Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism

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The definitive account of Louis Armstrong—his life and legacy—during the most creative period of his career.
Nearly 100 years after bursting onto Chicago’s music scene under the tutelage of Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong is recognized as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. A trumpet virtuoso, seductive crooner, and consummate entertainer, Armstrong laid the foundation for the future of jazz with his stylistic innovations, but his story would be ...

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Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism

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The definitive account of Louis Armstrong—his life and legacy—during the most creative period of his career.
Nearly 100 years after bursting onto Chicago’s music scene under the tutelage of Joe "King" Oliver, Louis Armstrong is recognized as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. A trumpet virtuoso, seductive crooner, and consummate entertainer, Armstrong laid the foundation for the future of jazz with his stylistic innovations, but his story would be incomplete without examining how he struggled in a society seething with brutally racist ideologies, laws, and practices.
Thomas Brothers picks up where he left off with the acclaimed Louis Armstrong's New Orleans, following the story of the great jazz musician into his most creatively fertile years in the 1920s and early 1930s, when Armstrong created not one but two modern musical styles. Brothers wields his own tremendous skill in making the connections between history and music accessible to everyone as Armstrong shucks and jives across the page. Through Brothers's expert ears and eyes we meet an Armstrong whose quickness and sureness, so evident in his performances, served him well in his encounters with racism while his music soared across the airwaves into homes all over America.Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism blends cultural history, musical scholarship, and personal accounts from Armstrong's contemporaries to reveal his enduring contributions to jazz and popular music at a time when he and his bandmates couldn’t count on food or even a friendly face on their travels across the country. Thomas Brothers combines an intimate knowledge of Armstrong's life with the boldness to examine his place in such a racially charged landscape. In vivid prose and with vibrant photographs, Brothers illuminates the life and work of the man many consider to be the greatest American musician of the twentieth century.

2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Biography

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this sprawling, somewhat bloated study, music historian Brothers picks up where his Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans leaves off, following Armstrong through his most formative decade, from 1922–1932. On Aug. 8, 1922, Armstrong boarded a train in New Orleans bound for Chicago to join King Oliver’s band and start over. Combining his love of blues with jazz, Armstrong developed both as a vocalist who understood harmony and as a strong trumpeter whose “command of tone, quick fingers, and high-note playing created a new melodic idiom” that set him apart from other musicians. Brothers conducts us on a journey with Armstrong as he builds a following in Chicago; marries his first wife, the pianist Lillian Harden; and moves away from Oliver’s band, creating his own distinct sound in the clubs of Harlem in New York City, making five “hot records,” including “Muskrat Ramble,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and “Heebie Jeebies.” Although Terry Teachout’s Pops remains the definitive biography of Armstrong, Brothers’s book shows how Armstrong achieved a sort of godlike status among black audiences while bridging the racial gap to attract white audiences with his singing. (Feb.)
C.W. Mahoney - American Spectator
“Brothers proves his thesis and then some…an encyclopedic authority.”
Gerald Early
“Thomas Brothers remains Armstrong's finest interpreter and chronicler.”
Brian Harker
“Astonishingly, this is the first close historical examination of Armstrong's formative years in the 1920s. Where other biographers have surveyed this terrain from 30,000 feet, Thomas Brothers takes his reader on an intimate walking tour, filled with knowledgeable and insightful commentary. A rich and rewarding read.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-28
The author of Louis Armstrong's New Orleans (2006) continues his stellar account of the great trumpeter's life (1901–1971), focusing on the 1920s and '30s. Brothers (Music/Duke Univ.), who has also edited a collection of Armstrong's prose (Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words, 1999), composes a multilayered work comprising biography, cultural and racial history, and musicology. The author begins in 1931 (Armstrong was on tour), showing us two principal themes that will reappear throughout the work: Armstrong's artistry and American racism. Brothers then takes us back to 1922 (Armstrong was on his way to Chicago and a new musical life) and marches steadily forward, more or less, to the 1930s, when Armstrong, a major musical star, participated in some degrading roles in motion pictures--performances that sullied his reputation. The author also examines Armstrong's complicated love life (he'd been married three times by book's end) and his fondness for marijuana (he smoked it throughout his adult life--spent some time in jail in 1931), his relationships with fellow musicians and managers and even the Chicago mob (Capone liked him). Brothers introduces us to Armstrong's musical mentors (King Oliver was a major one), takes us along on Armstrong's tours, into the OKeh recording studios (he eventually moved to RCA Victor), and describes the neighborhoods he lived in and the clubs he played. We learn about the advent of the microphone, the primitive recording conditions, the celebrity Armstrong earned from records--but even more from his radio appearances. We see Armstrong, the singer, the cornetist (and, later, trumpeter), the dancer, the comedian and the artist nonpareil (Brothers rhapsodizes about his technique, his upper range). The text becomes dense for general readers only when Brothers waxes analytical about particular songs, recordings and techniques. A masterful performance that displays the author's vast archival research, musical knowledge, familiarity with cultural history and profound sensitivity to America's vile racial history.
Loren Schoenberg
“Thomas Brothers has brought together startling new discoveries and insights, a fresh look at hallowed recordings, and an understanding of the multifold influences that helped shape Louis Armstrong. In so doing, he has written by far the most complete and original look at an American icon whose influence continues into its second century.”
Krin Gabbard
“I was so engaged in Tom Brothers's great storytelling that I did not always notice what a monumental achievement his book is.Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, I can recommend it to just about everybody.”
Scott DeVeaux
“Honest, uncompromising, and wholly sympathetic to its subject, Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism is the ideal for jazz biography and criticism.”
“Evokes the quick-fingered, megawatt-smiled music legend’s formative years, when he moved from New Orleans to Chicago and on to New York in pursuit of musical fame—and a style all his own.”
Financial Times
“Balances technical language with scene-setting context and colorful descriptive passages. . . . A rounded, rigorous, vivid portrait.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065824
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/3/2014
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 301,344
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Brothers is the author of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans and Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words. A professor of music at Duke University, he lives with his family in Durham, North Carolina.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    A great biography! Also try Hector's Juice!

    A great biography! Also try Hector's Juice!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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