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"Pops": Can you put music into words?

I admit that I'm not the biggest fan of e-books and mutant offspring such as the vook. But if ever the concept made sense, it is with the book I'm reading: "Pops," a new biography of Louis Armstrong.

Author Terry Teachout, a Wall Street Journal drama critic who also happens to be a trained musician, does an admirable job explaining Armstrong's personality and his place in the pantheon of jazz gods. But what am I (who has never played anything but the radio) to make of this stylistic description: Armstrong "plays two solo choruses, both of which begin with a raggy arpeggiated figure ... . The first chorus, however, ends with a sharp upward rip, the second with quarter-note triplets that float freely and excitingly above the steady 4/4 beat, a pair of devices soon to be recognized by musicians everywhere as Armstrong trademarks."

You might as well try to describe a vivid sunset to a blind person. The book had me scurrying to YouTube and other websites for examples of Armstrong's sound (at least there is a YouTube to scurry to). And it brought into sharp relief the shortcomings of the printed word.

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Great authors can trigger emotions with words. Stephenie Meyer, for all her shortcomings as a writer, has found a huge audience for the Twilight series because she makes readers recall the feeling of that first, innocent love. But putting music into words -- whether it's Armstrong's jazz, Eric Clapton's blues or Aretha Franklin's soul -- is much, much tougher.

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