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Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop by Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix

Despite the fact that Kansas City has long been recognized as one of the most important centers for jazz, this is the first in-depth history of the subject. Driggs and Haddix have worked on this project individually and collectively for decades, and their book is certain to stand as a reference for readers and researchers alike. The early chapters are problematic: The details that are given are mostly about things like turn-of-the-century brothels, while the fact that Kansas City was one of the most important centers for the incubation of ragtime in the 1890s is barely mentioned.

But like a good Basie chart, the narrative gains momentum as it goes along. The authors give an impressive volume of detail about the great KC stylists, moving the spotlight from Bennie Moten, the Blue Devils and Count Basie to Harlan Leonard, Jay McShann and Charlie Parker–while pausing nicely for dozens of lesser figures. The tome culminates with McShann being tracked down on a KC bandstand by draft board officials in 1944 after keeping one step ahead of them for months.

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