Apropos of the fast-approaching publication of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, the new issue of Publishers Weekly contains a profile of me:
Cultural critic Terry Teachout first heard jazz legend Louis Armstrong around 1964 when, as a boy in rural Sikeston, Mo., he was summoned by his mother to watch Armstrong sing “Hello, Dolly” on The Ed Sullivan Show. Most kids would have balked. Not Teachout.
“I was thrilled,” Teachout says, relaxing in a padded chair in his compact, art-lined Upper West Side Manhattan apartment. “He, from that moment on, became an important part of my life.”
Teachout went on to become a jazz musician himself, playing bass in different combos before shifting careers to writing. Best-known as the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, Teachout is also the author of The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (HarperCollins, 2002), among other works. And come December 2, he’ll add Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Teachout recalls, while on tour promoting The Skeptic, returning to his hotel and flopping, exhausted, onto the bed. “I’m lying there looking at the ceiling,” he says, “and it was really just like a bolt of lightning hit me on the forehead–Armstrong!”
The bolt wasn’t quite out of the blue. Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives in Queens, had planted the seed earlier when he told Teachout about a remarkable and newly available treasure trove. Armstrong, it turned out, had been an avid home tape-recording buff. And the archives had recently converted his collection of some 650 fragile tapes into listenable CDs.
“I am the first biographer ever to have had access to them,” Teachout says…