I confess that I haven’t always agreed with Terry Teachout on everything. But I was greatly impressed and moved by his piece on the late singer Nancy La Mott that appeared in A Terry Teachout Reader, so I have revised my opinion.
And when I read on Marc Myers’ perceptive and diligent blog, JazzWax, that Teachout had just completed a new biography of Louis, called RHYTHM MAN, to be published by Harcourt next year, I was hopeful.
Louis has been the beneficiary — sometimes the victim — of a good deal of prose. Some of it has been properly adulatory, although uncritical in its admiration. Some has been the businesslike writing of a competent for-hire biographer who lacked a feeling for jazz. And, of course, there was the book that I believe began by wanting to be fair and objective but ending up trying to cut Louis down to human size, to knock him off the pedestal. None of these books has gotten the real man, profoundly simple and elegantly complex, across to us in some satisfying way. Perhaps Teachout’s book will do a better job? If you check out his blog, you will find his comments about Louis and “Hello, Dolly,” for instance, to be plain-spoken and thoughtful. He just might be able to balance the contradictions that ruled Louis’s life and art: how the man who created something astoundingly new whenever he played or sang could become the happy creature of habit who gave the people “a good show” by playing and singing the same songs almost note-for-note. I know it isn’t fashionable to say this, and musicians who worked with Louis say that he gave such meaning to the apparently similar notes that the experience transcended itself . . . but the sad facts are also available to anyone who wishes to listen to more than an hour of the All-Stars plowing through, say, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” once Catlett and Teagarden left. Perhaps, just perhaps, Teachout will reconcile those two men and artists for us. Even an irritating book on Louis might well be worth reading. We’ll see next year.