The time he spent in the Coloured Waifs Home aged eleven and twelve brought his first cornet and a grounding in musical technique. Lessons from his mentor "King" Oliver, who called him to Chicago in 1922, the time he spent playing on riverboats (learning musical notation along the way) and further lessons from his classically trained second wife built on that background and Armstrong’s own musical curiosity, resulting in performances that redefined jazz. 

There’s no doubt that the music that came to be known as jazz grew out of a number of elements and there will probably be endless debate about the relative influence of the various strands. 

The sequence outlined above - the streets to the Coloured Waifs home to more formal musical training puts Brothers on the uptown side of the fence, and he discounts the influence of downtown Creole musicians, arguing that their more formal background limited their ability to improvise.

There’s no doubt that the music that has come out of New Orleans is the result of an unique blend of influences and that Armstrong ties together the strands that ran through the city’s social and musical history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

Brothers has drawn on autobiographies, interviews and memoirs to produce a book that should be of interest to anyone with an interest in the musical culture of New Orleans. The more technical discussions prompted me to skim sections of the book, but the wealth of information included was enough to make sure that I didn’t put it aside and I expect that it’s one of those volumes that’ll be re-read from time to time as I explore different aspects of New Orleans music.

© Ian Hughes 2012