Just for a Thrill: Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady of Jazz

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9780815411956: Just for a Thrill: Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady of Jazz
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"Hot Miss Lil" Hardin was the star pianist of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band when, in 1922, a trumpet player named Louis Armstrong joined the band in Chicago. The educated and polished Hardin was decidedly unimpressed with Armstrong's lack of sophistication, yet she recognized a wealth of untapped potential in the shy young trumpeter. Over the course of the next few years, Hardin taught Louis how to read music, urged him to take the spotlight, and eventually became his second wife. Encouraging his own natural talent, Lil Hardin Armstrong helped turn Louis Armstrong from a gifted second coronet into a jazz legend.

In Just for a Thrill, biographer James Dickerson tells Lil's remarkable story, from her childhood in Memphis with a mother who beat her for playing 'the devil's music,' to her death onstage during a memorial jazz concert for Louis in 1971. Her marriage to Louis and the musical innovations that came from their years as jazz's first power couple forms the centerpiece of Lil's story. Their divorce, according to Dickerson, was a blow from which Lil never recovered.

Dickerson guides readers through the underworld of jazz's past, when Memphis's red light district and mob clubs in Chicago were among the only places jazz musicians could perform, and when, despite Lil's warnings, Louis took on gangsters as business partners. His account of Lil's years with Louis recalls the landmark recordings they made together, the career lows that followed the highs, and Lil's commitment to free Louis from the poverty and racism that he never thought he could escape.

A prolific songwriter, an energetic recording artist, and an exemplary entertainer, Lil Hardin Armstrong has been overlooked for decades. Dickerson's book sets the record straight, revisiting the triumphs and heartbreaks of her life and calling overdue attention to her remarkable contributions to American music.

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About the Author:

James L. Dickerson is the author of Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley's Eccentric Manager and Goin' Back to Memphis: A Century of Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, and Glorious Soul (both available from Cooper Square Press) in addition to Dixie Chicks: Down-Home and Backstage. He is also the co-author of That's Alright, Elvis: The Untold Story of Elvis' First Guitarist and Manager, Scotty Moore. He lives near Jackson, Mississippi.

From Publishers Weekly:

Dickerson (Goin' Back to Memphis) highlights jazz pianist Hardin's considerable but largely forgotten legacy in this well-meaning, meandering account of the "most important woman in jazz history." Hardin (1898-1971), who was playing with Joe Oliver's prestigious King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band by 21, was an accomplished performer, a prolific composer and, by arranging, composing and playing on the bulk of Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings, was largely responsible for history's first jazz records. The Hot Fives, in fact, were Hardin's creation, though she opted to promote them under Armstrong's name. Dickerson notes these achievements and others (Hardin held two advanced degrees in music, designed clothing and made the transition to swing vocalist and band leader), but devotes considerable attention to Hardin's once husband and music partner Armstrong; the bulk of the book is devoted to the years Hardin lived and worked with him. While the author is long on praise for Armstrong's playing, his underwhelming descriptions of Hardin's efforts ("steady and squared") seem afterthoughts, and he follows Armstrong's adventures even after their divorce, with just a note or two about developments in Hardin's life. Though intended to provide context, jarring detours like a rundown on Al Capone's mob scene serve only to emphasize the paucity of information about Hardin. In a postscript that may account for the book's distance from its subject, Dickerson explains that after Hardin's death, "vultures" made off with her personal effects, including letters, photos and the manuscript for her autobiography.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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