Krin Gabbard


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

Cover Interview of December 25, 2008

The wide angle

The basic thesis of Hotter Than That is that the trumpet has been associated, rightly or wrongly, with masculinity.  The men who have played it have jealously guarded their exclusive access to the instrument.  In one tribe along the Amazon, for example, if a woman so much as looked at a trumpet, she was killed.  Perhaps because it can make more noise than just about anything except a bomb blast, men have used the trumpet for ceremonies, most notably the welcoming of kings.  A monarch succeeds grandiloquently in establishing his power if his trumpeters make a terrible racket before he arrives on the scene.  Of course, a trumpet makes the first sound that a soldier hears in the morning and the last sound he hears as he falls on the battlefield.  In the religion of God the Father, we know that a trumpet brought down Jericho and that a trumpet call will announce the End of Days.  When sons and grandsons of slaves created jazz in the early 20th century by playing the trumpet loudly and aggressively, they found a brand new way to assert themselves as men.  Any other assertion of masculinity might have got them lynched!  These audacious young black men must have been astounded when white people smiled and applauded their music rather than warning them about being “uppity.”

Many white men have even sought to enhance their own masculinity by imitating African American trumpeters.  This is not to say that women cannot and have not played the trumpet.  The book documents the many contributions that women have made to the instrument’s history.  There is no denying, however, that the trumpet has been made to serve the needs of men throughout its history.