This book is a gem. Samuel Charters has written the definitive history of the development and emergence of jazz in the city of New Orleans, one which will appeal even to those who think they already know the story.
Charters is one of our most accomplished music writers, and first arrived in New Orleans over 60 years ago, in time to know many of the early figures of jazz, as well as the first jazz historians. As such, he is uniquely qualified to write this important book. The central problem with the received knowledge of jazz's origins is that much of it is inaccurate. Though well-intentioned, early jazz scholars often accepted myth and exaggeration as fact, and many of these errors went unquestioned for decades. In addition, revisionist writers sometimes distorted or misinterpreted facts to suit their own specific socio-political agenda. Charters, on the other hand, is committed to getting the story right. He is a persuasive writer, and he does an excellent job.
His original research is thorough, and much of it is first-hand. Particularly interesting is the observation that although jazz emerged largely from African-American musical antecedents, European musical styles played a significant role as well. Charters also does a good job of demonstrating how both black and white jazz styles developed simultaneously, although separately, divided as much of American society was at the time, prior to mid-century integration. Artistic growth and innovation occurred on both sides of the racial barrier, throughout the first half of the 20th century, with both groups well aware of what was going on with their counterparts. Charters makes clear that musicians of both races played an important role in jazz's development.
The only portion of Charters' work that I question is a relatively minor one, but worth mentioning nonetheless. In discussing the great jazz innovator Jelly Roll Morton, he raises charges of musical plagiarism and theft brought against Morton by a contemporary. Although this person's claims (and posthumous litigation) against Morton have largely been discounted and discredited by other writers, Charters curiously lets the charges stand without refutation, a decision that is puzzling.
Despite this one questionable point, A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz is an important book which will serve as the definitive source on the emergence of New Orleans jazz.