The Jazz Scene

The Jazz Scene : An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990

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No one can tell us more about jazz than the musicians themselves. Unfortunately, most oral histories have limited scope--focusing on a particular era or style--and fail to capture the full, rich story of jazz. Now, in this vivid oral history, W. Royal Stokes presents nearly a century of jazz--its people, places, periods, and styles--as it was seen by the artists who created America's most distinctive music. Here, along with the author's enlightening commentary, are the words of musicians famous and little-known, veterans of the early years and pathbreakers of the present, telling us about their origins and adventures, about the places and performers they have known. We read of young artists learning their skills surrounded by poverty, going on to win fame around the world. We feel the excitement of jazz before the war ("The music was all over the place," recalled Wild Bill Davison. "It's just unbelievable how many bands there were in Chicago. You could go anywhere and there'd be a band."). And we glimpse the gritty, hard life hidden beneath the beauty of the notes they played: "I remember not eating practically a month several times," said Mary Lou Williams. "During the depression we played engagements and we knew we weren't going to get any money because Andy would scatch his face when he was walking toward the band and the trumpet player would pull out his horn and play the 'Weary Blues.' And we'd laugh about it. We hadn't eaten in a couple of days and nothing was said, because the music was our survival." Stokes not only uncovers the history of jazz in the major cities and regions--New Orleans, for instance, Chicago in the '20s and '30s, Kansas City, and California from the '50s to the present--but he goes on to bring us the story of the big bands, post-bebop developments, vocalists, jazz around the globe, and the contemporary scene ("I was about eleven and my brother Mike started to bring home a lot of Miles Davis records from school and that did it for me," remembers Pat Metheny. "First time I heard Miles playing 'My Funny Valentine, ' that whole record just destroyed me."). And he takes a close look at the rising place of women as instrumentalists in the last decade. Jazz is America's most original contribution to music, and--as the late Dexter Gordon lamented--America is the one country where it is little known. But W. Royal Stokes uncovers a scene that is as alive as ever, with this fascinating look at how it has been made and remade from the first decades of the century to more

Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 155.7 x 234.2 x 19.3mm | 447.88g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 16 pp halftones
  • 0195082702
  • 9780195082708

Review quote

'The beauty of Martin Williams's interviews was that they always read like spontaneous encounters between like-minded individuals, rather than Q & A sessions.' Brian Morton, The Times 'an enthralling book, based on dozens of interviews with jazz musicians from all parts of the United States and from all manner of backgrounds ... The book is thorough and absorbing from the first page to the last.' Peter Hepple, Stage & Television Today 'a living, breathing document of jazz history artfully knitted into a chronological sequence ... His chapter on the origins of jazz is counterbalanced by a brilliant and insightful snapshot of contemporary New Orleans, and his gently proffered socio-economic arguments are as plausible an explanation as I've seen for the neoclassicism of Marsalis and his contemporaries.' Alyn Shipton, Jazz `Stokes has encapsulated the compelling diversity of jazz in a single manageable volume. Thoroughly recommended.' Jazz Expressshow more

About W. Royal Stokes

W. Royal Stokes, Ph.D., has been closely observing the jazz scene since the 1940s and has been writing and lecturing about the art form for two decades. He has served as the Washington Post's jazz critic and as editor and monthly columnist of JazzTimes, and his byline has additionally appeared in down beat, Ms., Travel Holiday, the Washington Times, and many other publications. His radio show "I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say..." has been heard on local air waves since the early '70s. A native of Washington, D.C., he resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife Erika and sons Sutton and more

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