Occasionally, in ensemble (like the brief chorus of “Saints” with which that show closed), when he wasn’t pressing, the beautiful quality of tone shone through, but most of the time he not only didn't care, but converted himself into a parody of himself. His singing, in particular, sounded like a bad and cruel take-off on Armstrong vocals. The last number found him singing “Shadrach,” backed up for no good reason by the whole damn Roxy chorus; it sent me racing up the aisle, where I paused only to listen to the wonderfully ironic organ music that came after the curtains had closed. The organist, intentionally I hope, was playing a currently popular ditty entitled, “Some Things Money Can’t Buy.”
Now, there is no excuse for this sort of thing. I’m willing to grant that the whole idea bores the boys and is only a fine way of making money for some otherwise unemployed-at-the-moment jazzmen. But why then can’t they just play some straight, shallow but unphonied music and get the hell off the stage. 
People like Armstrong and Hines can’t argue that you have to pretty it up for the audience; these men are the living proof that sincere jazz, all by itself, brings money and fame. And, whether they realize it or not, the kind of fame and stature that a man like Louis Armstrong has achieved brings with it certain responsibilities. Not that he is “responsible” to any particular audience, or should play only the way I would like to hear him play. His responsibilities are to his art, and to all of jazz. Without getting unduly stuffy or arty, I’d like to insist that these men, whose names are synonymous with “jazz” to a multitude of people have no moral right at all to let their names be used to drag both fans and curious outsiders into a shoddy exhibition of pseudo-jazz. 
I don’t want to get maudlin about it, but a man could almost cry remembering that it was really “the greatest name in jazz” giving that phony exhibition." 

Also in The Record Changer, Albert S. Otto’s review of the All Stars at the Dixieland Jubilee in October 1948:

"Louis Armstrong and his highly-touted outfit finished off the parade of bands, and we do mean finished! When Louis came on, virtually all the musicians who had preceded him waited in the wings to hear the Great One play. Before the end of the first number. King Porter Stomp, the off-stage audience had thinned to the doorman and a few die-hards. For years now we have been hearing that Louis' managers have kept him from playing the righteous. If Satch had any desire to kick over the traces, here certainly, at a Dixieland Jubilee, was his golden opportunity to do so. Everyone expected it, hungered for it. But no; the Armstrong unit gave the evening's most incongruous performance. Theirs was a vaudeville act. Porter King would have turned over in his grave had he heard the riffs, the screeching high notes, the razzle-dazzle technique. Other numbers included interminable choruses of Body and Soul featuring Barney, and some Uncle Tom stuff by Louis and a buxom female vocalist named Velma Middleton, whose act included doing a split, to the sheer delight of those who were eager to be entertained. Louis should have realized that these patrons wanted the McCoy. Instead he gave them jam, Sid Catlett drum exhibitions, and assorted mugging and convulsions by a "sensational bass discovery" named Arvell Shaw."


Leaving The Record Changer aside, here is D. Leon Wolff in Down Beat’s June 17, 1949 in an article, “Bop Nowhere, Louis Just a Myth, Says Wolff.”: 

"The Armstrong myth is the most potent in jazz. This remarkable fable, which alleges that an unimaginative, halting trumpeter is the world’s greatest, is practically impossible to demolish. Like a neurotically sentimental octogenarian who still believes in Santa Claus, the jazz addict and the dilettante layman assume automatically that the king of yesteryear still reigns. 
The song ended in the early ‘30s but the melody lingers on, a testimonial to the power of repetition and to the propaganda of those who know better and those who don’t. In the latter category are sundry columnists, disc jockeys, and Hollywood rajahs who understand nothing of jazz but glorify Armstrong because they too have been indoctrinated with the persistent legend of his genius. 
He's Mediocre 
Thus, by a process of mass hypnosis, this trumpeter, whose current musical inferiority is a fact, still dominates although he is hopelessly outclassed. Most musicians recognize Armstrong's mediocrity and will admit when pressed. Some are outspokenly disparaging about Louis, in fact, even as a New Orleans specialist."


Later in 1949, Armstrong broke the box office record at “Bop City” in New York City. George T. Simon was there and reviewed it in the October 1949 Metronome in an article, “Armstrong, Commercialism and Music”:
"From a commercial point of view, Armstrong’s engagement was a tremendous success. From a jazz point of view it was a bit disappointing. I’m a Louis enthusiast from way back, mind you, and I’m still thrilled by his playing, but I must say that I didn’t get too many kicks at Bop City. Armstrong is concentrating more and more upon showmanship and less and less upon his music. Apparently this formula is successful for him, but it certainly is a bring-down to those of us who like him for his heart and tone. At Bop City, he was mugging like mad, putting on the personality, bowing, scraping and generally lowering himself as a human being in the eyes of his worshipers. There is no need for a man as great as Louis to have to resort to such behavior
The Armstrong success at Bop City was a great commercial victory for Armstrong and for Dixieland. Too bad that it couldn’t have been an equally great triumph for music."


"That takes us out of the 1940s, but if you read my book, What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years, you know that the critics really let Louis have it in the 1950s, especially after he started hitting the charts with a series of love songs recorded for Decca at the start of the decade. One over-the-top reaction was the article “Louis Armstrong--Crooner! ‘How Commercial Can One Get?’ asks ‘Musical Express’ disc-jockey Frenchy Sartell” from October 1951:
"My blood is boiling, my ire is aroused. How dare they do it to my favourite jazz 'great'? How dare they bury him in commercialism?
I've heard 'Pops' play and sing plenty of commercial numbers, but they've been materially suited to his inimitable style, and he has always been able to give his own feeling to them. Take Armstrong, put him in front of another orchestra leader's ensemble, give him a current pop tune and you'll find it's a very different story. If you don't let Louis have his own say, it's like tying his hands behind his back. Armstrong MUST create his own atmosphere. He's not a man who can be told what to do and how to do it. After all, he has been, and still is, a guiding influence to many musicians in this profession. He has painted musical pictures that will be copied for years yet to come and is, I am quite sure, capable of painting many more.
Do you think of Louis as a crooner? Of course you don't. I am sure, like I, you think of him mainly as a great trumpeter whose vocals are an added part of the man's personal charm. This month there are three sides on which you can hear him. On two of them he is listed as being accompanied by Sy Oliver and on the other in a duet with Bing Crosby. Now you'd expect the former to feature him mainly in his instrumental sphere, wouldn't you? I admit he does get a chance to play a little on these two sides, but for my money there's not enough trumpet and too much commercial vocal."


