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'Pops': Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words

Louis Armstrong performs with his All Stars in 1956. Terry Teachout's new biography of Armstrong is based in part on a cache of backstage and after-hours conversations that Armstrong recorded for himself.
Haywood Magee
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Louis Armstrong performs with his All Stars in 1956. Terry Teachout's new biography of Armstrong is based in part on a cache of backstage and after-hours conversations that Armstrong recorded for himself.

Jazz icon Louis Armstrong didn't just leave behind a treasure trove of musical recordings; he also documented hundreds of his private conversations on tape. Those recordings served as the basis for Terry Teachout's new biography of the legendary musician, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. Teachout recently spoke to host Neal Conan about his new book. Below, he offers five of his favorite musical moments from Armstrong's discography.

Now that I've published Pops, people are asking me which Louis Armstrong recordings I like best. That's a fearsomely tough call. The greatest jazz musician of all time started making records in 1923 and kept at it until 1970, a year before his death.

And he didn't play favorites.

"Ain't nobody played nothing like it since, and can't nobody play nothing like it now," he told an interviewer around the time that he recorded his last album. "My oldest record, can't nobody touch it. And if they say, 'Which record do you like the best?' I like them all, because I didn't hit no bad notes on any of them."

I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but there are precious few Armstrong records that aren't worth a listen, and dozens (note the plural) that are imperishable masterpieces. If I had to choose five without which I wouldn't want to live, these would rank high among the top contenders.

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Terry Teachout