Tag Archives: Black History Month

THINKING ABOUT LOUIS, THINKING ABOUT RACE

Marc Caparone, Ricky Riccardi, and Michael Cogswell, considering important matters

If you travel in the same musical circles as I do, the name “Ricky Riccardi” won’t be new to you.  He is the creator of an extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/ — which offers generous helpings of insight, music, and affection on a regular basis; he is Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College; he is the author of a splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295474262&sr=8-1) which will be published in May 2011.  (And he’s an improvising jazz pianist, so a diminished chord is no mystery to him.) 

Ricky is a great jazz scholar and diligent excavator of facts, but he is more than a pale library drone: his love of his subject (that’s Mr. Armstrong) is an intense, enlivening thing — so that Louis, never dead, is even more alive when Ricky talks about him, something Ricky is not reluctant to do. 

But uncritical love can get boring to an outsider: what Ricky offers us on his chosen subject is a deep understanding.  He has carefully and thoroughly undermined many of the shallow but ferociously-held critical statements about Louis: that Louis peaked somewhere in 1927, or 1934, or another date; that Louis relied on memorized routines and had lost all creativity in his last quarter-century; that Louis had abandoned “jazz” for “entertainment.”  His research rests firmly on a constant, day-to-day involvement with first-hand materials, and it is thus evidence-based rather than speculative. 

All of this is prelude to the announcement that Ricky will be speaking on the rich and complex topic of “Louis Armstrong and Race,” in celebration of Black History Month 2011 — not once, but four times — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  His talk will cover a multitude of fascinating topics — from Louis’s birth and childhood in New Orleans to his mid-Fifties public explosions on behalf of civil rights.  I hope he’ll tell the joke that begins with another musician sticking his head into Louis’s dressing room and asking, “Hey, Pops!  What’s new?” but I don’t know if he’ll be taking requests. 

For those readers who stay in after dark, these presentations will take place in the serene afternoon: 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, February 12, and February 26.  The house is located at 34-56 107th Street, and admission to the museum (which includes the presentation) is $8 for adults and $6 for children.  Space is limited, so please call 718-478-8274 or email reservations@louisarmstronghouse.com. to reserve your seat.  I’ll be there, although I don’t yet know which day. 

Visit http://www.louisarmstronghouse.com. for details.