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Trumpet around the Corner

Trumpet around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Trumpet around the Corner
    Book Description:

    Samuel Charters has been studying and writing about New Orleans music for more than fifty years.A Trumpet around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazzis the first book to tell the entire story of a century of jazz in New Orleans. Although there is still controversy over the racial origins and cultural sources of New Orleans jazz, Charters provides a balanced assessment of the role played by all three of the city's musical lineages--African American, white, and Creole--in jazz's formative years. Charters also maps the inroads blazed by the city's Italian immigrant musicians, who left their own imprint on the emerging styles.

    The study is based on the author's own interviews, begun in the 1950s, on the extensive material gathered by the Oral History Project in New Orleans, on the recent scholarship of a new generation of writers, and on an exhaustive examination of related newspaper files from the jazz era. The book extends the study area of his earlier bookJazz: New Orleans, 1885-1957, and breaks new ground with its in-depth discussion of the earliest New Orleans recordings.A Trumpet around the Cornerfor the first time brings the story up to the present, describing the worldwide interest in the New Orleans jazz revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and the exciting resurgence of the brass bands of the last decades. The book discusses the renewed concern over New Orleans's musical heritage, which is at great risk after the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters.

    Samuel Charters, eminent historian of jazz and blues music, is author of the award-winningThe Roots of the Bluesand numerous other titles. A resident of Storrs, Connecticut, and Stockholm, Sweden, he is also a Grammy-winning record producer, musician, poet, and fiction writer and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1994.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-318-1
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
    Samuel Charters
  4. Counting Off the Beat: An Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    If it seems difficult now in the flood of music that fills the air today to understand how someone like myself as a teenager could have become obsessively drawn to traditional New Orleans jazz, it is important to remember that in the late 1940s, if I looked for something beyond the expected assurances of the popular music of those years, jazz was the only alternative I had to turn to. The swing bands that had emerged from the first jazz era of the 1920s had already become elaborate stage presentations, which featured more romantic vocals than instrumental improvisation. The blues...

  5. 1 A City like No Other
    (pp. 9-22)

    It was a Frenchman who led the first European journey down the river, and who was the first to drift in an unsteady bark canoe past the bend in its current that became New Orleans. The leader of the small party, Rene-Robert Cavelier, sieur de la Salle, was a French entrepreneur—a fur merchant—who had floated the thousands of miles down the river in an effort to find a more economical way to ship his furs from the forests of the northern river valley to Europe. On March 31, 1682, they stopped at a village of the Tangipahoa tribe,...

  6. 2 People, Faces
    (pp. 23-42)

    New Orleans was an exotic destination for most of the United States in these antebellum decades, but with the vagaries of transportation it also spent most of the nineteenth century, as far as much of the United States was concerned, as the destination at the end of a tedious journey. It was at the end of the Mississippi River, or at the end of the railroads that snaked over the southern fields of the Black Belt southwest from Atlanta, or at the end of the new railroad lines that straddled earth levees through the Mississippi delta south from Chicago. For...

  7. 3 A Society to Itself
    (pp. 43-63)

    In the Sunday morning edition of theDaily Picayuneon May 15, 1910, there was an advertisement for “An Unusually Important MUSIC SALE” by D. H. Holmes Co., one of New Orleans’s biggest music retailers. On Monday they were offering all of their best selling sheet music at ten cents a copy, with an additional five hundred titles of “Odds and Ends” at five cents a copy. To emphasize that this was their best-selling merchandise, they assured readers—in large letters—that the sale would include “the Big Song Hit ‘MOTHER’ The song adopted by the National Congress of Mothers.”...

  8. 4 Papa Jack’s Boys
    (pp. 64-78)

    Exchange Alley is still there, off of Canal Street. It’s more of a commercial thoroughfare than it is an alley, since it’s wide and the buildings along it are part of what was the old business district. It doesn’t have traffic and doesn’t go very far, only from Canal to Conti Street, between Royal and Chartres. In the years before World War I it had a mix of saloons where customers could work on the free lunch while they drank their beer, smoked, and let the time go by on the hot afternoons. You can still buy lunch along its...

