Book Reviews

  • Dan Vernhettes, Commemoration of the Centenary of the Arrival of the African-American Military Bands in France during World War I: A Historical and Musical Approach (Paris: Jazz’edit, 2017). ISBN 9782953483192. 54 pages. http://www.jazzedit.org/English/Centenaire/Centenaire%201918.html

    Those who heard John Wallace lead the 20 piece period instrument band playing the music of James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hell Fighters at the 2017 HBS Symposium were given a rare treat. That spectacular repertoire, sadly rarely heard today, is recognized as an important link between ragtime and early jazz. Dan Vernhettes’s new book puts some more meat on the bones of this musical story, but more importantly introduces the musical community to little known information about a slew of other Black proto-jazz ensembles that also made their way to France and introduced this music to Europe.

  • Chris Hasselbring and Kirsty Montgomery. Around the World in Twenty-One Trumpets: A Brass Odyssey: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Fundamentals of Brass Playing Using the Natural Trumpet. Skokie, IL: Brass for Beginners, 2017.  ISBN 10-0-9909663-3X. 95 pages. www.brassforbeginners.com

    Those who have seen Chris Hasselbring and Kirsty Mongomery’s presentations at various HBS events or other venues have seen one of the more innovative approaches to music pedagogy in recent times. Incorporating the use of natural trumpets incorporating an interdisciplinary approach to the study of history, they have created a fascinating approach to studying music. The most current incarnation of the book is comprised of 10 chapters divided into three units. The fictional hero of the book is Ragnar, a prehistoric trumpeter who takes the reader through musical and historical adventures. Sound files of musical examples, reference and review material and other resources are online at www.practicecave.com. The site “Hear it online” www.hearragnar.com additionally contains a narrative that reviews historical and musical elements of Ragnar’s tale.

  • Claudio Bacciagaluppi and Martin Skamletz, eds., Romantic Brass. Ein Blick zurück ins 19. Jahrhundert (Schliengen, Germany: Edition Argus, 2015), 321 pgs. ISBN 978-3-931264-84-0. Publisher's website for the book.

    Over the past decade our knowledge of brass instruments in the nineteenth century has come into focus by leaps and bounds. While earlier work fixated on a few major figures—in the trumpet realm for instance the Anton Weidinger circle in Austria and the F. G. A. Dauverné circle in France—to the point of exhaustion, today a new generation of scholars together with a virtual second wind among the older generation now offers breadth and depth

  • John Brookfield. A History of the Port Royal Bands: The Men and the Music of the Bands of the Third Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry and the 2nd Brigade, 10th Army Corps, Department of the South during the American Civil War. South China, ME: Sam Teddy, 2015. Price $37.95; 441pp.

    For enthusiasts and scholars of brass-band music of the American Civil War (1861–65), the few surviving sets of band partbooks are treasured as the clearest windows into what was actually played by bands during that war. While recollections by soldiers who name certain tunes are helpful, these non-musicians usually only recognized certain patriotic airs or the occasional popular song.

  • McCusker, John. Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2012. http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1504

    This is an excellent book and leaving aside a short pamphlet put out by the UK jazz magazine Crescendo, it is the only study to be devoted to one of the iconic trombonists of jazz. I use the word iconic in the absence of any other term that properly describes him. He was certainly famous, but was he a great player? Therein lies the rub: why was Ory such a celebrated player when, by the evidence of his recordings, he was not always fully in charge of the instrument he played? Lawrence Brown, another iconic trombonist, refined his technique by playing cello music as a teenager because he “wanted to get away from all that tailgate stuff”—I wonder to whose recordings he had been listening. Brown is universally regarded as a great player; Ory occupies a different place.

    September 1, 2015
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    Foster, John. The Baroque Trumpet Revival. Chandler, Arizona: Hickman Music Editions, 2015. www.HickmanMusicEditions.com.

