Influence and Assimilation in Louis Armstrong’s Cornet and Trumpet Work (1923-1928)

Author: Brooks, Edward
This study examines Armstrong’s cornet and trumpet work during his most innovative period, 1923-28, with a view to laying bare the sources of some of the impulses which contribute to the great outburst of emotion and variety of styles that inform that work. Analysis of the styles of contemporaries such as Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Earl Hines and others reveals characteristics which affected Armstrong. Influences such as white bands, opera and radio, minor modality, other compositions and the desire for anonymity are also treated. The study identifies influential passages, figures, devices and techniques, as well as tracing Armstrong’s assimilation of these influences as reflected in specific aspects of his playing. A concluding chapter considers an Armstrong cornet solo in a more holistic fashion: a scrutiny of his manner of integrating influence, with self-reference and original material, in an extended passage.


“The style and content of the writing is scholarly, the approach direct, perceptive, and appreciative of Armstrong’s creative genius. . . . I found the most readable and interesting chapters were those which deal with Armstrong’s recordings with Bechet, Bessie Smith and Hines, and the light that these throw upon Louis’s competitive side. . . .there’s certainly much food for thought in this exhaustive study.” – Jazz Journal International

“Brooks has done some extraordinary work, not the least of which is to transcribe or commit to memory several hundred jazz solos by Armstrong and others. He then cross-references them in the same systematic fashion that a musicologist in the classical domain compares passages in scores, or a student of comparative literature compares texts…. Brooks approaches the comparative analysis not as his semiotic duty to supplant all other study, but merely as a tool to throw light from a different direction on a difficult subject…. His almost quantitative approach should help to clear the decks of nonsense prior to many jazz battles to come.” – Historic Brass Society Newsletter

“I was most impressed with the thoroughness of Mr. Brooks’ research and his sustained insight into Armstrong’s artistry, and am confident that the publication of this project will mark a major contribution to jazz scholarship. . . . the distinguishing feature of Mr. Brooks’ research is his ability to penetrate quickly to the heart of musical and critical issues and present his findings in a way that provides a solid technical illumination of the musical idiom; in doing so, his work is likely to benefit readers of widely differing musical background.” – Mervyn Cooke

“. . . possesses a vast knowledge of this repertoire and his research shows in meticulous detail how Armstrong assimilated influences to create his own style. The book will be an important addition not only to the jazz literature, but to musicology in general.” – Alastair Williams

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. Bunk Johnson: Chimes Blues; Chromatically Ascending/Descending Double-triplet
2. King Oliver: Ascending Run; Chorus-opening Repeated Notes; Wa-wa Mute; Blue-note ‘Cry’; Two-cornet Break; Second-cornet role; Short Rhythmic Motif; Leads More Generally Inspired by Oliver; Solos More Generally Inspired by Oliver; Three-note Descending Figure
3. Sidney Bechet
4. Bessie Smith: Major-third Seeker
5. Bix Beiderbecke
6. Earl Hines
7. Other Musicians’ Influence: Jimmie Noone, High Notes; Joe Smith; Johnny Dodds; Hersal Thomas; Edward Kid Ory; Lonnie Johnson; Mancy Carr
8. White Bands
9. Other Compositions
10. Ballad Style
11. Minor Modality
12. Desire for Anonymity
Conclusion; Appendices (Methodology; Compositional structure; Glossary); Bibliography; Radio Broadcasts; Index