A witty history of the trumpet and the many meanings of its sound.
Gabbard (Comparative Literature/Stony Brook Univ.; Black Magic, 2004, etc.) details the instrument’s odyssey from its ceremonial origins in ancient Egypt through its provocation of political head-butting within the ranks of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Although the author expertly assesses important technological innovations, cultural events and musical personalities central to the trumpet’s long existence, he also thoroughly examines how the instrument’s sound, particularly in American culture, has been intertwined with notions about masculinity and race. In the hands of many authors, such a discussion might suffer from political correctness or heavy-handed seriousness, but Gabbard handles the matter with graceful openness and an honest, convincing sense of humor. He narrows his discussion to the trumpet’s special role within the cultural history of jazz, beginning with the importance of the high-volume playing of Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong and finishing with the softer tones of Miles Davis. He particular engages during his excursions into the biographies of Armstrong and Davis, two men who changed music in America. Gabbard isn’t afraid of touching on their less-than-attractive sides in order to demonstrate that when we fail to acknowledge jazz’s unsavory and gritty ingredients, we sacrifice appreciation of its full flavor. The author, who took up the trumpet as an adult, also recounts the development of his playing in excursions that seem burdened with technicalities, periodically slowing down the otherwise splendid pace and vigor of his prose.
Gabbard tells the history of his adopted instrument with a historian’s rigor and a comedian’s wit, scattering plenty of juicy anecdotes throughout.