When Ricky Riccardi was growing up in Toms River, N.J., in the 1990s, most kids his age were digging George Michael or A Tribe Called Quest. Riccardi, meanwhile, was into classic Motown and vintage movies from Hollywood’s golden era. Then one day in 1995 at the age of 15, he discovered Louis Armstrong.
He became mesmerized and slightly obsessed. He devoured everything he could get his hands on about the famed New Orleans jazz musician.
Riccardi went on to earn a master’s degree in jazz history and research from Rutgers University in 2005, and he became director of research collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in the Corona neighbourhood of Queens in New York, the home where Armstrong spent his final years. Riccardi also teaches a graduate course on the celebrated trumpeter.
In his most recent book, Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong, Ricky Riccardi chronicles the life and work of Louis Armstrong, who was one of America’s most popular entertainers as well as one of its most influential musical innovators. The book covers Armstrong from 1929 to 1947, a pivotal period in Armstrong’s career during which he moved from Chicago to New York and slowly transformed into a singer of popular standards. During that time, he also had to deal with severe lip injuries, marital discord, a scandalous arrest for marijuana possession in 1930, and racist reviewers — not to mention a hair-raising confrontation with mob-connected managers.
Heart Full of Rhythm is the followup to Riccardi’s first book What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years, published in 2011. That book covered the last 25 years of Armstrong’s life, including his outspoken stance on the civil rights movement after years of being accused of remaining silent on the matter.
Recently, Mosaic Records released The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia & RCA Victor Studio Sessions 1946-66, a seven-CD boxed set that goes above and beyond in telling the stories behind the music, including an extremely in-depth 30,000-word essay by Ricky Riccardi.
Riccardi joined us to tell us more about the rich legacy of Louis Armstrong.