Last post I mentioned that I went to the Louis Armstrong House Museum with Louis’s handkerchiefs on my mind. Just as important, I hoped to meet Ricky Riccardi. I’d found his blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong, soon after I started mine. Riccardi’s knowledge of Armstrong’s music and life is awesome; actually, it’s intimidating.
A few weeks ago an Amazon ad popped up at the top of his site, What a Wonderful World, Ricky Riccardi. I checked, due out in June. Reading his About Me I learned he’s Project Archivist at LAHM, so I suspected I might run into him. He’s not named on the website and wondered if he worked sequestered in the nether regions never to surface in the reading room.
As it turned out, the Project Archivist’s office is right around the corner. Riccardi introduced himself soon after I arrived. I volunteered that I’d learned much about Armstrong’s music through reading his blog and asked if we might talk later. He agreed and appeared a few hours later. Only thirty, Riccardi, is a fount of knowledge not only on Armstrong but jazz in general. Knowing his graduate degree was from Rutgers’s Institute of Jazz Studies, I wondered what came first, jazz or Louis Armstrong.
“When I was fifteen, I saw The Glenn Miller Story. Hearing “Basin Street Blues” really knocked me out. My mom introduced me to Louis Armstrong’s Sixteen Most Requested Songs and that was it. I was completely hooked. I found Gary Giddins’s Satchmo and that started my journey.”
Riccardi is a fine storyteller, enlivening endless threads from Armstrong’s life into firm fabric. His charm is his humility and complete devotion to Louis Armstrong. Of course, to the maker the trail is not quick or ordained. His thesis on Armstrong at first did not provide much of a lead. After he graduated from Rutgers in 2005 his mentors encouraged him to publish a book on Armstrong’s later years, even helping Riccardi find an agent. He sent his manuscript around for the better part of a year to all the likely publishing firms and received the likely results, a tally of rejections.
Rejection drives one to assessment if not resignation. Riccardi decided to try a new public; he published his first blog post on 07/07/2007. Taking his cue from the random nature of Shuffle, he chose, investigated and wrote about the first song that came up each day.
What’s so wonderful about RR’s blog What a Wonderful World is the depth he dives to tie together the many strands on each song. Because Armstrong recorded his favorites dozens of times following the trail demands arduous research. Riccardi’s gift is that dry discography morphs into an interesting read.
Still, it’s not easy to entice readers to one’s blog even if the subject is Louis Armstrong. I ask Riccardi, “Are they out there waiting for this news?”
“Just as you’d think, nothing happened. I’d write and wait. No one was reading it far as I could tell. Then one day, about for six months later, an email arrived from Sweden. Then a few more responses from Sweden. This spread quickly to a number of responses from other parts of Europe. I realized the Armstrong audience is greater outside the U.S. than within. Given his incredible presence as Ambassador Satch, this is not hard to understand.”
In 2008 RR was invited to the 8th Annual New Orleans Summer Fest celebration of Louis Armstrong’s birthday on August 4. He delivered the same talk three times, the first time to eight people and the last to full audience. He also rewrote his book proposal and sent it around again. This time within a matter of weeks, Pantheon Press, Random House signed him for What a Wonderful World, Armstrong’s last twenty-five years.
On February 8 Riccardi gave a talk at the LAHM titled “Black and Blue”: Louis Armstrong and Race. Drawn from Armstrong’s recorded tapes (thousands of hours of listening) Riccardi assembled a fleshed out account that affirms Armstrong’s consistency on this issue. Almost everyone knows his position on Little Rock, but very few know the many times he spoke out. Riccardi’s talk is well worth listening to. He’s posted it on his blog, about seven YouTube clips filled with quotes from the tapes. Riccardi frames Louis’s comments in the historical context establishing how often Armstrong was among few blacks to take a stand at the height of controversy.