The New Orleans faithful felt the same way. Arthur Katona saw the All Stars perform in Armstrong’s hometown in May 1952 and wrote about it in The Second Line, the magazine of the New Orleans Jazz Club, in an article titled “What Price Commercial Glory?”

"Hearing Louis Armstrong at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans (May 13, 1952), sorrowfully reported The Second Line in the May and June issue, was like seeing Christy Mathewson knocked out of the box for the last time. I too heard Louis this year, at Denver’s Dixieland spot, and I must add bitter sadness to the melancholy plaint of The Second Line. It was like seeing old Christy knock himself out of the box. The spectacle of Louis cavorting through commercial numbers like ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ made me sad and mad. Sad at seeing a great talent waste itself on Tin Pan Alley tunes, and mad at being deprived of the superb folk music that genuine jazz is. I (and others) had driven a long distance and had shelled out hard-earned money to hear some of the old blues, stomps, revival and work songs that are America’s own. (The place had boosted prices for the Big Occasion.) Instead we got minstrel clowning. Nor did I hear Louis playing during the dance periods with his band, a band which added to our doleful disappointment by playing soft, insipid stuff. He merely came out for the floor shows and did his vaudeville act."


By early 1953, Leonard Feather was still profiling Armstrong as if his best days were behind him, writing a “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”-type letter in Down Beat. A sample: 

"Dear Virginia: Thank you for your letter and for its lucid presentation of your problem. I shall do what I can to answer you. You say that the Louis Armstrong legend bothers you. You can’t quite figure out all the fuss that is made over this man, who is almost old enough to be your grandfather. As a teenaged fan, you may say you saw Louis perform recently; you saw a clown and a comedy singer who only occasionally played the trumpet, and you now find it hard to separate fact from fiction, shadow from substance in the Armstrong story. You wonder why he won first place in the Down Beat Hall of Fame. Well, Virginia, let me reassure you: there is a Satchmo. He may not live as vividly in the man you saw last month, but he lives in a lot of the music you hear on commercial radio programs; his influences can be felt, and the phrases and ideas he developed can be heard in music that is far removed from jazz."


Feather continued in 1954, spending time with Armstrong at an engagement at New York’s Basin Street nightclub to produce an Esquire profile, “The Three Lives of Louis Armstrong.” In it, Feather painstakingly tried to prove that there were actually “three” Armstrongs: Louis I, the “human being,” Louis II, the trumpet player and Louis III, the “show-business personality.” In front of a packed audience at Basin Street, Feather wrote, “They had all come to see Louis III, and that was just what he gave them.  He played his theme, ‘When It's Sleepy Time Down South,’ and then told the audience, ‘We're gonna lay some of those good ol' good ones on ya,’ and pretty soon he had clarinetist Barney Bigard taking a vocal, and then he introduced Billy Kyle, his pianist, as ‘Liberace in Technicolor,’ and the audience loved it. He grinned and mugged, and exchanged pleasantries with members of the audience—’Old Braud out there, he was playing bass when I was selling newspapers!’... But when he put his horn to his lips, there was still enough of Louis II to please the minority segment of the audience.” 

Wilfred Lowe was also at Basin Street for that same engagement and wrote about what he witnessed in a Jazz Journal column, “The Jazz Jester?” After referring to Armstrong as the “King of Jazz,” Lowe wrote:

"To the ‘King’s’ not-so-loyal subjects, there’s genuine cause for alarm in the state of affairs extant in the Kingdom today. No one will deny that Armstrong was worthy of kingship up to the time of his Hot Seven of 1928—but even then, where was the competition? Since the first cutting contest, the kings have played a trumpet and the decline of Joe Oliver left a clear field for Louis, who then spurned jazz for comedy. Other jazz men, with the sincerity that Armstrong has since lacked, went back to their trades when things became tough for jazz musicians. Louis sold his soul to devil of Tin Pan Alley and played on alone—still worshipped by the jazz-starved enthusiasts who, with only the white bands and a pile of scratchy records for alternatives, and hosts of memories, hung on to Armstrong’s every note in the belief that the ‘King’ was blowing even better jazz in spite of his change of environment. The belief has persisted, resulting in almost irreparable harm to the cause of jazz music in its battle for acceptance as an art.
Armstrong, with his clowning, rolling eyes, suggestive growls and obscene asides, and his childish tantrums—(remember the Benny Goodman affair?)—his puerile utterances, drags his choice of music from the heights of art to the level of black-face buffoonery. His concerts seldom rise above the plane of a coon carnival, complete with comedy splits and other vulgarities.
Internationally known as the “King of Jazz”, it is natural for the general public to associate every note that crawls from the Master’s lips and horn with jazz music. Consequently, we see banalities like “Takes Two To Tango” advertised as ‘The Latest Jazz Hit’. Does that send you, my reader into fresh and febrile droolings on the Armstrong genius or does it fill you with utter loathing for the misguided creatures who dare not criticize, after so many years of praise and excuse for the ‘King’ and for the state of affairs that allows such buffoonery to exist in the name of jazz?
Listening closely to the work of Armstrong, does he play so much good jazz today and has he ever done so? I think not. His phrasing is par excellence, but technically—well, there are dozens of jazz men, traditionalists, too, who can leave him frozen. There’s nothing extraordinary about his range—a point which is always offered in his favour; the ‘warm vibrato’ in the upper range sounds more like a strenuous battle to reach the notes—there’s nothing that sounds effortless. And his inventiveness—his solos today seem to consist of three or four notes, well phrased and blown like man. So what have we in Armstrong’s favour? Fine phrasing, well blown. And that’s about all. His tone? Nothing outstanding there, either. Roy Eldridge, far more worthy of the crown, has a greater tonal quality than Louis has ever had.
The time has come for us to hand Louis Armstrong his cap and bells and to force his abdication before he can pull jazz music even further into the slime. Let us, by all means, treasure the memory of Louis when he was great. He has played his part. Now he must be allowed to either bow gracefully out or be forcibly ejected. We owe it to the pioneers as well as the future of jazz music to ensure that Armstrong does no more harm. Place the crown on a head more worthy; clothe Louis in more fitting apparel—that of a jazz jester."

