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December 2008

Krin Gabbard
Hotter Than That: The Trumpet, Jazz, and American Culture

As its subtitle suggests, Krin Gabbard’s Hotter Than That: The Trumpet, Jazz, and American Culture has three different, related subjects, just not the three it claims. It is about the trumpet and jazz. In fact, Gabbard, for the most part, describes the familiar story of jazz history from Dixieland to swing to bebop, at least as it relates to African-American trumpeters. The focus is on Buddy Bolden, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.

The book is not about American culture. But perhaps Gabbard’s editor declined to put the actual third topic of the book—black masculinity—in the title. In Gabbard’s telling, African-American trumpeters, living under racist oppression, were only able to express their masculinity through their instruments. He doesn’t take this argument very far. It does provide him an excuse to delve into Bolden, Armstrong and Davis’ personal lives, however, and to devote a chapter to a jazz trumpeters’ version of Hollywood Babylon.

Actually, the book is at its best when Gabbard abandons history for his own personal story of taking up the trumpet again in his 50s and visits Midwestern instrument makers. A whole book on that subject would have been far more informative and enjoyable.

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