Ricky Riccardi – Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong


Title: Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong
Author: Ricky Riccardi
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle
Release date: September 2020


Heart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong is the second biography of the famous trumpeter from Louis Armstrong scholar and enthusiast Ricky Riccardi. Where Riccardi’s first biography focused on Armstrong’s later years, Heart Full of Rhythm paints a portrait of Louis Armstrong as a popular performer in the years between 1929 and 1947.

Chronologically organized, Riccardi’s eminently readable biography offers insight into Armstrong’s career in America and Europe. Drawing heavily from primary sources, the book delves into performance runs, recording sessions, Armstrong’s personal life, both good and bad reviews, and run-ins with the law. The extensive research displayed throughout the volume comes as no surprise as Riccardi serves as Director of Research Collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

One of the strengths of this book is the balance between biographical context and musical analysis, making it accessible to both casual and academic readers. Details of business and personal relationships illuminate musical choices, and written descriptions of the music Armstrong recorded invite the reader to seek out the recordings.

Heart Full of Rhythm fills in some gaps of Louis Armstrong’s middle years, after the impact of his Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions of the mid-1920s and before the small-group work of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars came on the scene at the end of the 1940s. Ricky Riccardi’s knowledge and delight in all things Armstrong shines throughout this book, making it a joy to read. 

Reviewed by Anna Hinkley