By the time Armstrong was at Basin Street, he had begun recording for Columbia Records. With the release of Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy, the jazz press called a truce and praised Armstrong’s efforts. He followed with Satch Plays Fats and the hit single “Mack the Knife,” in 1955, topping that year with a record-breaking tour of Europe that deemed him Ambassador Satch. Upon his return, Armstrong was at the peak of his popularity, filming High Society, profiled by Edward R. Murrow, interviewed in major newspapers and magazines around the world. The jazz press responded by getting nastier; I even titled the chapter on 1956 in my first book, “Wrath of the Critics.”

At this point, John S. Wilson enters the story as the jazz critic for the New York Times. Here are excerpts from three of his reviews from 1956. First, a March 1956 review of a Carnegie Hall show that featured Louis and Woody Herman’s band:

"When Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, two major figures representing different eras of jazz, share a concert stage, one might reasonably anticipate an expert juxtaposition of two contrasting jazz styles. There was contrast in the work of their groups at a concert they offered jointly at Carnegie Hall Saturday night, but it was a contrast that was not particularly meaningful in jazz terms.
In his personal appearances, Mr. Armstrong has been increasingly emphasizing his notable talents as a popular entertainer at the expense of his abilities as a jazz musician. This tendency has reached out to other members of his group to such an extent that the program they presented at Carnegie Hall might be more aptly considered as musical vaudeville than as jazz.
It is gratifying to see a jazz group so strongly aware of the importance of showmanship—too many overlook this element—but it is going a bit far when as able a group as Mr. Armstrong has assembled is held almost incommunicado, jazz-wise, in the process; when as talented and individual a pianist as Billy Kyle is heard to advantage for approximately two minutes in the course of an hour’s program; when Edmond Hall, one of the greatest of latter-day New Orleans clarinetists, is allotted only a chorus or two of free expression, and when as fluent a trombonist as Trummy Young spends most of his time braying and chortling.” 

In the summer of 1956, Wilson was present when the All Stars performed at Lewishon Stadium, joining forces at the end with Leonard Bernstein and members of the New York Philharmonic. Wilson wrote:

"The addition to the regular program of this collaboration between Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Armstrong was a welcome event for those who had gone to the Stadium in hopes of hearing Mr. Armstrong play with some suggestion of the jazz artistry of which he is capable. His solo on Mr. Handy’s composition, sandwiched between a stolid arrangement for the Symphony men by Alfredo Antonini, was movingly expressed and beautifully developed. Brief as it was, this was a refreshing change from the Armstrong performances that have been heard here recently. For several years his group has limited itself, both in concert and night club appearances, to the repetitions of a set program that rarely varies. Saturday night’s audience at Lewisohn Stadium heard the same program that he has played several times in New York. They applauded it enthusiastically, attempted to clap in time with one number and even made a brief attempt to dance in the aisles. Unfortunately, the stimulus for all this was rather shoddy jazz, although it may have had its merits as vaudeville. Mr. Armstrong is now held so rigidly to a pre-set pattern that he rarely plays with the extemporaneous creativity that is generally considered an essential element of jazz. Despite this, however, both his playing and singing are performed with the enthusiasm of a polished showman.
It is somewhat disturbing to realize that the Armstrong group’s performances are being seen all over the world and are widely publicized as outstanding examples of the propaganda value of American jazz. There is no question of Mr. Armstrong’s merits as an entertainer. It is natural that audiences in all countries should be drawn to him, just as the one at Lewisohn Stadium was. But, except for occasional instances, it would be misleading if the antics of Mr. Armstrong and his colleagues were to be accepted as representative of well-played jazz.”

Wilson beat the same drum in his review of the All Stars at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 1956: 

“Aside from a change in bass players, there is nothing new to report on the concert given by Louis Armstrong and his orchestra at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night. It was the same concert that Mr. Armstrong’s troupe has been playing night after night for several years both here and abroad, from the inevitable opening selection, ‘Indiana,’ through Mr. Armstrong’s singing of those jazz classics, ‘The Gypsy,’ ‘Blueberry Hill’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’ pianist Billy Kyle’s solo of ‘Perdido’ and Trummy Young’s manipulation of his trombone by foot on ‘Margie’ to the tasteless flouncing of Velma Middleton.
Mr. Armstrong’s new bass player, Squire Gersh, slapped out ‘How High the Moon’ as his solo specialty. His predecessor, Dale Jones, usually plucked his way through ‘Whispering’ but the effect was very much the same.
Possibly the most painful moment occurred when clarinetist Edmond Hall reduced himself to the level of his colleagues with a travesty on ‘You Made Me Love You’ since at other times, Mr. Hall held doggedly to the refreshing wit and buoyancy that have marked his work in the past. All things considered, it scarcely seems proper to book Mr. Armstrong’s group in a jazz series such as the Academy is offering. For this troupe is less of a jazz band than an ‘attraction’ and, as such, its appeal—which is undeniable—is primarily to people who have little, if any, interest in jazz."


Another jazz columnist, Russ Wilson, also caught the All Stars in the summer of 1956, and wrote the following in the Oakland Tribune

“The presentation is more like a vaudeville act than a jazz concert. The musicianship inherent in Armstrong, Hall, Kyle and Young glitters brilliantly on occasion, but too often the soul seems to be lacking. Additionally there are such musically tasteless things as Deems’ drum solo, during which he parades around his set beating the cymbals and ends up doing a tap dance, and much of Miss Middleton’s vocalizing, to say nothing of her gyrations. It’s a sad thing to see one as great as Armstrong in a setting such as this, which not only distracts from the dignity which should be his but also provides ammunition for those criticisms who accuse him of ‘rastusism.’ Furthermore, he still includes in his repertoire the ‘Boppenpoof Song,’ an attack on a form of jazz which Louis has frequently disparaged.”

Indeed, “The Boppenpoof Song” didn’t help Armstrong’s standing with modern jazz musicians. Lee Konitz shared a bill with Armstrong at Basin Street around this time and decades later, still vented to Andy Hamilton, “During his act he was singing a song that was anti-bebop--making fun of it to the crowd of Louis Armstrong admirers--and I didn’t appreciate that.” 