  9. 5 The Other Side of Town
    (pp. 79-96)

    It wasn’t far to walk from the French Quarter across Canal Street to the other New Orleans world of the Uptown neighborhoods: a few blocks down Burgundy or Rampart Street to Canal, then on along Rampart to Gravier and Poydras, and a few more blocks north to Liberty. The buildings on the Uptown streets didn’t look like the rows of old Spanish buildings lining the streets of the French Quarter, but they had their own lines of wooden houses, like the streets around St. Claude and Governor Nicholls where many of the old Creole families lived on the other side...

  10. 6 On the Circuit
    (pp. 97-110)

    In New Orleans there was a looser interpretation of questions of racial identity, because the city was accustomed to the designation of Creoles of Color, which implied some acceptance of racial mixing. New Orleans, however was a Southern city, and on virtually every other level it accepted the racial attitudes of the rest of the South. In the years before World War I, white Southerners, and to a greater or lesser degree most Americans, had very decided views about what they wanted African Americans to do for them. They wanted them to do jobs like cleaning the streets, taking care...

  11. 7 “Jass”
    (pp. 111-125)

    It might have taken a little longer to get to New Orleans than it did to get to other cities, but every kind of popular entertainment that was on the road in the United States made its way to the city some time or other. As well as the shows and vaudeville acts and touring concert bands, it sometimes seemed as though there were as many touring musicians and entertainers in and out of town as there were bands and singers in New Orleans itself. It was this informal network of traveling performers who spread the word of the New...

  12. 8 The First Sensational Musical Novelty of 1917!
    (pp. 126-140)

    In a letter to critic Leonard Feather in 1959, Nick La Rocca blustered, “Many of the so-called historians pass on me as if I never existed, and the ones who do write about me have twisted . . . history.”² Of all the anomalies of jazz history, one of the most problematic is the difficulty of many writers to deal with La Rocca and the Original Dixieland Jass Band. He may not have been “The most lied about person in history since Jesus Christ,” as he railed in another letter, but the insistence on the part of many modern critics...

  13. 9 Some Record!
    (pp. 141-157)

    Only two days after their opening at Reisenweber’s on Saturday night, January 27, 1917, the first record company was already showing an interest in the Original Dixieland Jass Band and their new dance music. A letter dated January 29, delivered to “Jass Band, c/o Reisenweber’s Restaurant, 58th Street and Columbus Circle, New York City,”¹ said that the band should call on an executive of the Columbia Graphophone Company “. . . to discuss a matter which may prove of mutual benefit and interest.” The letter was signed by A. E. Donovan, the manager of Columbia’s record departments at 59th Street...

  14. 10 Southern Stomps
    (pp. 158-179)

    When the New Orleans musicians began to scatter out of the city, they sometimes found that their casual habits of making music didn’t make much of an impression on the new audiences they encountered. Sitting uncomfortably in their new tuxedos on a bandstand in St. Louis, or trying to keep up with a busy arrangement to accompany a cabaret floor show in Memphis, they were in somebody else’s neighborhood, and they had to fit themselves into the new situation. Many of them soon realized that they needed some kind of halfway house that would let them work with the lyric...

  15. 11 Rhythm Kings
    (pp. 180-200)

    Back in New York, at the height of the excitement over their music in the spring of 1919, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band did the one thing that a band that has scrambled to the top of the commercial heap is not supposed to do. They left. When they returned a year later, so much had changed in their world that there was no way they could find their footing again, though for the first months they continued to ride their crest of popularity. In part what had happened was almost inevitable. Their first single had been released in March...

  16. 12 Mister Jelly
    (pp. 201-219)

    Once the New Orleans musicians began traveling, the easiest place to find many of the city’s best artists was almost anywhere else, since that’s where they found jobs. These were the traveling days of New Orleans jazz, and the story of the music has to be told in part through the stories of the musicians who were on the road. The sound of much of their music also has to be traced out on the road, where many of them recorded. Only a handful had an opportunity to record in their hometown. Like most smaller American cities, New Orleans didn’t...

  17. 13 Bouncing Around
    (pp. 220-237)

    With the economic boom in the United States of the 1920s, many people seemed to have more of everything, or at least many people suddenly became potential customers for almost everything. With new audiences ready to dance to the current rhythms, within a few years the music of New Orleans’s black musicians found its way into record stores everywhere and onto mail-order lists in newspapers like the ChicagoDefender. The New Orleans artists whose music was recorded—and preserved—came from a broad spectrum of the city’s black musicians. The recordings themselves were made from one end of the continent...

