Longtime jazz writer and radio host Stokes talks with a wide range of musicians in search of their common denominators.
In recent years jazz, like so much else in American life, has become increasingly diverse, reflecting the multicultural nature of American society and the globalization of an American music. Although it is still predominantly an African-American music, jazz now can boast players of every gender, hue, creed, and nationality, as the author’s nicely balanced cast of characters reminds us. Indeed, apart from a concerted effort to represent the music in all its diversity, there seems to be little other explanation for Stokes’s choice of artists for inclusion in this volume. From his introductions to the individual interviews contained herein, it is clear that this is the product of more than a decade of interviews for print and broadcast, with intelligence and articulateness being the primary criteria for publication. Which are not a bad criteria, frankly. The result is like a long jam session, loose and jivey, full of lively solos and sparkling moments, short on structure and development. And like a long jam session, it goes on a bit past one’s endurance, but a reader can dip into it at leisure and find some delights that more than redeem the overriding casualness. Japanese-American pianist Sumi Tonooka talks about her mother’s harrowing experience in the internment camps. Trumpeter Nat Adderly recalls growing up across the street from a Baptist church (which will come as no surprise to any fan of Nat and his brother Cannonball). Cyrus Chestnut tells a hilarious story about the experience of sitting in on piano with the imperious jazz diva Betty Carter. Needless to say, there are many other memorable moments scattered throughout, more than enough to justify the reading.
A pleasing, if disorganized, collection of generally insightful conversation, spawned by a nicely modest interlocutor.