The World Of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy
Softcover; 246 pages
This book is doggedly ambitious, but its ambitions are its undoing. It begins promisingly, with a historical survey of jazz trumpet that, for a change, devotes a chapter to female players. But although Barnhart writes excitedly about the trumpets found in King Tut's tomb and the "lost" (if it ever existed) Buddy Bolden recording cylinder, his overview jumps straight from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, a startlingly limited trajectory. Even the most formulaic studies of the instrument slow down sufficiently to study Roy Eldridge, arguably the key link between Armstrong and Gillespie.
The author's coverage of post-bop trumpet is also sketchy, although he avers that a Wynton Marsalis composition in honor of Buddy Bolden comes "as close as we may ever get to the true nature of what Bolden played." A true leap of faith indeed.
The book then offers fifteen informal interviews with, among others, Arvell Shaw, Harry Edison, Humphrey Lyttelton, Clora Bryant, Clark Terry, Ted Curson and Wynton Marsalis. The interviews with the British trumpeter and bandleader Lyttelton and the frequently overlooked, Texas-born Bryant, although brief, are especially welcome. A section directed at student trumpeters focuses on practical matters: embouchure, the shake, practice routines, mutes. It concludes with alphabetized capsule biographies of notable trumpeters, two pages of "honorable mentions" (naming musicians omitted due to space), a discography and a bibliography.
On the surface, the book looks admirably comprehensive, and Barnhart himself appears well qualified to write such a broad study: his trumpet-playing credits include the current Count Basie orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Jon Hendricks. He is also Professor of Jazz Trumpet and Jazz Studies at Florida State University. But the book, though enthusiastic, is amateurishly written throughout.
Most notably, Barnhart is a rough-hewn writer given to slang ("Gender didn't mean jack to her"), multiple cliches ("I am only scratching the surface of a history that could fill a book in itself"), and vagueness (as when he describes an Armstrong solo as "a masterpiece in rhythmic exploration"). In his acknowledgments, he graciously thanks several editors. How did these sages overlook the unqualified statement that a 1938 trumpet solo was "recorded on primitive equipment apparatus?" Or this: "Different from his usual method of attacking or tonguing the majority of the notes, Armstrong combines the two, which makes a distinct difference compared to the rest of his solo?" Readers will also encounter Buddy "Bolton," Bix "Beiderbeck," even "Adolph" Hitler (the last a non-musician).
The errors and prose style would matter less were Barnhart's insights original, but readers familiar with jazz literature will immediately recognise how frequently he recycles it, citing no one specifically but simply listing book titles in the bibliography. He is worth reading when he addresses trumpeters on matters of performance, but the passages in this book that are most original are his effusions of self-praise. Although he states his indebtedness to his colleagues and forbears, he lists all the major concert halls he has played in, the great musicians he has stood alongside (he spilled coffee on Dizzy Gillespie), and, my favorite, his "having a few laughs with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Albert of Monaco at a party in the south of France."
The end result is a series of transcribed classroom lectures and reminiscences, ungainly, fervent and repetitive, not a book. The interviews are occasionally entertaining, although Barnhart has unwisely included his responses"Yeah," "Damn," "Right," and "Umph!"verbatim and in boldface. Many of the photos are seldom-seen and unusual, but even a rare Hot Lips Page autograph does not make this book essential. Readers should purchase recordings by any of the trumpeters Barnhart praises, and in doing so, follow his characteristically heartfelt, unedited injunction: "This music is aural and the best way to understand it is to listen and listen and listen. Then listen some more."