Interview with Thomas Brothers, author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington and the Magic of Collaboration

In Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration, Duke University musicologist Thomas Brothers – author of two essential studies of Louis Armstrong – tells a fascinating account of how creative cooperation inspired two of the world’s most celebrated groups.

The following interview with Mr. Brothers about his book — hosted and produced by Jerry Jazz Musician. publisher Joe Maita — was conducted on December 10, 2018.

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February 5th, 2019

Reminiscing in Tempo: “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s?”

Photo William Gottlieb Charlie Parker is frequently found on the lists of noted critics and musicians answering the question, “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz record recordings of the 1940’s?” __________ “Reminiscing in Tempo” is part of a continuing effort to provide Jerry Jazz Musician readers with unique forms of “edu-tainment.” As … Continue reading “Reminiscing in Tempo: “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s?””

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December 4th, 2018

Louis Armstrong – the genesis of his “crossover” appeal

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.

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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

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June 25th, 2014

Interview with Thomas Brothers — author of Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism

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.

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June 15th, 2014

Louis Armstrong and “Gage”

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

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March 25th, 2014

Book excerpt from Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, by Thomas Brothers

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

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March 7th, 2014

Thomas Brothers, author of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans

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.

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June 12th, 2006

In this Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Book Excerpt

The introduction to John Burnside's The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century – excerpted here in its entirety with the gracious consent of Princeton University Press – is the author's fascinating observation concerning the idea of how poets respond to what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam called “the noise of time,” weaving it into a kind of music.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Poetry

photo by Brian McMillen
"Our Father, Who Art McCoy Tyner" -- a poem by John Stupp

Art

"Out West, Thinking About Miles Davis," by Charles Ingham
Ingham’s “Jazz Narratives” connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition’s narratives are “"Exactly Where She Is Supposed to Be," "In Memory of Clora Bryant, Standing Outside the Downbeat,” and “Out West, Thinking About Miles Davis”

Book Excerpt

A ten page excerpt from The Letters of Cole Porter by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh that features correspondence in the time frame of June to August, 1953, including those Porter had with George Byron (the man who married Jerome Kern’s widow), fellow writer Abe Burrows, Noel Coward, his secretary Madeline P. Smith, close friend Sam Stark, and his lawyer John Wharton.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Jazz History Quiz #134

Photo by Brian McMillen/Brian McMillen Photography
Influenced by Charlie Parker and Phil Woods (pictured), before forming his own group this alto player got his start in Buddy Rich’s Big Band, and shortly thereafter played with Lionel Hampton. While leading his own band, he was famous for playing bebop covers of songs such as “The I Love Lucy Theme,” “Come Fly With Me,” and “Hooray for Hollywood,” and often performed with singer Eddie Jefferson. Who is he?

Book Excerpt

This story, excerpted from Irving Berlin: New York Genius by James Kaplan, describes how Berlin came to write his first major hit song, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and speaks to its historic musical and cultural significance.

Community

News about the poet Arlene Corwin

Photography

photo of Stephane Grappelli by Veryl Oakland
Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light” — photos (and stories) of violinists Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, Zbigniew Seifert, and Leroy Jenkins

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music, author Gerald Horne writes about the severe cultural and economic obstacles jazz musicians have encountered since the music's inception

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In this edition, producer Helen Keane tells Michael Jarrett, author of Pressed For All Time: Producing the Great Jazz Albums about how the collaboration of Tony Bennett and Bill Evans began, culminating in the 1975 recording, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Every Soul is a Circus," by Dig Wayne

In the Previous Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

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