    Virtuoso Australian natural trumpet player John Foster has presented a vivid picture of the revival of the Baroque trumpet tradition in our modern era. The book begins with some basic information on the history, structure, and literature of the natural trumpet. He then outlines the contributions of some nineteenth and early-twentieth century pioneers, including Xavier Teste, Thomas Harper, Julius Kosleck, Walter Morrow, and John Solomon. Once he gets to Walter Holly he is off and running.

    September 1, 2015
  • Koehler, Elisa. A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8108-8657-5. 219 pages. Publisher's website.

    Elisa Koehler new book demonstrates her wonderful ability to convey and explain a wide range of information, some of it rather complex, to both informed and novice readerships. As the book is a dictionary, each of the hundreds of entries is limited in size, but Koehler has nevertheless managed to assemble a wide range of trumpet-related topics including famous players, composers, instruments, organological issues, performance practice, compositions, as well as key concepts and historical events. Drawing on the famous line, “poetry is what poets write,” Elisa Koehler has constructed her dictionary to embrace the totality of the trumpet family as anything that the modern trumpet player plays. Rather than restricting the topic, as some taxonomic endeavors do, she has broadened it.

    October 1, 2005
  • Robert Holden, And the Band Played On: How Music Lifted the Anzac Spirit in the Battlefields of the First World War. Melbourne & London: Hardie Grant Books, 2014, paperback, 288 pages. ISBN 978 1742705620. www.hardiegrant.co.uk

     Robert Holden is an Australian historian, librarian, curator, book reviewer and author. He has written more than thirty books, most of which deal with Australian subjects in the fields of literature, art and design, folklore, and national identity. This book, his first foray into a musical subject, was informed by a fellowship at the Mitchell Library in Sydney that enabled him to study the diaries of ‘Anzac’ soldiers. Additionally, he undertook considerable archival research at other major national institutions, including the Australian War Memorial. Thus the book is well illustrated with original black-and-white photographs from the First World War, worthy of study within themselves.

    December 1, 2016
  • Michael J. Pagliaro, The Brass Instrument Owner’s Handbook (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). ISBN 9781442274013. 213 pages.

    Michael Pagliaro has presented a handbook of 11 chapters that contains a wide range of information on brass instruments, selection, ownership, rentals, care, pedagogy, fingering charts, acoustics, manufacture and assorted details including information on mutes, music stands, lyres, mouthpieces, mouthpiece pullers, cases, tuners, and other minutia.

    December 1, 2016
  • Hobson, Vic. Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues. American Made Music Series. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. ISBN 978-1-61703-991-1. 168 pages.

    In November, 2005 the Historic Brass Society presented a conference in collaboration with the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, “Early Twentieth-Century Brass Idioms: Art, Jazz, and Other Popular Traditions”. At that conference Vic Hobson presented an intriguing paper, “The Blues and the Uptown Brass Bands of New Orleans.” That paper was subsequently published in a Conference Proceedings by Scarecrow Press in 2009. It also served as the impetus for this present book.

    In this excellent book, Hobson examines early New Orleans jazz with a number of new and fascinating perspectives. Through a fellowship, Hobson was able to extensively examine the Papers of Frederic Ramsey Jr. and gain access to much of Ramsey’s research notes as well as those of the noted jazz historian, Bill Russell. While some of that material is not unknown to jazz scholars, Hobson has been able to bring forth some rather new ideas for which he presents a very strong argument. Through his examination of early jazz brass players such as Buddy Bolden, Kid Ory, and Bunk Johnson, Hobson is able to formulate some convincing arguments about early New Orleans jazz and the influence of barbershop harmony and the blues on that music. He describes in both historical and musical terms how the practices of quartet singing were converted to instrumental jazz. Hobson also presents a solid argument that Bunk Johnson did, in fact, play with Bolden, a point previously held in question. Having recordings of a musician who played with and was influenced by Bolden is a significant bit of information in which we may get a better grasp of how Bolden may have actually played.

    July 14, 2014
  • Bruce Boyd Raeburn. New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2009. ISBN 0-472-03321-2. 342 pages.

