Hughes' appraisal and short history of jazz is a poet's and an appreciator's and thus makes a warm, relishing account of the music we can really call our own. To set the scene, there's an opening description of the New Orleans of Louis Armstrong's youth- the day of the spasm bands and their playing that marked the basic quality of jazz- playing for fun. Tracing the influences then, fascinating material emerges in the comments on early West African rhythms and the first Negro-White contacts; the characteristics of improvisation and movement rather than pre-composing and listening; the first southern brass and the sidewheeler bands; Negro songs- spiritual, minstrel and blues; and in 1800 the first ""ragtime"" bands that got their name from literally ""tearing a tune to tatters"". Completing his cycle, Hughes picks up Armstrong's story again and in portraying his life as the life of modern jazz, explains many of its parts- syncopation, counter melodies, the different beats and so forth. A good grasp of the subject for any age.