In August 1956, Metronome ran its only article on Armstrong during that entire, busy year, “Louis Armstrong: Is He An Immature Jazz Fan?” by Harold Lovette, written specifically to lambaste Armstrong for his comments on modern jazz:

“Throughout the entire history of jazz there has been a continuous struggle for acceptance and understanding in addition to the fact that the race angle has kept back its progress. Now ‘uncle’ Louis adds insult. I watched Louis on the Perry Como Show a few weeks ago and to me his performance was the only bright spot on the show. I don’t always go along with ‘shuffling’ but it is understood as a part of that old Southern heritage and Louis is an old man. I suppose that this is why his statements are ignored by musicians. That he has a tremendous talent goes without saying. He has definitely made his mark, and he is lasting, which is further proof of his greatness. However, for Louis to continue to ridicule young jazz musicians in the eyes of the public, first for the reason that he is unable to ‘hear’ it and secondly because if he does ‘hear’ it he is technically not in a position to play it on his instrument, reflects a basic insecurity for which he uses these illiterate and ignorant statements as a defense mechanism.
Louis is probably more financially successful than any other jazz musician. How he made it is another question. ‘Pops’ came along when ‘rastus’ showmanship was demanded from jazz artists and to some extent it holds true today. I definitely do not condone this type of performance but it is to be understood that Louis is a product of his time. But as trumpet players go at this point, I am of the opinion that Louis is a much better singer.
To me, every such effort is important. ‘Uncle’ Louis would have you think otherwise. He impresses me not as being a musician but rather as the musically immature jazz fan who says that he does not ‘dig’ Bird because he never knows what the melody is or was. It is elementary that to understand contemporary jazz you either must be a musician of certain caliber or your appreciation must be developed jazz-wise. Louis has not had the time to do either, he has been too busy being a ‘Tom.’”


But the article that made the biggest splash in the summer of 1956 was Jack Tracy’s review of the All Stars at the Newport Jazz Festival in Down Beat. “Too much Louis, not enough Ella, and a different Dave marked the second night at Newport,” is how Tracy began. He continued: 

“Although this was the evening following the great downpour, and though the crowd of some 8,000 came wrapped timorously in foul weather gear, the only reign to fall was that of King Louis Armstrong.
He demonstrated with finality that it takes more than rolling eyes, handkerchief on head and chops, and the same old Paramount theater act to warrant using an hour's time at an American festival of jazz.
Sure, Louis flashed the majestic tone and ingrained feeling that has made him an undeniable great in jazz, but he did so seldom and only while playing the same old tunes and fronting the same indifferent band he's been working with for too long. Armstrong made his appearance at Newport seem commonplace...just another job...and this coming from a man so universally regarded as a legend was an insult to an audience that was there to hear the best from everyone.
Armstrong, backed by Trummy Young, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Billy Kyle, piano; Dale Jones, bass; and Barrett Deems, drums, wrapped it up, but the hour he played seemed like two. His Sleepy Time Down South theme was followed by the inevitable Indiana and The Gypsy. Ed Hall provided the chief spark on Indiana, with Louis running into some difficulty on his solo which he barely worked himself out of. The sound system conked out during Ole Miss, on which Armstrong played his only charging solo of the night, then came in rapid succession Tin Roof Blues, The Bucket's Got a Hole in It, Perdido, You Made Me Love you, Whispering, Mack the Knife, Stomping at the Savoy, two tunes by Velma Middleton, and Sleepy Time again.
They all only pointed out that aside from Louis and Ed Hall, there is little of musical interest left in the band. Trummy has become a tasteless battering ram; Billy Kyle, who was one of the unsung founders of the modern school of pianists, doesn't care anymore; Deems is heavily unswinging; [Jones] is not of Armstrong caliber.
Summary: A good concert till Louis came on."

As in the 1940s, it was England who came to Armstrong’s defense with Max Jones and Sinclair Traill penning two columns responding to the above attacks in Melody Maker. “How fashionable it seems in certain circles, to take cracks at Louis Armstrong, his band—and particularly his drummer,” they began before noting Tracy’s all-modern choices of musicians in a critic’s poll. “The reason for this diversion into the subject of polls, though, is that we have lately noticed a build-up in the antagonism towards Armstrong. For some time it has been felt by ‘modernists’; now, more and more, it is being spoken and written about. And, more often than not, it is directed at ‘extra-musical’ aspects of Louis,” Jones and Traill wrote. In their follow-up, they added:

"As for Armstrong himself: his playing is still a knock-out. Always, and especially since he became rather old, he has had his detractors. Today, though his stage behaviour has altered little, he is often attacked for excessive showmanship and an ‘Uncle Tom’ attitude.
In commenting on Tracy’s review in the first place, it was not our intention to injure his sensibility but just to record the disquiet we felt over the rising tide of Louis-baiting. We have merely touched on a few examples, but could supply many more….The other week we quoted Leonard Feather on ‘a Vaudeville show by Louis Armstrong.’ Nat Hentoff recently quoted John Wilson’s condemnation with approval, saying that he “excellently summed up the essence of Armstrong’s deterioration.’”


Jones and Trail aside, the All Stars remained targets of the jazz press when they returned to Newport in July 1957, especially after Armstrong’s refusal to jam with guest musicians after Festival producers tried to interfere with his set. Dan Morgenstern’s first-person telling of the backstage drama in the liner notes to The Great Chicago Concert remains the definitive version of what happened, but for the purpose of this blog, here is an article I only recently discovered on Newspapers.com from Rev. Norman O’Connor, a great jazz supporter, “Armstrong Is Lost to Jazz; Now a Popular Entertainer.” I was surprised because I’ve seen photos of Armstrong and O’Connor together in 1970 and O’Connor was a fine host and interviewer when Armstrong appeared on Dial M for Music that same year. But on September 1957, O’Connor unloaded on Armstrong: 