    For a relatively young art form, jazz has spawned an immense and remarkably diverse supporting literature. In the mid-1930s, books delineating its origins, founders, foremost practitioners, and stylistic attributes began cropping up. Documenting the already 40-year old music, these books appeared first in France and then America. Amid the growing body of literature certain works have assumed great importance in influencing how later scholars approached jazz. Perhaps no other text exerted as profound an impact on jazz discourse, particularly it’s origin in and subsequent diffusion from New Orleans, as Jazzmen, a collection of articles edited by Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey, Jr. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1939). The text provided the catalyst for a trend in subsequent histories whereupon swing bands, bebop, free, fusion, and still more styles were woven into the historical narratives as extensions of the original style; evolution through an accumulation of artistic innovations. The idea of progress was anathema to Smith, Ramsey, and many of the record collectors and discographers who had been the earliest advocates of jazz as a distinct art form. For this group of cognoscenti hot music was not just the leaping off point for the jazz art, it was the art itself.

    In his book New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History, Bruce Boyd Raeburn, the Curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University in New Orleans, explores the historiography of jazz from the pre-history writings, to the legacy of Jazzmen and other works that argue the primacy of New Orleans and the purity of New Orleans-style jazz, to the purist vs. modernist battles of the 1940s. His aim in exploring the history of jazz histories, at least in part, is “as an appeal for renewed scholarly interest in New Orleans jazz, conceived broadly as a community-based continuum in which many types of jazz coexist, as opposed to an ‘official’ jazz canon based on histories celebrating progressive stylistic evolution” (pg. 3). Deconstructing the “official history” of jazz with its focus on New Orleans as little more than jazz’s birthplace, the author attempts to liberate New Orleans-style jazz from its obligation to the evolution narrative. Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, after all, were versatile, searching, relevant artists throughout their long careers, most of which occurred after they moved on from New Orleans. Jazz histories that fail to mention either of these giants after their first couple of chapters, are doing Armstrong, Bechet, New Orleans, and the readers a great disservice.

    January 1, 2009
  • Pocket Cornets: Actual Size. A Pictorial Overview of the Smallest Antique & Vintage Cornets Ever Made,. By Nick DeCarlis. Published by the author, 2009. 75 pages hardcover. Information: www.PocketCornets.com and www.JazzCor.net

    This beautifully designed and illustrated book features a detailed examination of many of the instruments from the author’s private collection of several dozen rare pocket cornets arranged chronologically from an 1872 Distin instrument to various Amati, Holton, and Alexander pocket cornets from the 1960s and 1970s. The 8x9 ½ inch page format of this publication enabled DeCarlis to feature beautiful “life size” color photos of the instruments. They are so sharp and clear that I found myself constantly reaching toward the page with my right hand imagining that I could grab the cornet and pull it from the page. Details of length (typically 8 or 7 inches), bell diameter, bore size, key and pitch and serial numbers are given for each instrument featured. There are also numerous photos of related material such as illustrations of the makers, 19th and early 20th century performers holding pocket cornets, instrument cases, original advertisements, and catalogues. A brief historical background is also given along with a description of various unusual design configurations.

    January 1, 2009
  • The Trumpet Book by Gabriele Cassone. Zecchini Editore www.zecchini.com Pub. 2009 ISBN 978-88-87203-80-6. 336 pages. $75. With accompanying CD. Website: www.thetrumpetbook.com

    When I received the original Italian language edition of Gabriele Cassone’s La Tromba (2002) some years back, I thought that it was not only the most beautifully published book on the trumpet (over 400 exquisite color photographs on glossy large format paper), but perhaps the most beautiful book on any musical instrument I’ve seen. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Italian is about on par with that of the great Louis Armstrong. When on one of his many tours of Italy and asked how his Italian was, the great trumpeter responded, “Oh fine, pizza!!” I may be able to order a few more types of food but now we have the English translation of Cassone’s wonderful book and it is even more beautiful than the original Italian edition. There are additional photos and some photos enlarged and made slightly brighter.

    January 1, 2009