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Living the Jazz Life: Conversations With Forty Musicians About Their Careers in Jazz by W. Royal Stokes

Oral interviews have been an integral part of jazz’s historical literature ever since the 1950 publication of Jelly Roll Morton’s recorded reminiscences. This was early jazz history come alive, and it proved to exert a powerful influence on subsequent books. In 1955, Nat Hentoff and Nat Shapiro published Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, which presented, in effect, the then entire history of jazz in the words of its primary sources: the musicians themselves. And between 1970 and 1980, the late Stanley Dance compiled four anthologies of transcribed recollections of hundreds of jazzmen from the swing era. Needless to say, all of these have added immeasurably to our understanding of jazz in those periods.

In the same spirit, then, did experienced jazz journalist W. Royal Stokes conduct his interviews over a 20-year period of time, later to collect some 40 of them for inclusion in Living the Jazz Life, the most recent of his three books. With a minimum of personal intrusion, Stokes allows his subjects to speak freely about their childhood initiations into the world of music, their early experiences learning their craft, their first exposures to jazz and their subsequent careers as professionals. Tellingly, his interviewees were largely selected by convenience: they were easily accessible either by virtue of their local performances in the Washington, D.C., area or at venues otherwise sought out by the intrepid reporter. They all make for an interesting read.

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