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Trumpet is the debut novel of Scottish writer and poet Jackie Kay. It chronicles the life and death of fictional jazz artist, Joss Moody, through the recollection of his family and friends, and those who came in contact with him at his death. Kay stated in an interview that her novel was inspired by the life of Billy Tipton, an American jazz musician, who lived with the secret of being transgender for fifty years in pursuit of his musical career in the 1950s.
The novel begins just after the main character, Joss Moody, a famous jazz trumpeter, passes away. After his death, there is a revelation that his biological sex was female, causing a news rush and attracting paparazzi, leading his widow, Millie, to flee to a vacation home. The truth was unknown to anyone except Millie; the Moodys lived their life as a normal married couple with a normal house and a normal family, and not even Colman, their adopted son, knew the truth. When Joss dies and the truth is revealed, Colman's shock spills into bitterness and he seeks revenge. He vents his rage of his father's lie by uncovering Joss's life to Sophie, an eager tabloid journalist craving to write the next bestseller. After time, and a visit to Joss's mother Edith Moore, Colman eventually finds love for his father muddled in his rage. With his new-found acceptance of both his father and himself, Colman makes the decision not to follow through with the book deal. All the while, Millie deals with her grief and the scandal in private turmoil at the Moodys' vacation home, and a variety of characters whose paths have crossed with Joss's give accounts of their memories and experiences. All the characters seem either to accept Joss's identity or to perceive it as irrelevant.
Setting and narrative voice
Trumpet is mostly set in London in 1997. Memories of Joss's lifetime give the book's setting a 70-year time-span beginning in 1927. A majority of these memories are set in Glasgow in the 1960s, referring to locations such as The Barrowlands music venue, during the beginning of Joss and Millie's relationship and their early marriage. Although much of the story takes place in London where the Moodys lived, it jumps back and forth between the city and the Scottish seaside home to which Millie goes to escape the scandal and grieve in peace. The end of the novel is entirely set in Scotland, where Colman and Sophie go to investigate the place of Joss's birth.
Trumpet is written with an intricate narration, incorporating many characters' point of view. The narration varies by chapter. Most of the story is told from the first-person perspective of Joss's wife Millie, his son Colman, and the journalist Sophie Stones. The narration often takes the form of the inner thoughts of these three characters, including visitations of their memories. Some chapters are Colman responding to Sophie Stones' interview. In addition, chapters told from a third-person omniscient narrator contribute to the story, each focusing on a different minor character, such as the funeral director or Joss's drummer.
- The central character is Joss Moody, a famous black jazz musician. The novel begins in the wake of his death. Born a female by the name of Josephine Moore, Joss discovers he is transgender, and lives his life as a man. He becomes a famous trumpet player and devotes his life to his passion of music. Joss is portrayed as a passionate lover, strict father, energetic friend, and dedicated artist.
- Millie Moody, a white woman, is married to Joss. As a young adult, she falls in love with Joss, and her passion is strong enough to overcome the truth about his original sex. After his death, Millie is devastated. Although she outwardly handles herself with grace and composure, Millie's heart is broken. Millie is a loving, sympathetic character living out the cycles of grief under an unwanted spotlight.
- Colman Moody is the adopted son of Millie and Joss. He is of mixed race. As a child, Colman was often difficult and misbehaved. Upon his father's death, Colman, aged 30, discovers that his father was born biologically female, and experiences a range of emotions including confusion, anger, embarrassment, and grief, which drives him to cooperate with a journalist, Sophie Stones, in her attempt to write Joss Moody's story.
- Edith Moore is Joss Moody's mother. She enters the novel only at the end. We see her as she is growing old in a retirement home.
In an interview, Kay spoke about her desire to make her story read like music. Critics have acclaimed her for accomplishing this goal in a powerful and intricate narrative without melodrama. In an article for the Boston Phoenix, David Valdes Greenwood wrote that "in the hands of a less graceful writer, Jackie Kay's Trumpet would have been a polemic about gender with a dollop of race thrown in for good measure. But Kay has taken the most tabloid topic possible and produced something at once more surprising and more subtle: a rumination on the nature of love and the endurance of a family". Time magazine called it a "hypnotic story ... about the walls between what is known and what is secret..Spare, haunting, dreamlike", and the San Francisco Chronicle commented that "Kay's imaginative leaps in story and language will remind some readers of a masterful jazz solo".
Matt Richardson, in his analysis of the transgender subjectivity and the use of a Jazz aesthetic in the novel, noted that "as a form that encourages the transformation of standard melodies into multiple improvised creations, jazz is useful in expanding our conceptualization of the potential for black people to recreate ourselves and our gender identities in a diasporic practice".
Awards and nominations
Trumpet was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1998 and the Authors' Club First Novel Award in 2000, and won in the Transgender category at the 2000 Lambda Literary Awards. It was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, also in 2000.
Kay served as advisor to Grace Barnes, director of Skeklers Theatre Company, in her stage adaptation of Trumpet. The stage version was performed in the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in 2005.
Copyright 1998 by Jackie Kay, Trumpet was originally published by Picador (Great Britain) in 1998, and Pantheon Books (New York). It was published by Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. (New York), in 2000.