  18. 14 Out to the Halfway House
    (pp. 238-257)

    The look of the places that New Orleanians went to dance changed in the 1920s. Instead of a saloon with dancing in a back room, or an amateurishly decorated one-story wooden hall in the middle of the next block that was hired for lodge meetings, political rallies, and neighborhood dances, some of the most popular jazz for dancing moved out of town. One of the busiest new dance places, the Halfway House Restaurant looked in photographs a lot like any other of the new wooden buildings that were edging out into what was then the outskirts of New Orleans, though...

  19. 15 Kings of New Orleans
    (pp. 258-272)

    The 1920s answered many of the lingering questions about the first emerging sounds of New Orleans jazz, because there were now recordings—some of them documents of what the first generation of musicians might have sounded like. But a handful of names, some celebrated musicians, remain elusive. If Buddy (or Buddie) Petit (pronounced New Orleans–style, Peh-TEET) hadn’t liked his red beans so much that he and Frankie Duson cooked them on the bandstand when they were working with Jelly Roll Morton in California, they might have stayed in Los Angeles long enough to get into one of the local...

  20. 16 The Tiger’s Paw
    (pp. 273-286)

    The pages of the city’s daily newspaper, theTimes-Picayune, were usually as plainly and as dully written as a report of a meeting of the Sewerage and Water Board, but the overblown prose of the piece on the front page of the paper on May 1, 1927, as the writer struggled to find an adequate response to the vast floods of that spring, gives, in its own way, a sense of the catastrophe. New Orleans, from its first weeks in the swamps beside the Mississippi more than two hundred years before, had always lived uncomfortably beside a sleeping tiger that...

  21. 17 The Prodigal
    (pp. 287-298)

    1931 wasn’t much of a year for anyone in the United States, as the economy crashed, banks closed, a third of the nation’s workers were without jobs, and the only encouragement from the government was the promise that prosperity was “just around the corner.” For Louis Armstrong, New Orleans’s most famous jazz celebrity, it was an especially bad year. The difficulties began with his arrest for possession of marijuana in Los Angeles. On the one hand, his career was soaring. His nightly radio broadcasts from the Frank Sebastian’s New Cotton Club and his decision to use popular songs for recording...

  22. 18 Jazz Nights
    (pp. 299-313)

    As the thirties and the bitter years of the Depression ground on across the United States, the reckless optimism of the jazz of the previous decade seemed more and more like someone’s misplaced memories. Many of New Orleans’s younger musicians, however, had already been through their own slump at the end of the twenties, and they had sweated through a new direction in their music. With an emphasis on vocals and popular song themes, and on the colorful individuality of the soloists, the music made an attractive entertainment package. Louis Armstrong had found a style of jazz that could smile...

  23. 19 Glories, Remembered
    (pp. 314-331)

    New Orleans, with its complicated past and its ambivalent attitudes toward the present, had always seemed to stand outside the American mainstream, but by the 1930s the flow of ideas and fads and musical trends between New Orleans and the rest of the country had become less of a viable exchange. The dominance of nationally syndicated radio and the steadily widening influence of the movies, produced in Hollywood, were turning the city, along with the rest of the nation, into a passive audience for a popular culture that was almost exclusively created somewhere else. The city’s unique jazz traditions continued...

  24. 20 Revival Days
    (pp. 332-353)

    Two casual conversations that occurred about the same time, but in different places, were to change the perceptions of New Orleans and its music for all time, in ways that even now are difficult to sort out. By the late 1930s the fresh, uncomplicated spirit and communal store of musical ideas that had made the classic New Orleans ensemble style so distinctive had spread to a large audience that knew only the name, but responded with endless enthusiasm. This uncomplicated popular response, however, was abruptly to be confronted with a new perception of New Orleans jazz and its history. Nothing...

  25. 21 Struttin’
    (pp. 354-362)

    The flood that drowned New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, left more then 80 percent of the city an empty wasteland of abandoned houses and waterlogged debris, strewn with the shapes of 250, 000 automobiles covered in a dried gray layer of silt that left them the lifeless color of dust. It seemed, three months later, that the city’s music would have drowned with its neighborhoods and its economy. But crowded onto the stage of the Café Brasil on Frenchmen Street, the Hot 8 Brass Band blasted out an uptempo melody that was part...

  26. Notes
    (pp. 363-369)
  27. Bibliography
    (pp. 370-372)
  28. Index
    (pp. 373-380)