That Moaning Saxophone

That Moaning Saxophone : The Six Brown Brothers and the Dawning of a Musical Craze

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Today, the saxophone is an emblem of "cool" and the instrument most closely associated with jazz. Yet not long ago it was derided as the "Siren of Satan," and it was largely ignored in the United States for well over half a century after its invention. When it was first widely heard, it was often viewed as a novelty noisemaker, not a real musical instrument. In only a few short years, however, saxophones appeared in music shops across America and became one of the most important instrumental voices. How did the saxophone get from comic to cool? Bandleader Tom Brown claimed that it was his saxophone sextet, the Six Brown Brothers, who inaugurated the craze. While this boast was perhaps more myth than reality, the group was indisputably one of the most famous musical acts on stage in the early twentieth century. Starting in traveling circuses, small-time vaudeville, and minstrel shows, the group trekked across the United States and Europe, bringing this new sound to the American public. Through their live performances and groundbreaking recordings--the first discs of a saxophone ensemble in general circulation--the Six Brown Brothers played a crucial role in making this new instrument familiar to and loved by a wide audience. In That Moaning Saxophone, author and cornet player Bruce Vermazen sifts fact from legend in this craze and tells the remarkable story of these six musical brothers--William, Tom, Alec, Percy, Vern, and Fred. Vermazen traces the brothers' path through minstrelsy, the circus, burlesque, vaudeville, and Broadway musical comedy. Cleverly weaving together biographical details and the context of the burgeoning entertainment business, the author draws fascinating portraits of the pre-jazz world of American popular music, the theatrical climate of the period, and the long, slow death of vaudeville. Delving into the career of one of the key popularizers of the saxophone, That Moaning Saxophone not only illuminates the history of this novel instrument, but also offers a witty and vivid portrayal of these forgotten musical worlds.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text | 317 pages
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 1423756703
  • 9781423756705

Review quote

"This excellent social history gives general readers and more focused music fans an insightful, well-written, and concise backdrop to the birth of the big band era and the modern popular music industry."--Library Journal"Vermazen...has written a thoughtful exploration of an instrument and a family, and in doing so, has managed to capture not only the birth of a musical craze, but a pivotal and turbulent moment in America's history...Vermazen's revival of the Six Brown Brothers after decades of obscurity will serve as a vital addition to the history of American popular music."--Publisher's Weekly"That Moaning Saxophone is an extraordinary romp through America's entertainment culture from the late 19th through early 20th century. Richly detailed and illustrated, it is exciting to read whether a saxophonist, music enthusiast or cultural historian. Vermazen breathes new life and meaning to the Brown Brothers music, as well as to the times that spawned their success. Following their career from origin to disbandment was compelling, exciting reading. That Moaning Saxophone immediately becomes a recommended text to my colleagues, and a required one for my students."--Dr. Paul Cohen, Manhattan School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, Rutgers University"Without doubt this is one of the most important books on any aspect of twentieth century popular music ever published. Not only is it full of fascinating information, but it is eminently readable, and stands as a superb example of dedication to the subject on the part of the author."-- Brian Rust, author of several discographical reference books"A great book. It is more than a biography and history of the Brown Brothers; it's also a vivid history of the minstrel, circus, and vaudeville worlds they inhabited." --Edward A. Berlin, author of King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era (Oxford) and Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History."I enjoyed [the book] very much, thought the author did a
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About Bruce Vermazen

Bruce Vermazen couldn't wait to retire from his thirty-eight-year teaching career, spent mostly in the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, to pursue his interest in music, as both a cornetist and a writer. He now lives in San Diego with his spouse, Juan Miguel Godoy, a professor of Spanish at San Diego State University.
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