“If Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony were to play the same program each Friday afternoon and Saturday evening during the coming season, and if the program consisted of such standards which are interesting but not too substantial, as Ravel's "Bolero," Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and Debussey's "Afternoon of a Faun," Symphony Hall would have a line of people looking for their money back. There would be anger, consternation, surprise, and you can be sure that it wouldn't happen next year. Louis Armstrong is no Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony, and for that reason the audience should put up with even less in the way of old material and repetition, but Louis appears to think that he can do the old and the boring and the ticket buyers are going to keep coming. This past July at Newport the program given by the Armstrong group included a good portion of what he had done last year at Newport. The following Saturday, Louis appeared at the Lewisohn Concerts  in New York, and did the exact program he had done at Newport. Then, he went out to Las Vegas and repeated what he had been doing off and on for the past year, only this time he did it four times a night. 
That's why the comments on his performance at Newport were so biting and so sarcastic. All will agree that Louis can bring new interest and ideas to the stage everytime he steps out there, but it gets awfully difficult to be original when you work with material day in and day out which just doesn’t have that much to it. 
There’s no argument with Louis’ reputation. He was making history and doing it in a way that is a model for all time when most Jazz critics and enthusiasts were having their diapers changed. And today, when he is in the mood, he can still play material that is fresh, warm, exciting and original. His tone is immediately recognizable and his phrasing is unique and the variations that he makes are always fresh, and the lyric quality that he can achieve takes you back to the best of the roots of jazz. However, he does this but rarely. 
Of course, Louis has always had a tremendous sense of humor. He is uninhibited, his face is a puckish type and his figure, until recently, was round and portly, and all these elements together gradually became more important than the music that he could play. Audiences went to see him because they had a good time watching a funny man. In time his style of high jinks came almost to be a caricature of the sophisticated member of the end-men in a minstrel show. This ability along with a stylist's approach to popular songs, and the development of a group of musicians who could fit into this comedy approach and the addition of singer Velma Middleton put Louis Armstrong into a bracket that made him an entertainer with the appeal and potential of a Harry Belafonte or Judy Garland or a Perry Como. There is nothing wrong with the bracket since it is so obviously a well-paying one, and at the same time a most respectable one. But it isn't a jazz performance. 
Jazz still persists in bringing him back into an orbit that is a small segment of his career at present. George Wein thought a birthday celebration for Louis would be appropriate at Newport this year. Kid Ory, who helped Louis in his early life, and Jack Teagarden who was with Louis for years, would be there, and to see the three of them on a stage would recreate plenty of memories. 
As you may have read, this didn't happen. Louis played "Back Home in Indiana," and apparently refused to let the other two men on the stage with him. He also kept Ella Fitzgerald from performing with him. 
The time has come for jazz to forget about trying to bring Louis back into the fold. Jazz will have to stop thinking of him in terms of current activity and speak only of the memories and the past. This will certainly help jazz since there is so much confusion in the public mind at the present time. They look upon him as an entertainer, a comedian, a singer with a gravel voice, and yet jazz keeps referring to him as one of the greats. 
The Ed Murrow telecasts didn't help at all as the two of them went through some artificial talk about the "cats" and jazz and the blues. But, jazz can take the first step by letting Louis play the theaters and the fairs and the movies and letting him be what he wants to be. He may owe a debt to jazz for the fame that it gave him, but Louis also gave something to jazz, so that the debt is paid and both sides are even. Jazz can now start looking for some young trumpet players who will make us forget Louis."


I’m not going to lie, I have more--lots more--but will hit the fast-forward button a bit. The amount of criticism slowed down in ensuing years, but the same melodies were played over and over. John S. Wilson caught Armstrong at Carnegie Hall in 1960 and wrote:

"Louis Armstrong appeared with his quintet at Carnegie Hall Saturday evening, playing to the hilt his role of popular entertainer. Looking extremely fit, and apparently completely recovered, from his severe illness of last summer, he mugged, growled, popped his eyes, bared his gleaming teeth and, through sheer force of personality, got away with jokes that were invariably in bad taste. It was, of its kind, a very skillful performance. But there was nothing in the concert to suggest that Mr. Armstrong was one of the few really great figures in jazz.[...] It is one of the ironies of Mr. Armstrong’s latter-day, world-wide acclaim that, playing to the biggest, most receptive audiences he has ever had, he gives so little indication of the true basis of his fame.”

That same year, pianist John Lewis caught Armstrong’s set at Newport and vented to Ralph J. Gleason, “Say for instance Louis Armstrong’s group. That’s just out. I don’t go in for that, which is, I think phony and false, ‘cause he doesn’t even mean it. He’s all happy and jumping around and all that, but he doesn’t mean that at all, that’s just for the benefit of those people sitting out there in the audience so it’s false. We mean, I mean no more than what is here in this music.” 


Matters slowed a bit and then all of a sudden, Louis was on top of the charts in 1964. All of a sudden, John S. Wilson changed his tune and penned an affectionate tribute to Louis called “Still the Champ.” Martin Williams tackled the subject of “Armstrong Before ‘Dolly’” in the September 17, 1964 Saturday Review, writing:

"It is patently ironic that Louis Armstrong should have his greatest popular success some forty years after his formidable talent first began to affect jazz music, and some thirty hears after his own creative peak, years that have seen his ideas absorbed and developed by legitimate followers and thoroughly popularized by some lesser lights—sometimes grotesquely popularized if one thinks of performers like Louis Prima.
From that time on [1947], Armstrong has become more and more the genial Satchmo, the grand old man, the engaging entertainer, the nightclub performer, successful with almost any audience that is in any way interested in nightclub performers. And in this, he has had the first period of sustained public success in his career.
Armstrong’s groups large and small, in person and on records, have been notoriously sloppy and downright bad during much of his career, and he has been notoriously lax in seeing that they be anything else."


The subject of “Armstrong Before ‘Dolly’” was explored in Gunther Schuller’s influential Early Jazz, published in 1967. Schuller devoted an entire chapter to early Armstrong, “The First Great Soloist,” and gave the blueprint for how Armstrong could be taught and understood in the new field of jazz education. After page after page of praise and analysis for Armstrong’s 1920s works, Schuller got to the big band years and wrote, “The wonder of it all is that Armstrong, irrespective of what or with whom he recorded, maintained an astonishingly high degree of inventiveness and musical integrity, at least until the early 1930s, when he did succumb to the sheer weight of his success and its attendant commercial pressures.” To Schuller, the punctuation mark on Armstrong’s greatness could be heard at the end of 1928, as he writes, “Finally on ‘Tight Like This,’ we hear the already-noted tendency toward commercialism, now at a more advanced sage, manifesting itself in an increasingly saccharine sentimentalism and a grandstanding, high-note final chorus.” After complaining about Armstrong’s “insipid rendering” of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” in 1929, Schuller ends his chapter by dismissing what came after: “For the rest there is a wasteland of whimpering Lombardo-style saxophones, vibraphones and Hawaiian guitars, saccharine violins, dated Tin Pan Alley tunes and hackneyed arrangements.”  And just like that, Armstrong’s post-1928 career was dismissed and would continue to be dismissed by many musicians, critics, educators and students in the ensuing decades. 


