Graphic Novel Review: Louis Armstrong Jazz Legend

When I was a music major in college (yep, for one year), all roads in our jazz music history class rightly went through the life story of Satchmo, or Louis Armstrong. While there were many before him (Sidney Bechet, for example) who nurtured the concept of jazz before it became mainstream, it was Armstrong nearly alone who rode the wave of popularity of jazz and gave it both an inventive and popular culture twist — in concerts, on records, in movies.

And on street corners.

This graphic novel biography — Louis Armstrong: Jazz Legend — tells a condensed life story of the legendary Armstrong, from his roots in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Orleans where some gun play lands him in a youth detention center where he first learns to play music, to his scramble to find enough coins to buy his first horn, to his band work with renowned leader Big Joe Oliver, to singing Hello Dolly as a surprise hit (he didn’t like the song all that much and sang it as a toss-away song) on the big screen. The narrative tone of this graphic novel (aimed at elementary students) is Armstrong’s own voice, told through a short history he wrote while recuperating in a hospital bed.

The pace of the book is quick, moving from one event to another like a riff, and as always with Capstone Press graphic books, there is a solid glossary at the back with musical terminology and a text version of Armstrong’s life, as well as some additional website links that readers can follow to learn more about Satchmo (called that because he had a large mouth and was nicknamed Satchel Mouth, before shortened to Satchmo) and his impact on popular music and jazz.

I wasn’t all that keen on the illustrations in this book, but I get that the artist was trying to capture the free jazz style of Armstrong in the drawings. I found them a bit too rudimentary, and green-washed, for my own liking.

Peace (in the story of jazz),


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