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Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism Hardcover – February 3, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (February 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065824
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Jazz fans have been blessed in 2013 with two exceptional biographies, Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning (the first volume in his life of Charlie Parker) and Terry Teachout’s Duke. That pair is now joined by Brothers’ monumental follow-up to Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans (2006). The focus here is on Armstrong’s most fertile period as an instrumental and vocal innovator—in Brothers’ convincing argument, a modernist—from his youthful arrival in Chicago in 1922 to join Joe “King” Oliver through the years of the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (culminating, sadly, with the degrading movies of the early 1930s). The strong emphasis, properly, is on the music, with Armstrong’s personal life (his marriage, his eccentricities, his marijuana use) handled only superficially. This is an enormously rich, if sometimes difficult, biography, and it delivers a remarkably clear and knowing discussion of a new musical form rooted in African music and the blues. Although his book is not for those unfamiliar with jazz, Brothers does note, after a particularly dense explication, that “the listener does not need this all spelled out . . . for the ear will recognize it effortlessly and unconsciously.” True, but this biography provides an illuminating accompaniment. There has been much written on Armstrong, but Brothers’ work, covering an astonishingly creative decade, is comprehensive and firmly grounded in musicology and in the racial and cultural climate of the 1920s. It is voluminously researched, compellingly written, and supported by a valuable discography and bibliography. A bravura accomplishment, soon to be followed, one hopes, by a third volume covering Armstrong’s role in midcentury popular music. --Mark Levine

Review

“Brothers proves his thesis and then some…an encyclopedic authority.” (C.W. Mahoney - American Spectator)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Modell on April 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This extensive and thoughtful book has clearly been a labor of love for its author (a professor of music at Duke University) and both the tightness of its structure and the precision and clarity of its writing reflect this. The book has three fundamental components, quite successfully bound together and mutually supportive. The first of these is a musicologicaly-informed biography of Louis Armstrong himself, roughly in the decade and a half after he left New Orleans for Chicago, and during which both his career and his creativity rose remarkably. The second is a remarkably detailed work of historical research on the evolving entertainment industry over this period, both in music and other entertainments, both local and national, both black and white. The third is a historically-situated account of the extent and implications of racial exclusion of blacks by American whites and of the range of black responses to this continuing inequity.

The interweaving of the three elements of the book strengthens each, and, for me, conduces powerfully to a deepened love of Armstrong's music, which music has given joy to me for much of my life. I have long been put off by the often-criticized careerist accomodations Armstrong made to white racial dominance, but thanks to Brothers' work, my widened understanding, both of the social context of the business in which Armstrong worked and the way this gave him and many musicians of his generation a particular operational meaning to being black, has led me to step back and be less dismissive.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David C. Greer on May 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In volume two of his biography of Louis we are treated to a day-by-day walk through and evaluation of the career of the greatest musical genius of the 20th century starting at the moment he was summoned from New Orleans to Chicago by King Oliver. Lots of detailed information that every jazz lover should know.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Barbonestreet on March 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
When Louis Armstrong arrived in Chicago in 1922, he was virtually, an unknown musician. Yet a scant ten years later, he was well known by both black and white audiences and routinely billed as “Louis Armstrong Master of Modernism and Creator of His Own Song Style”. Thomas Brothers, in his book “Louis Armstrong Master of Modernism”, describes those ten years, both historically and musically, as they related to Armstrong’s genius as a trumpeter and vocalist who shaped the way jazz was played then and would be played in the future.

I saw the book a couple of weeks ago and thought, “Who needs another book on Armstrong?” But being an Armstrong devotee, I bought it. In my opinion, every jazz musician should read it. And while the many references to chord structure, harmony, rhythm, and intervals might be difficult reading for non-musicians, fans of Louis will be able to more readily appreciate how hard Louis worked to accomplish his goals.

Brothers describes how Armstrong first played the collective improvisational music of New Orleans in black vernacular, for black audiences. His early Hot 5 / 7 recordings were those of a pick-up band aimed at black audiences. Even as later 5 / 7 recordings improved musically, being race records, they went largely unheard by most whites at the time. How then would he realize his ambition of reaching the mass white audience?

Brothers skillfully answers that question as he weaves the incredible story of how an uneducated black man developed his music in a way that brought him fame, fortune and the respect of millions of people around the world.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dave on March 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We could not get a more detailed, thorough and scholarly study of the development of Louis Armstrong's musical abilities, especially during this - the most creative phase of his musical life.

Once having absorbed the author's carefully-built argument it is easy to understand the breadth and depth of Louis' influence on Western popular music, let alone his influence on jazz.

This volume will stand the test of time for decades to come, taking its rightful place among the canon of books about Louis.

Hats off to Dr. Brothers. Five stars!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Improviz on June 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It started a little slowly, but the book picked up steam as it began to put out a great amount of information about characters apart from Armstrong who were important in their own right and also as context for the rise of Armstrong. Depending on how widely and or deeply you've read, this will be a source that can fill in a lot of gaps in your knowledge.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By janetex on March 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Brothers obviously feels he knows Louis Armstrong better than Louis Armstrong knew himself, since so much of what Brothers' writes contradicts Louis Armstrong's own thoughts, feelings and experiences as written by the man himself. Many of Brothers' comments and depictions of Armstrong's contemporaries such as Hoagy Carmichael and Mezz Mezzrow indicate that he never bothered to read their autobiographies either and his completely unsubstantiated comments about Bix Biederbecke are scurrilous. Sadly you can read this entire book and come away without any feeling at all for who Louis Armstrong was.
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Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism
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