Of course, Armstrong was still alive when Schuller published Early Jazz and had a worldwide hit (though not in the USA) with “What a Wonderful World” in 1968. Unsurprisingly, John S. Wilson wasn’t impressed, reviewing Armstrong’s set at the New Orleans Jazz Festival that year, “The program at the auditorium in which Mr. Armstrong took part seemed less like a jazz festival than a vaudeville festival, which, with Mr. Armstrong as the keystone of the evening, was appropriate. Mr. Armstrong’s regular program has long been almost devoid of anything that would interest a jazz audience. He is now a personality—mugging, playing his trumpet only in an occasional ensemble chorus, introducing the specialty features by his musicians, and singing ‘Hello Dolly!’ ‘Blueberry Hill!’ and, this year, a dreary bit of sentimental claptrap, ‘What a Wonderful World,’ which he is plugging assiduously.”

Just a few months later however, Armstrong’s health took a turn for the worse and he ended up in intensive care twice over the next several months. When he returned home in the spring of 1969, doctors told him to retire and to stop playing his trumpet. He spent the rest of the year at home in a depression, wondering if he would ever get back to the stage. 

Something about this near-death experience seemed to wake up the jazz community. Down Beat was now being edited by Armstrong’s longtime friend and fierce defender Dan Morgenstern. For Armstrong’s 70th birthday in 1970, Morgenstern, Jack Bradley, Harriet Choice, Jane Welch and Harvey Siders asked seemingly every jazz musician they could find for brief tributes to Louis. The result was “Roses for Satchmo,” the antidote to much of what has appeared in this post! Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and dozens more spoke out on what Armstrong meant to them (noticeable omissions included those like John Lewis and Charles Mingus, the latter in particular continuing to badmouth Armstrong for years). 

For the 50th anniversary earlier this year, we posted the entire thing on the Louis Armstrong House Museum Facebook page--read it HERE! Most importantly, it allowed Armstrong to see the love his fellow jazz musicians had for him, after so many years of duking it out in the press with the boppers. 

On the critics side, though, old habits died hard. Morgenstern asked Leonard Feather and Martin Williams to pen tributes to Armstrong and both responded with fine pieces--that both repeated some of the well-worn criticisms. Williams opened by praising Armstrong’s impact on the history of music, adding, “That may seem surprising, even incongruous, to those familiar only with the genial Satchmo of the television screen, the smiling singer and occasional trumpeter who seems to entertain tired businessmen so ably. But it’s true.” Feather wrote, “The laughter came later, along with brow-mopping and the mugging and the jokes and all the other characteristics that endeared Satchmo to hundreds of millions who have seen his act over the past three or four decades. I am among those who remember the time when his was a performance, which is not to be confused with an act.” 

Morgenstern was exasperated with this line of thinking and addressed it in his Editor’s Note, one of my personal favorite examples of his writing on Louis (and there’s too many to choose from!):

"You will also find tributes from two leading jazz critics. Unlike the musicians, they circumscribe their praise with comments defining Louis “the entertainer” as someone distinct from Louis “the artist.” Only this confused century could have spawned a theory that views art and entertainment as incompatible. What artist worthy of the name does not first of all desire to communicate — to touch the hearts and minds of others? And is this not what Louis Armstrong does so supremely well? Trumpeter, singer, actor, entertainer, human being: all these are the one and only Louis Armstrong, a whole man. Long ago, Louis dedicated his life and art to a noble purpose. “It’s happiness to me to see people happy,” he has said, and he has turned millions on with his smile, his voice, and his horn. Through thousands and thousands of one-night stands, on that hard old road, he has never given his public less than his best. Off stage, he has been just as generous. Louis was born with the knowledge that black is beautiful. Unmindful of fashions and trends, he has been true to himself and his heritage — a heritage he has enriched and transmuted to a degree not yet fully comprehended, and perhaps not fully comprehensible. All true art partakes of the mysterious. Louis Armstrong has always been in style, and always will be."

One year later, Armstrong was gone. Like the 1970 birthday, most of the tributes that came in were positive--except an August 8 piece in the New York Times by Craig McGregor. It’s the old “tragedy of Louis Armstrong” story, one that hadn’t been told with this much hand-wringing in some years (he even quotes Rudi Blesh at one point): 

"Louis Armstrong is dead, and the rightful eulogies have been written. I don't need to add my own. Along with one or two other jazzmen, such as Charlie Parker, he stands in a lonely pre‐eminence. We all know that.
What we may not know or don't always remember is that in many ways Armstrong is a tragic figure, and his tragedy is part of a larger one in which we all share. At first it doesn't seem so. Unlike Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Buddy Bolden, Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Christian, Albert Ayler — the list seems endless — he made it through to old age. There was a resilience about Armstrong, a capacity to adapt his art to the demands of the time, which saw him through while others stumbled, buckled under pressure, died early and ignoble deaths. But there's the rub. Armstrong survived by compromise, and it was a compromise which destroyed his art. It should never have been necessary, and unless we learn from his fate how commercialism can corrode even a creative genius like Armstrong, jazz will continue to be created by a unique minority, who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their art. It is a price no society has the right to demand of its artists.
He was the king, and everyone knew it.
What happened?
The Depression hit. The jazz bands broke up. The musicians were forced into obscurity, or died, or joined the commercial swing orchestras which purveyed romantic schmaltz to audiences unable to bear the grim reality around them. Armstrong formed just such an orchestra, turned himself into a consummate showman, and for 20 years survived by playing what the times and his fans demanded. Any jazz discography has page after page of the records Armstrong churned out during this period; with a few notable exceptions, they are worthless. As jazz critic Ruth Blesh, a great admirer of Armstrong, has written: “Although all of Louis Armstrong's work is impressive, even in relation to all music, that from his mature period is in a field hostile to jazz and, it may be, to his own truest expression...”
Finally, after World War II, Arm strong returned to small group jazz and formed his All Stars, but the world had left him behind. A new generation of jazz revolutionaries — Monk, Parker, Christian, Powell — had set jazz on a new course. And Armstrong? We never heard the music he could have made.
We were left, instead, with Ambassador Satch. A few years ago, when he was traveling with his All Stars, heard him on one of the last tours he made. His concerts were the tired show‐biz routines we (and no doubt he) had come to dread: not much jazz, schoolboy pyrotechnics and exhibitionism by each of the All Stars, with Armstrong spending most of his time on stage singing stale pop songs like “Kiss to Build a Dream On” and “Mack the Knife.” There were some superb moments, because he could still play great jazz when he wanted to, but he was an artist in a straitjacket—a prisoner of his audience and his own strict entertainment‐first professionalism.
And now he's dead.
I owe a lot to Louis Armstrong. He's been part of my life ever since I heard him as a schoolboy of 14. There are probably several million others like me throughout the world, for whom Armstrong has been a crucial part of their imagination and sensibility; and God knows how many more to whom he has given music, pleasure, and perhaps some insight into the greatness of jazz.
But it isn't enough. Until jazz is recognized for what it is, as one of the few profound art forms man has created in the last century, and is given the support which other “high arts” receive as a matter of course, then jazzmen like Armstrong will have to struggle all their lives against an environment which is intrinsically hostile to them.
Until it's also recognized that jazz is the classical music of black Americans (just as soul is their pop music), and that its lack of recognition is part of the racism society practices against its black subculture, jazzmen will be confronted with a terrible choice between life and art. And the despairing story of Louis “Pops” Armstrong, who was simply (and too early) the finest musician the revolutionary world of jazz has ever known, will be repeated again and again and again."


