December 1997

Richard H. Knowles
Fallen Heroes: A History Of New Orleans Brass Bands

The histories of both ragtime and the blues have already been documented in scores of studies, but still largely untold is the story of the most direct antecedent of orchestral jazz, the New Orleans brass bands. A major difference between these bands and those which flourished elsewhere in the years following 1880 is their immediate proximity to African Caribbean rhythms and folk culture, a factor that largely accounts for the development of non-reading and improvising bands as distinguished from those that followed more conventional European traditions. During their peak years, the bands provided almost daily employment for dozens of jazzmen, among them Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Joe Oliver, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, as well as those with only local reputations. Taken from the title of a popular dirge, Fallen Heroes offers a wealth of data concerning the personnels, practices, and changing customs of these bands from the pre-jazz era through the late 1960s.

The accompanying CD (45:39) consists of some very rare material, including brief oral interviews and previously unissued band performances, i.e., an excerpt from a 1903 cylinder, a 1929 film soundtrack, and recordings by Bunk’s Brass Band and the Olympia and Eureka bands from 1945 through 1968. Although a treasure trove of factual information derived exclusively from oral interviews on file at Tulane and elsewhere, the book unfortunately suffers from a lack of editing and proofreading, as is evidenced in Knowles’ consistently faulty punctuation, sentence structure and spelling.

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