Thomas Brothers | Quail Ridge Books | Page: Readings & Signings | Indy Week
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Thomas Brothers 

When: Sun., Feb. 9, 3 p.m. 2014
In the beginning, Louis Armstrong is on a northbound train, leaving his hometown of New Orleans for the bright lights and brighter possibilities of Chicago. It is 1922, and he's a 21-year-old trumpeter, pulled in by the magnetic Great Migration. But Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism does not begin in media res so much as it picks up where the last volume by Duke music professor Thomas Brothers left off—with Armstrong in New Orleans, a kid skipping school to march alongside parade and funeral bands and apprentice with Joe "King" Oliver.

Master of Modernism works through the recordings and realities of Armstrong's career, which began in earnest after his arrival in post-war Chicago. This is Brothers' third book on Armstrong (the first was a posthumous autobiography of sorts, revealing Satchmo in his own writings and words), so he's certainly an advocate of his work, equating its influence to that of Shostakovich and the Beatles. More important than broad claims, though, is the wide-lens way Brothers sees Armstrong's work and life: He combines detailed biographical research with stringent recording analysis and a broad musicological understanding of jazz, its forebears and its successors. Brothers also supplies an unflinching awareness to the race relations that shaped the industry and America in which Armstrong worked. "Given the strong associations between race and culture in the 1920s," he writes, "Armstrong's musical practice cannot be separated from the story of race." —Grayson Haver Currin

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