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Louis Armstrong's New Orleans
     

Louis Armstrong's New Orleans

by Thomas Brothers
 

"The best book ever produced about Louis Armstrong by anyone other than the man himself."—Terry Teachout, Commentary
In the early twentieth century, New Orleans was a place of colliding identities and histories, and Louis Armstrong was a gifted young man of psychological nimbleness. A dark-skinned, impoverished child, he grew up under low expectations, Jim

Overview

"The best book ever produced about Louis Armstrong by anyone other than the man himself."—Terry Teachout, Commentary
In the early twentieth century, New Orleans was a place of colliding identities and histories, and Louis Armstrong was a gifted young man of psychological nimbleness. A dark-skinned, impoverished child, he grew up under low expectations, Jim Crow legislation, and vigilante terrorism. Yet he also grew up at the center of African American vernacular traditions from the Deep South, learning the ecstatic music of the Sanctified Church, blues played by street musicians, and the plantation tradition of ragging a tune.Louis Armstrong's New Orleans interweaves a searching account of early twentieth-century New Orleans with a narrative of the first twenty-one years of Armstrong's life. Drawing on a stunning body of first-person accounts, this book tells the rags-to-riches tale of Armstrong's early life and the social and musical forces that shaped him. The city and the musician are both extraordinary, their relationship unique, and their impact on American culture incalculable.

Editorial Reviews

Jason Berry
Tensions between caste and color in New Orleans have drawn scrutiny in some jazz histories. Brothers has done the most thorough job yet of exploring the social distance between Armstrong's early years in Back of Town — the central city ghetto, once a swamp back of the plantation houses — and the world of the downtown Creoles, below Canal Street … this is superb history and a rocking good read.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this many-sided chronicle of Armstrong's early life, Brothers (Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words) paints a passionate, intimate picture of the teeming musical brew of early 20th-century New Orleans and how it was uniquely suited to nurture both jazz and Armstrong's exceptional musical talents. "Armstrong lived a childhood of poverty, on the margins of society, and this position put him right in the middle of the vernacular traditions that were fueling the new music of which he would eventually become one of the world's greatest masters," Brothers writes. As he shows in his erudite narrative, "Little Louis" was influenced by a number of local factors: the heterophonic singing in his mother's Sanctified church; the blues music of "rags-bottles-and-bones" men who played on three-foot-long tin horns; the sights he witnessed peeking into Funky Butt Hall, where "chicks would get way down, shake everything"; and the ubiquitous marching bands that provided music for parties, dances, parades and, famously, funerals. Brothers's contention that Armstrong was immersed in this vernacular music comes across more strongly than it does in other biographies. Armstrong's music, Brothers says, was "shaped by the complex social forces surrounding him," ranging from Jim Crow oppression to Creole separation. The integration of biography, musical history and cultural study make this a rich, satisfying and thought-provoking read. 16 pages of illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Brothers (music, Duke Univ.; Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings) examines the social context of trumpeter Louis Armstrong and early New Orleans jazz. The influence of outdoor parades and park concerts, the Sanctified Church, itinerant street musicians, and the influx of former slaves into the Crescent City from 1880 to 1910 all come into play, as does the importance of the decidedly male basis of jazz and the national ragtime craze. Throughout, Brothers interweaves the personal history of Armstrong, including his stay in the Colored Waifs Home for Boys and his work on riverboats with jazz pianist and bandleader Fate Marable. Describing New Orleans as a focal point of racial and social diversity, the author concludes that Armstrong succeeded as a musician by coupling the African traits of polyrhythms, call and response, and blues improvisation with the Eurocentric harmonies and melodies of the Creoles into an innovative style-jazz-that could be accepted by whites, well-heeled Creoles, and lower-class African Americans alike. This well-researched and -written study helps explain the genesis and popularity of both a seminal genre and a seminal musician. Recommended for music fans and social history scholars.-Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Booklist
“Starred Review. Place this book at the core of jazz and American culture collections, and don't expect it to be displaced—ever.”— Ray Olson
New York Times Book Review
“Superb history and a rocking good read.”— Jason Berry
Ray Olson - Booklist
“Starred Review. Place this book at the core of jazz and American culture collections, and don't expect it to be displaced—ever.”
Jason Berry - New York Times Book Review
“Superb history and a rocking good read.”
Roger Lewis - Daily Mail
“[Brothers’s] provocative case is wholly convincing.”
Tom Wilmeth - Express Milwaukee
“Examine[s] the music with the care it deserves.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393061093
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/03/2006
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(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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