Krin Gabbard


On his book Hotter Than That: The Trumpet, Jazz, and American Culture

Cover Interview of December 25, 2008

In a nutshell

This book is about the trumpet, but it brings the subject to life with several different approaches.  First, it is a cultural history of the instrument, from the oldest surviving trumpets that were buried with King Tut over 3000 years ago.  The book extends this history through ancient Greece and Rome, to the Crusades, and to the Renaissance, when men stood on the walls of European cities with long trumpets to sound a warning if enemies approached.  The history continues through the Baroque period when Bach and Handel wrote extremely difficult music for the “natural trumpet,” the regal brass instrument without valves, to the 19th century when the valved trumpet finally appeared.  Hotter Than That looks at the role of the trumpet in imaginative literature, in the ceremonies of the court, and in religious practice, as well as in music.  Readers may be surprised to learn that the trumpet was not primarily a “musical” instrument until well into the 16th century.  Second, the book explores the culture of the trumpet: who played the horn, why they played it, and what they got from playing it.  There is also a section on the many great trumpeters who died young, whether or not their deaths were directly related to the sacrifices they made to play the trumpet.  Third, the book is a new history of jazz built around the discovery of the trumpet’s potential as a jazz instrument in the early days of the 20th century.  After looking at the first jazz trumpeters in New Orleans, Hotter Than That gives a detailed account of how musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, and many others continued to transform the instrument and, along with it, American culture.  Fourth, the book reveals the techniques for making a trumpet, describing methods at several different trumpet factories, in the United States as well as in Europe.  Special attention is given to the huge factory in Elkhart, Indiana, where artisans make the Bach Stravidarius, the best-selling trumpet in the world, as well as the boutique factory in Portland, Oregon, run by David Monette, who makes the extremely expensive trumpets played by Wynton Marsalis and a handful of other professionals.  Finally, the book is an often funny account of my own attempts to play the trumpet and make it part of my life.