In the years after Armstrong’s passing, there were a few high-profile efforts to get early Armstrong back in the public consciousness. Martin Williams curated The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz in 1973, a mail-order set that went double platinum and was the perfect companion for the Jazz History courses springing up around the country (alongside copies of Schuller’s Early Jazz). Now Armstrong’s early output was properly appreciated but even Williams only chose two post-1928 tracks, “Sweethearts on Parade” from 1930 and “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” from 1933.

The next big mail-order set was Time-Life’s Giants of Jazz box on Armstrong, released in 1979. It included 40 tracks with 19 coming from pre-1929 and 19 coming from the 1929-1940 period. That was a good balance but 19 + 19 = 38 and with a 40-track set, Armstrong’s post-1940 output was only represented by two selections, “Pennies From Heaven” from 1947 and “That’s For Me” from 1950. Thus, if you bought each of those boxed sets, you heard about nine minutes of music from the last 30 years of Armstrong’s career. 

Of course, you might have thought you weren’t missing anything if you purchased the next major biography to be published on Armstrong, James Lincoln Collier’s Louis Armstrong: An American Genius in 1983. I don’t think I have to say much about this work as it’s pretty much been discredited and written off as maybe the most mean-spirited biography ever written about a jazz musician. “I cannot think of another American artist who so failed his own talent. What went wrong?” Collier wrote (which had quite an impact on 15-year-old me). Two pages later he wrote: “Considering the degree to which Armstrong failed his talent, it is all the more astonishing that he had so great an impact on twentieth-century music.”

Dan Morgenstern once again rode in like the Calvary and carved Collier up in a now famous review in the Annual Review of Jazz Studies (reprinted in Dan’s Living With Jazz), while Michael Lydon dismissed it in the New York Times, exclaiming, “Nonsense!” at one point. However, looking through the digitized news clippings from 1983, it’s disturbing to see just how many reviewers not only bought Collier’s theories but also downplayed Armstrong’s overall impact on 20th century music. “Collier at other points pompously inflates Armstrong’s importance, calling him--roll over, Stravinsky--’the preeminent musical genius of his era,’” Jim Miller wrote in Newsweek. “Despite such irritating flaws, Louis Armstrong is the most comprehensive account yet of the man who all but invented swing.” Anatole Broyard was bothered by the same exact thing, writing in the Sun-Sentinel, “According to James Lincoln Collier, Louis Armstrong was one of the most important figures in 20th century music. When I read this, my first impulse was to say that he was talking about popular music, that he wasn’t comparing Armstrong to, say, Igor Stravinsky. But then I thought, why not?” Broyard also allowed, “Collier believes that for most of his life Armstrong’s talent was wasted” and didn’t dispute it.
That was the party line for much of the 1980s and Gunther Schuller did nothing to change it when he tackled Armstrong’s post-1929 output in 1989’s The Swing Era. “...[L]inking Armstrong to the thirties and forties, the Swing Era, is not without its perplexities and controversy, for the fact is that he was in a sense not really a part of the swing era,” Schuller wrote. “Remaining true to his artistic tenets and the musical revolution he had enkindled in the twenties, he stayed apart from the next two evolutionary waves that propelled jazz forward, even as his music still indirectly animated and informed these developments. It was odd that Louis in effect remained in the background during the swing era, insulated from it--odd because, unlike the other New Orleanians or for that matter their epigones, the Chicagoans, Louis was world famous.” Of his big band recordings, Schuller wrote, “By January 1930 the creepy tentacles of commercialism had begun to exert an alarming degree of stylistic constraint” and after beating up the big band years, was despondent by the time he reached the All Stars. “But the end was not what it should have been,” Schuller wrote before suggesting that “as America’s unofficial ambassador to the world, this country should have provided him an honorary pension to live out his life in dignity, performing as and when he might, but without the need to scratch out a living as a good-natured buffoon, singing ‘Blueberry Hill’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’ night after night.”
Yet by the time Schuller published his book, the tide had already begun to turn thanks to two major developments. In 1984, the year after Collier’s book was published, Wynton Marsalis won a Grammy and on national television, dedicated it to Louis Armstrong. That would have been unfathomable from a young, black artist just a few years earlier but with that gesture, Wynton started the long road to making Louis Armstrong hip again. He’s never stopped and today serves as the President of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and a mentor to countless young musicians, all of whom have been made to check out Armstrong thanks to Wynton’s urging. 

The other major event started with a tragedy, the unexpected death of 
Lucille Amstrong in October 1983. Lucille had been the gatekeeper of Louis’s incredible private collection of reel-to-reel tapes, scrapbooks, autobiographical manuscripts and more, but no one had done anything with them since Louis passed away. With Lucille gone, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation made a deal to donate the collection to Queens College--but first, Gary Giddins was hired and allowed to access the materials while they were still at the Armstrong House. With access to Armstrong’s innermost thoughts, Giddins wrote the thoughtful appreciation Satchmo in 1988 and followed it with a fabulous PBS documentary (with memorable quotes from Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Lester Bowie, Dexter Gordon and more) in 1989. 

