No one can tell us more about jazz than the musicians themselves. Unfortunately, most oral histories have limited scope--focusing on a particular era or style--and fail to capture the full, rich story of jazz. Now, in this vivid oral history, W. Royal Stokes presents nearly a century of jazz--its people, places, periods, and styles--as it was seen by the artists who created America's most distinctive music. Here, along with the author's enlightening commentary, are the words of musicians famous and little-known, veterans of the early years and pathbreakers of the present, telling us about their origins and adventures, about the places and performers they have known. We read of young artists learning their skills surrounded by poverty, going on to win fame around the world. We feel the excitement of jazz before the war ("The music was all over the place," recalled Wild Bill Davison. "It's just unbelievable how many bands there were in Chicago. You could go anywhere and there'd be a band."). And we glimpse the gritty, hard life hidden beneath the beauty of the notes they played: "I remember not eating practically a month several times," said Mary Lou Williams. "During the depression we played engagements and we knew we weren't going to get any money because Andy would scatch his face when he was walking toward the band and the trumpet player would pull out his horn and play the 'Weary Blues.' And we'd laugh about it. We hadn't eaten in a couple of days and nothing was said, because the music was our survival." Stokes not only uncovers the history of jazz in the major cities and regions--New Orleans, for instance, Chicago in the '20s and '30s, Kansas City, and California from the '50s to the present--but he goes on to bring us the story of the big bands, post-bebop developments, vocalists, jazz around the globe, and the contemporary scene ("I was about eleven and my brother Mike started to bring home a lot of Miles Davis records from school and that did it for me," remembers Pat Metheny. "First time I heard Miles playing 'My Funny Valentine, ' that whole record just destroyed me."). And he takes a close look at the rising place of women as instrumentalists in the last decade. Jazz is America's most original contribution to music, and--as the late Dexter Gordon lamented--America is the one country where it is little known. But W. Royal Stokes uncovers a scene that is as alive as ever, with this fascinating look at how it has been made and remade from the first decades of the century to today.