In an interview originally published on Jerry Jazz Musician in 2014, Louis Armstrong biographer Thomas Brothers talks about his second volume devoted to the most eminent jazz musician’s life, Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. […] Continue reading »
Breaking into the white market without losing his African-American vernacular identity was an amazing achievement for Louis Armstrong — particularly during his era. I talk about this in an excerpt from my recent interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Louis Armstrong: Master Of Modernism.
JJM In the winter of 1925 – 26, while making a name for himself at classy venues like the Dreamland Café and the Vendome Theater, Armstrong was also extending his reputation thanks to the Hot Five series on OKeh Records. The recordings sold in Chicago, but the main target audience was African Americans in the Deep South, where “race records” were immensely popular. What was OKeh’s marketing strategy for this series?
TB Yes, they certainly sold in Chicago, and they sold in all northern cities where there were African-American communities from the Great Migration. The target of these “race records” was of course to appeal to the African-American mass audience, and to do so in a low-budget way. They were not interested in paying musicians any royalties – they would get a flat fee […] Continue reading »
In Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, 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.
Brothers discusses his book with Jerry Jazz Musician publisher Joe Maita in an April, 2014 interview. […] Continue reading »
A week or so ago I had the privilege of interviewing Thomas Brothers, the eminent Louis Armstrong scholar whose recently published Master of Modernism focuses on Armstrong’s most creative and essential era, beginning with the time he left New Orleans for Chicago in 1922, and ending with his experience in Hollywood in 1932.
What follows is a very brief exchange about new resources Brothers used for this book… […] Continue reading »
In “Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, author Thomas Brothers writes about Armstrong’s early fascination with marijuana — an interest that began in Chicago, 1928, while playing the Savoy Ballroom. This interest led to a marijuana possession arrest on November 13, 1930 in the parking lot of Los Angeles’ Cotton Club. “Armstrong was allowed to finish out his night work before they hauled him off to jail around 3:00 A.M.,” Brothers writes.
The following book excerpt begins with a rather humorous transcript from his trial, and then […] Continue reading »
On the heels of terrific books on Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington comes Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism, author and Duke University Music Professor Thomas Brothers’ follow-up to his revered Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans.
In the book’s introduction, Brothers reports that his book picks up where Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans left off, with Armstrong’s 1922 Chicago arrival, and ends ten years later. He writes, “My main thesis is that the success of this nimble-minded musician depended on his ability to skillfully negotiate the musical and social legacies of slavery. Indeed, his career can be understood as a response to these interlocking trajectories.” I have just begun reading it and have been taken in by “Welcome to Chicago,” the book’s first chapter that tells the story of what Armstrong would have seen as he entered Lincoln Gardens for the first time in August, 1922; for example, the racially inflected floor show whose “centerpiece of the presentation is a row of light-skinned dancing girls;” dancing couples in an environment where “correct dancing is insisted upon” (to keep immorality charges at bay); and the local white musicians — “alligators” — described as “the little white boys…motivated to learn the music and cash in.”
I had the privilege of interviewing Thomas Brothers following the publication of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, and he has accepted my invitation for an interview about his new book. It is […] Continue reading »
New Orleans at the turn of the twentieth century was a complicated city, a rough and beautiful place bursting with energy and excitement. It was a city marked by racial tensions, where the volatile interactions between blacks and whites were further confounded by a substantial Creole population. Yet it was also a city of fervent religious beliefs, where salvation manifested itself in a number of ways. Perhaps abolve all else, New Orleans was a city of music: funeral bands marched through the streets; professional musicians played the popular tunes of the day in dance halls and cabarets; sanctified parishioners raised church roofs with their impassioned voices; and early blues musicians moaned their troubles on street corners and in honky-tonks, late into the night. […] Continue reading »