cover image Louis Armstrong: 
Master of Modernism

Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism

Thomas Brothers. Norton, $39.95 (720p) ISBN 978-0-393-06582-4

In this sprawling, somewhat bloated study, music historian Brothers picks up where his Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans leaves off, following Armstrong through his most formative decade, from 1922–1932. On Aug. 8, 1922, Armstrong boarded a train in New Orleans bound for Chicago to join King Oliver’s band and start over. Combining his love of blues with jazz, Armstrong developed both as a vocalist who understood harmony and as a strong trumpeter whose “command of tone, quick fingers, and high-note playing created a new melodic idiom” that set him apart from other musicians. Brothers conducts us on a journey with Armstrong as he builds a following in Chicago; marries his first wife, the pianist Lillian Harden; and moves away from Oliver’s band, creating his own distinct sound in the clubs of Harlem in New York City, making five “hot records,” including “Muskrat Ramble,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and “Heebie Jeebies.” Although Terry Teachout’s Pops remains the definitive biography of Armstrong, Brothers’s book shows how Armstrong achieved a sort of godlike status among black audiences while bridging the racial gap to attract white audiences with his singing. (Feb.)