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Before Seattle Rocked: A City and Its Music

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Seattle is a music town with rich, deep roots that have influenced the culture and identity of its civic life for decades. In a society that appreciates music but is ambivalent toward the profession of making it, the importance and contribution of Seattle's musicians have been routinely overlooked in historical accounts of the city. Kurt Armbruster fills that gap in this f Seattle is a music town with rich, deep roots that have influenced the culture and identity of its civic life for decades. In a society that appreciates music but is ambivalent toward the profession of making it, the importance and contribution of Seattle's musicians have been routinely overlooked in historical accounts of the city. Kurt Armbruster fills that gap in this far-reaching and entertaining panorama of Seattle music from the 1890s to the 1960s, "before Seattle rocked." For this once-remote city, music forged links as real as those created by railroads and steamships. Classical music embodied the middle-class aspirations for gentility and cosmopolitan stature; jazz and blues gave Seattle's small African American community a vehicle for affirmation and economic advancement; ethnic music helped immigrants adjust to a new home; songs and drumming kept the memories of the Duwamish alive in a changing world. Before Seattle Rocked is enlivened by personal anecdotes and memories from many of Seattle's most beloved musicians and is enriched by historic photos of the changing music scene.Kurt E. Armbruster is a Seattle native, historian, professional bassist, and singer-songwriter. He has played music of many genres and has written numerous historical articles and three books, including Orphan Road. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Cedar, and is a proud card-carrying member of the Musicians' Union of Seattle Local 76-493."Kurt Armbruster's well-researched book is a rich resource, packed with history, personalities, and great stories. This multi-layered look at Seattle's musical beginnings will delight anyone interested in the sources that fed the region's unique cultural identity. Seattle's rich music scene is both indigenous and cross-pollinated, and Armbruster explores all its aspects, bringing the whole thing together in a high-momentum, conversational style. A fun and absorbing read!" -Maxine Frost, Seattle's 98.1 Classical KING FM"Seattle is a remarkable place culturally. It has done so much in the world of music, of all types. Kurt Armbruster's book has done an extraordinary job in honoring the remarkable musicians that have made this city such an innovative place for popular music. Seattle is a place that is known for its arts, and Mr. Armbruster has made a very clear case for this remarkable community and the great artistic life that it has historically, up until the present. A remarkable book, about some remarkable people." -Gerard Schwarz, Music Director, Seattle Symphony"This unusual book is chock-full of marvelous anecdotes about Seattle's musical history, from folk to country to opera to jazz." -Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic and author of Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle


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Seattle is a music town with rich, deep roots that have influenced the culture and identity of its civic life for decades. In a society that appreciates music but is ambivalent toward the profession of making it, the importance and contribution of Seattle's musicians have been routinely overlooked in historical accounts of the city. Kurt Armbruster fills that gap in this f Seattle is a music town with rich, deep roots that have influenced the culture and identity of its civic life for decades. In a society that appreciates music but is ambivalent toward the profession of making it, the importance and contribution of Seattle's musicians have been routinely overlooked in historical accounts of the city. Kurt Armbruster fills that gap in this far-reaching and entertaining panorama of Seattle music from the 1890s to the 1960s, "before Seattle rocked." For this once-remote city, music forged links as real as those created by railroads and steamships. Classical music embodied the middle-class aspirations for gentility and cosmopolitan stature; jazz and blues gave Seattle's small African American community a vehicle for affirmation and economic advancement; ethnic music helped immigrants adjust to a new home; songs and drumming kept the memories of the Duwamish alive in a changing world. Before Seattle Rocked is enlivened by personal anecdotes and memories from many of Seattle's most beloved musicians and is enriched by historic photos of the changing music scene.Kurt E. Armbruster is a Seattle native, historian, professional bassist, and singer-songwriter. He has played music of many genres and has written numerous historical articles and three books, including Orphan Road. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Cedar, and is a proud card-carrying member of the Musicians' Union of Seattle Local 76-493."Kurt Armbruster's well-researched book is a rich resource, packed with history, personalities, and great stories. This multi-layered look at Seattle's musical beginnings will delight anyone interested in the sources that fed the region's unique cultural identity. Seattle's rich music scene is both indigenous and cross-pollinated, and Armbruster explores all its aspects, bringing the whole thing together in a high-momentum, conversational style. A fun and absorbing read!" -Maxine Frost, Seattle's 98.1 Classical KING FM"Seattle is a remarkable place culturally. It has done so much in the world of music, of all types. Kurt Armbruster's book has done an extraordinary job in honoring the remarkable musicians that have made this city such an innovative place for popular music. Seattle is a place that is known for its arts, and Mr. Armbruster has made a very clear case for this remarkable community and the great artistic life that it has historically, up until the present. A remarkable book, about some remarkable people." -Gerard Schwarz, Music Director, Seattle Symphony"This unusual book is chock-full of marvelous anecdotes about Seattle's musical history, from folk to country to opera to jazz." -Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic and author of Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle

46 review for Before Seattle Rocked: A City and Its Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    A welcome history of all that "other" Seattle sound, which, believe it or not, was pretty prolific even before Nirvana and the Grunge era. Chock full of details and interesting little tidbits, Armbruster does a fine job periodizing and then breaking eras up into musical type. Seattle in the beginning tended to be dominated by Scando-German music tastes but once the black population started growing, there was an influx of more blues-driven, jazz-tinged sounds. The meat of this is on the big band A welcome history of all that "other" Seattle sound, which, believe it or not, was pretty prolific even before Nirvana and the Grunge era. Chock full of details and interesting little tidbits, Armbruster does a fine job periodizing and then breaking eras up into musical type. Seattle in the beginning tended to be dominated by Scando-German music tastes but once the black population started growing, there was an influx of more blues-driven, jazz-tinged sounds. The meat of this is on the big band and folk eras, probably the best part of the book. Jazz is sadly not gone into too much, but there is a whole other work on just that alone, so Armbruster might've felt it was superfluous for him to do the same. That said, there are weird exceptions: Bing Crosby, a native of Spokane only shows up once; as does Hendrix, but whatever, you can't have it all! Maybe Seattle itself didn't figure much in their careers?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Armbruster's affection for his subject, his town and his people suffuses this amble through the Pacific Northwest's rich and varied historical trails. A's decision to exclude rock music from his examination was a good one. Including rock would have bloated the book to at least twice its size while diluting it's focus. And there are several other books addressing this region's contribution to that flashy genre. The book bogs down a little in the middle, partly a natural hazard of this type of excav Armbruster's affection for his subject, his town and his people suffuses this amble through the Pacific Northwest's rich and varied historical trails. A's decision to exclude rock music from his examination was a good one. Including rock would have bloated the book to at least twice its size while diluting it's focus. And there are several other books addressing this region's contribution to that flashy genre. The book bogs down a little in the middle, partly a natural hazard of this type of excavation work, in which the author makes pains to avoid giving short shrift to the many contributors. In one sense a niche book -- does anyone really care about the moldy musical heritage of one town other than its inhabitants? -- but in another sense it's a rich human collection of stories lives and efforts which is timeless and universal. Attention to detail can be found from the start -- for example in a great cover photograph of Guitar Shorty's band; the use of drumsticks as graphic separator; and a dedication to the Tuba Man [may he, and all the others, rest in peace and kick a little]. Other than musicians's own stories, the history of Seattle's music scene is also the history of Seattle's professional musicians unions, Local 76 and 493, which get diligent coverage, as well as behind-the-scenes information on local politics and fund-raising. Armbruster's prose is occasionally off-putting; he has a fondness for flowery phrases and is not afraid to use language such as "a farrago of feud and factionalism". But this criticism is a stylistic nit -- he deserves slack here due to the enormity of his efforts putting together such a work. The book's content outshines the words used to express it. That's the main thing. A surprisingly masterful Afterword addresses pertinent issues head-on: the commoditization of music by society over time; the difficulty of economic survival by making music a career; and the question of an actual PNW musical style or identity. "After a brief heyday, professional music stands revealed as a century-long anomaly lost in more centuries of hat passing and amateurism." That brilliant sentence more than makes up for the episodes of floweriness alluded to above. Like after hearing a good piece of music, unbidden, a shiver ran through my body at the conclusion of Armbruster's finale. Well-researched with footnotes, an index and even a bibliography, Armbruster provides a solid contribution to the corpus of work that is Seattle's historical record.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John

    First I want to say that I really enjoyed this book, and not just because I won it. I was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington from 1997 thru 2000 and lived in downtown Seattle until 2002. I have firsthand knowledge of the music scene in Seattle. Spent almost every weekend listening to live bands in Pioneer Square. Learning about Seattle's music history was wonderful!!! I am not a fan of Grunge so to read about all the great music Seattle has produced really made this book interesting. If your First I want to say that I really enjoyed this book, and not just because I won it. I was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington from 1997 thru 2000 and lived in downtown Seattle until 2002. I have firsthand knowledge of the music scene in Seattle. Spent almost every weekend listening to live bands in Pioneer Square. Learning about Seattle's music history was wonderful!!! I am not a fan of Grunge so to read about all the great music Seattle has produced really made this book interesting. If your a fan of music then I think you will enjoy this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Fantastic history of Seattle. While Armbruster focuses on music--from local Native American drumming and song, to brass bands, orchestra, folk, R&B, and Jazz into the late 1970s--this is also a great general history of Seattle. He covers social, economic, labor, and political history as related to the music industry in the Emerald City. Armbruster is a local historian and musician, and also a great writer!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This is a dense, well research look at early music history in Seattle. I am just not a huge music writing fan so I skimmed it because I live here adn i am a librarian but for people that love reading about music history and are interested in the Pacific Northwest it would be a great read. I left it unrated as I did not actually read it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    A good overview of the "music scene" in the Seattle area (but mostly Seattle, with a few mentions of people up north like in Edmonds, or south in Tacoma) before Jimi Hendrix or grunge. It includes the music of the Duwamish people, settlers' bands, jazz, opera, the symphony, blues, bluegrass, etc. A good overview of the "music scene" in the Seattle area (but mostly Seattle, with a few mentions of people up north like in Edmonds, or south in Tacoma) before Jimi Hendrix or grunge. It includes the music of the Duwamish people, settlers' bands, jazz, opera, the symphony, blues, bluegrass, etc.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

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    Rhefta

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    Larry

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    Kelly

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    Bridget Rowe

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    Scott M.X.

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    Berk T.

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    Alison

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    Jaime Young

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    Janet | purrfectpages

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    Evan Pauley

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    Jo-Ann Murphy

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    Penny

  46. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Murphy

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