With Armstrong’s stature on the rise, matters exploded in the 1990s: the Louis Armstrong Archives opened at Queens College in 1994, the Smithsonian embarked on a two-year traveling exhibit devoted to Armstrong, Marsalis and the late Stanley Crouch curated a full week of Armstrong-related programming at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 1995, the boxed set Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man won a Grammy, Laurence Bergreen published An Extravagant Life in 1997, a big improvement over Collier (though light on Armstrong’s post-1943 life), Louis Armstrong In His Own Words was published in 1999, Ken Burns made Armstrong the hero of his 2001 documentary Jazz and the Louis Armstrong House Museum opened in 2003. 

The old complaints of the critics started to fall by the wayside--even if they never quite faded from sight. In his 2000 book, Blue: The Murder of Jazz, the late Eric Nisenson wrote a chapter titled, "Genius: The Triumph and Tragedy of Louis Armstrong," where he trotted out every wrongheaded idea I've personally been fighting to reverse for years now. Here's a sample: "Looking at photographs and especially at the few films of the young Louis Armstrong is bracing. He bears little resemblance to the lovable Uncle Louis of most of his later career."  That falls apart when you watch Louis smiling throughout the 1933 Danish footage or signing “Jeepers Creepers” to a horse. But then, to go overboard in praising Armstrong's early works, he takes some potshots at the All Stars: "I believe that the Louis Armstrong of the 1920s and early 1930s--the height of his career as a creative musician--has little in common with the neoclassicist jazz musician. Perhaps this is true for the later Louis Armstrong; in the last few decades of his life, Armstrong angrily disavowed modern jazz, continued playing the same music with a tired, bored band of supposed ‘All Stars’ night after night in places like Las Vegas and blowing solos note for note in exactly the same way of the original recordings." And then the topper: "But Armstrong at the height of his genius was quite a different matter." 

I will never do anything to disparage the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens but that’s nonsense as Armstrong was a showman and comedian and played the pop hits of the day throughout the 1920s. There’s an incredible consistency to Armstrong’s career that I hope will be even more apparent if I get to write a book about Armstrong 1901-1928. And you can still like those years the best--I completely understand--but every time you praise the Armstrong of the 1920s, you don’t need to knock his post-1928 output. 


So the critics have (mostly) come around but there’s still one area of “the jazz world” that needs improvement: jazz education. As mentioned, in the early 1970s, when jazz education was getting its act together, many of the educators were musicians who didn’t take Armstrong seriously when he was alive. So, armed with Schuller and the Smithsonian collection, they made sure to pay lip service to the Armstrong of the 1920s and then left him behind. And those programs churned out more musicians-turned-educators who continued to give Armstrong the short shrift in their teaching, too.
Like all of the above, there are exceptions (Jon Faddis!), but all I know is in my experience in lecturing about Armstrong to college students over the last decade, every time I ask a class of jazz majors, “How many of you have really checked out Louis Armstrong?” I’m met with an overwhelming sea of blank faces. 

This is why one of the most fulfilling things I’ve been lucky to do in recent years is teach a 15-week “Music of Louis Armstrong” graduate course at Queens College. I’ve taught three sessions, a total of about 50 students from all over the world and maybe 2, 3 tops had checked out Armstrong before studying with me. After 15 weeks? No joke, lives were changed--and it’s not me, it’s Pops! As part of their final, I always ask students why think think Armstrong is taken lightly. I published some of the answers after my 2015 class, which you can read in this blog but here’s one example:
"Personally, this class has substantially changed the way I see my career going in the future and it is for the better! Louis Armstrong is a prime example of what artists should aspire to be and I look forward to seeing how this course affects many more in the best way! Musicians and scholars do not pay attention to Louis Armstrong as much as they should because the curriculum itself does not stress his importance not only in Jazz but in American history. Today you look at the standard college jazz program and the classes range from Music theory to private lessons, but nothing on Louis Armstrong. There is no doubt that the majority of today’s jazz musicians have had formal musical training to an extent. If they are not exposed to Armstrong during these college years let alone childhood, there is almost no hope for them to be exposed to him later on. The result is an endless cycle of ignorance within music education.”

But hey, that’s changing, too! In 2019, Todd Stoll of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Jazz Education Network, published “Why Don’t We Teach Louis Armstrong?” aimed at jazz educators. Earlier this year, my good friend Chris Coulter published “Seriously Satchmo: The Importance of Teaching Louis Armstrong in the Music Classroom.” And just last week, one of my most recent students, the brilliant saxophonist and composer Arun Luthra, posted on Facebook, “Calling all #BAM devotees!  It goes without saying that, in an institution which teaches Black American Music, the teaching of counterpoint MUST be centered around Louis Armstrong and his contemporaries – their 2nd trumpet parts, counter-melodies, etc. I'm wondering if anyone can point me in the direction of some reliable transcriptions of group-playing in that style by the masters.  Providing students with written material would be a great compliment to the recordings.” And there are really are more musicians in their 20s and 30s who know and appreciate Armstrong (and are equally familiar with his entire career) at this time than there’s been since Louis was influencing the world in real-time in the 1920s and 1930s. 


Whew, so what have we learned?

Damned if I know! I know this was probably a bit overboard but the above is what rattles around in my brain when I use the phrase “the jazz world” and I hope that makes sense to those reading my book, including Michael Ullman. Yes, there were musicians who loved him, yes, there were writers who loved him and defended him, but if you were alive in the last 40 years of Louis Armstrong’s life and regularly read Down Beat and Metronome and the New York Times and The Record Changer and Melody Maker, etc. the above represents the common narratives that haunted Armstrong in all the major publications. And if you’ve been around for the last 40 years, you’ve perhaps read Schuller or Collier or seen how Louis is mostly left out of the curriculum in jazz education programs.

All of that, that’s what I mean when I say “the jazz world” has “vilified” Armstrong and has taken him for granted for so many years. The rest of the world sure hasn’t so it’s not like the jazz world has kept Armstrong down or anything like that, but those criticisms still cling to him in certain circles and I will not stand around and watch him taken lightly or ignored in the world of jazz education any longer. Some folks, in learning I was compiling this, made the point that Louis didn’t aim his performances at “the jazz world” so why waste so much time in worrying about what they think. True. But there’d be no jazz world without Armstrong and when I see the lack of attention paid to him, especially compared to Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Bird, etc., well, I have to say something. 

So there you have it, 20,000 words later. Otherwise, thanks to Michael Ullman for all the kind things he said about the book and for indirectly inspiring me to put all of the above together. (And for the sake of my readers, let’s hope I don’t get a fully negative review as I don’t know if I have another 20,000-word rebuttal in me, haha.) 

Pops IS Tops. 


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