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12/18/09

Thomas L. Morgan
Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz

This photo book was compiled by jazz historian and radio host Tom Morgan, who culled 200 photos from the Louisiana State Museum’s Jazz Collection. The result is a hodge-podge of publicity stills, news photos and artful photojournalism. The reproduction and resolution of the photos is uneven, particularly for images from the early part of the 20th Century, but given their age and origin that’s understandable. The images—some rare, some familiar—are presented roughly in chronological order, organized according to chapters such as “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans (1890-1925)” and “Bourbon Street Parade (1946-1960).” Morgan wrote all of the captions that comprise the only text in the volume and his captions serve not only to identify the famous and obscure subjects, but also to provide historical context. The result is an incremental learning process about the roots and development of New Orleans music in all its diverse glory.

The photos with Louis Armstrong are a particular treat, as we see him in all sorts of settings with all sorts of people (musicians, fans, city officials, etc.), but throughout them all the mutual love between the trumpeter and his hometown is palpable. Indeed, the entire volume speaks to the power of the music to bring together people from divergent cultures and backgrounds. People like Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck received some recognition for forcefully integrating their bands, but mixing the races in bands was already common practice in a city that, even with its own history of racism, personifies America as a melting pot of race, ethnicity and culture. Morgan whether intentionally or not provides the visual evidence of democracy in action, at the same time he gives us a much appreciated history lesson in New Orleans jazz and music.

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