Double Bass Blues

Cover of Double Bass BluesAs I read Double Bass Blues, I can see and feel the double meaning of the title. Nic is a young Black boy who plays the double bass at his suburban school. Unlike his friends, to get home he must travel across town — and with a double bass on his back. During his travels, he runs into a dog who is nearly ready to eat him and his instrument. He must then board a crowded city bus, where is he taunted by kids and scolded by adults. And then it begins to rain. Just when he thinks his journey is coming to end, he finds that the building's elevator is broken and he must carry his double bass up several flights of stairs.

Nic’s adventure from school might make anyone blue.

But Double Bass Blues isn’t just about those blues. It’s also about the music that is being passed down through the generations. When Nic finally gets to the top of the stairs, he is welcomed by his grandfather and some friends. From a poster on the wall, we learn that Nic’s granddaddy is Nicodemus Grant, and the friends are his band who are waiting for Nic and his bull fiddle (another name for the double bass). Nic is excited to show Granddaddy Nic what he has learned. The music that Little Nic plays with his Granddaddy Nic and his band becomes the soundtrack for the city below. We also sense the flexibility and creativity of little Nic, as before he creates this music with his granddaddy and his band, he plays for his school orchestra. The two worlds come together to create something even more beautiful than the originals.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Double Bass Blues.]

With very few words on each page, it is through Rudy Gutierrez's illustrations that we learn Nic’s story. The story opens with Nic lovingly embracing his double bass. Eyes closed. A slight smile on his lips. He is surrounded by bright colors and three colorful strips of musical notes coming from his double bass. The only words on the page are ziiiiiiiiiiip! and hummmmm to signify the opening of his case and his bow moving across the strings.

As Nic moves along on his journey, the colors mute a bit to signify the rain and the taunting of the other kids. In one scene, kids yell, “It’s bigger than him!” But there is also a strip of brightly colored musical notes that comes from Nic’s head as he reaches his granddaddy’s apartment. Purple and green lines signify the movement of Granddaddy Nic’s arms as he wraps his grandson in a warm embrace. The bright colors of the room and Nic floating from his granddaddy’s arms into the room full of men with instruments let the reader know that Nic has finally made it to a safe place.

The book closes with Nic again embracing his double bass — only this time he has taken the sounds of the city and made them into music with the other musicians. Their music makes its way to the streets below; neighbors and passersby dance in the rain.

The simple text — which consists of little more than onomatopoeia and small chunks of dialogue — paired with these vibrant, kinetic acrylic drawings creates a memorable story about an intergenerational love for music. 


Nicholl Denice Montgomery

Nicholl Denice Montgomery is currently working on a PhD at Boston College in the curriculum and instruction department. Previously, she worked as an English teacher with Boston Public Schools.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Cheryl Mann

This has been the most fascinating book to watch kids read. The children in my library seem to pour over the pictures in this book. They are really interested and invested in the story.

Posted : Dec 16, 2019 11:31


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more


We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing