Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Images of America: New Orleans Jazz

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Images of America: New Orleans Jazz

Article excerpt

Images of America: New Orleans Jazz By Edward J. Branley Arcadia, 2014), 127 pp, $16.72

Edward J. Branley's compilation of photographs about New Orleans jazz from its roots to the present is a new entry in Arcadia Publishing Company's "Images of America" series. The series aspires to "preserve history on a local level." Dozens of titles are listed for Louisiana alone, including not only cities but also universities and topics like K&B Drugstores and baseball in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

I must confess that a red flag is raised when I see photo collections that are part of a wide-ranging series. The quality of each book must be judged on its own merits, but I have a hunch that the "series" concept is a magnet both for serious students of the subjects (who might or might not be credentialed scholars) and zealous enthusiasts who lack investigative rigor and endurance. Of course, culling through a huge corpus of graphics and deciding on selection and sequencing is a major project, no matter who undertakes it. The problem is that the choices should be guided by the best available historical knowledge, not dilettante wisdom or impressions gleaned from popular lore.

This is the second such collection I've seen in recent years. I reviewed Thomas Morgan's book of photos, New Orleans Jazz, in the March 2011 IAJRC Journal. It was part of Turner Publishing Company's "Historic Photos" series, which includes numerous books about cities and also topics like Broadway shows, Chicago crime, and Colorado mining.

Both Branley and Morgan show predictable strengths. They present many classic photos of first generation players that are familiar to jazz aficionados. Also, both make some fresh contributions. Branley makes use of wider and richer resources, uncovering relatively rare photos and graphics from the New Orleans Public Library collection. He also includes Carlos May's contemporary photos of significant remaining sites of old jazz venues and early musicians' homes. In contrast, Morgan's main source-60% of the graphics-was the Louisiana State Museum. But Morgan gave attention to the neglected popular local jazz revival of the post-WWII years, sparked largely by Sharkey Bonano, Papa Celestin, and the then-new New Orleans Jazz Club, a movement ill-understood by Branley.

Unfortunately, both Branley and Morgan provide inadequate prose frameworks, show odd judgment calls about inclusion and exclusion of materials, and make occasional errors outright in the captions. I won't recount Morgan's problems here, nor will I attempt a detailed list of Branley's misfires. A sampler, focused solely on Pete Fountain: Pete's "first band" wasn't the Basin Street Six. He began with the Junior Dixieland Band, which became the Dukes; went with Phil Zito's International City Dixielanders, which broke away as a unit to become the Six, a cooperative band. His main early influence wasn't Goodman, but Irving Fazola, earning him the nickname "Little Faz."

Branely's two-page introduction cuts a swath so wide that the center of the narrative is elusive, presaging the vagueness and lack of precision in the introductions to the chapters ("Buddy Bolden's New Orleans," "Creole Jazz," "Dixieland Goes Nationwide," "Dixieland Decline," "Brass Bands and Traditional Jazz," and "Modern Jazz"). In his broad-brush account, Bolden was virtually the inventor of jazz, and a treatment of early black musicians suffices as the story of early jazz. …

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