The saxophone, today an emblem of "cool" and the instrument most associated with jazz, was largely ignored in the U.S. for well over a half-century after its invention in France in 1838. Bringing this new sound to the American public was the Six Brown Brothers, one of the most famous musical acts on the stage in the early twentieth century. The group's quarter-century of ups and downs mirror the rise and fall of minstrelsy and vaudeville. With treks across the country and Europe, years in Broadway musical and comedy revues, and even time at the circus, the Six Brown Brothers embodied early American music. Rather than a note-by-note analysis of the music (the author is not a musicologist, but rather a cornet player, ragtime aficionado, and former philosophy professor), the book works with the music in its context, offering a cultural interpretation of blackface and minstrelsy, a history of the invention and evolution of the saxophone, and insight into the burgeoning American music/entertainment business and forgotten music traditions.
While known among fans of early ragtime and saxophone players, Vermazen's rigorous archival research with primary sources repositions the Brothers in their rightful place as key players in the development of American music and popularizers of the saxophone. Through their live performances and groundbreaking recordings - the first of a saxophone ensemble - the Six Brown Brothers made this new and often derided instrument (once referred to as the "Siren of Satan") familiar to and loved by a wide audience, laying the groundwork for the saxophone soloists that have become the crowning symbol of jazz.