This review was originally published in Jazz Notes: The Journal of the Jazz Journalists Association, Vol. 16, No. 2, June 2005.
Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers By W. Royal Stokes (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005; 240 pp.; $30 hardcover)
Review by Bridget Arnwine
Feminists around the globe should burn their bras in support of jazz writer W. Royal Stokes. No one has been more outspoken about the underrepresentation of women in jazz and jazz journalism. In Stokes’s latest book, Growing Up With Jazz: Twenty-Four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers, at least half of those interviewed are women.
As a woman who aspires to work professionally as a jazz journalist and author, I am pleased by equal representation when it occurs, but I am also frustrated that it should matter. But Stokes’s inclusion of women is most commendable because quite often, the limited coverage of women in jazz publications leads people to believe that there are only three women – at least two of them deceased for quite some time – doing anything significant in jazz.
In addition to his egalitarianism, Stokes also proves to be quite the scholar. Comparing Homer’s ability to compost the Iliad and the Odyssey to a jazz musician’s ability to improvise, Stokes asserts that the art of creating and sharing jazz is, in essence, an extension of the art developed by the Greek classicists so long ago. Who else but a scholar would make such an assertion? Stokes, a former professor of Greek literature, does that and more in the book’s introduction, sharing details of his own career and how it all contributed to the making of this book.
Growing Up With Jazz looks intimately into the lives and careers of 24 musicians and vocalists who have made a name for themselves in the jazz world. These artists may share different stories, but they are all celebrated in these pages because of their love for and contributions to jazz music. The book is divided into three main sections, accurately representing the divide in jazz music today: “Keepers of the Flame,” “Modernists” and “Visionaries and Eclectics.” In the three sections, the profiled musicians share their insights about racism, rebellion, family, education, curiosity and love, all of which have influenced their respective careers and their approaches to the music.
In “Keepers of the Flame,” artists such as Leonard Gaskin and George Botts speak briefly about the pain of racism while also bearing witness to the unifying effects of jazz music on musicians and audiences alike. Patrizia Scascitelli, included among the “Modernists,” indeed modernized jazz music in her home country, Italy, by giving it a female face and by helping to create an environment for jazz to be accepted by the musicians of her generation. And no one represents “Visionaries and Eclectics” better than Don Byron, who speaks about his struggle to earn respect not only for the clarinet as a jazz instrument, but also for himself as an African-American man who plays the clarinet and plays it well.
In the end, Stokes does far more than simply share 24 life stories. He personalizes the music by helping us identify with those who have exposed themselves in these pages. Although some of the interviews are a bit long for my taste, Growing Up With Jazz is the ultimate keeper of the flame. Stokes may have walked away from teaching Greek literature, but I think it is safe to say that Homer would be proud.
Bridget Arnwine is a contributor to Allaboutjazz.com. She lives in Long Beach, California.