Jazz came to China for the first time on the afternoon of June 2, 1981, when the American bassist and French-horn player Willie Ruff introduced himself and his partner, the pianist Dwike Mitchell, to several hundred students and professors who were crowded into a large room at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Probably they were not surprised to find that the two musicians were black. . . .What they undoubtedly didn't expect was that Ruff would talk to them in Chinese. - from Chapter 1, "Shanghai"
Since 1955, Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff have been playing, teaching, and sharing jazz around the U.S. and around the world. William Zinsser, one of our finest chroniclers of American life, tells their story as he travels with the duo to China, to Davenport, Iowa, to New York City, and--with Willie Ruff--to St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, where Ruff journeys back to the roots of Western music in order to understand jazz's musical legacy.
Zinsser also accompanies Mitchell and Ruff as they visit their hometowns in Florida and Alabama. We listen as the two men tell of growing up in small towns in the American South of the 1930s and 40s; as they tell about the teachers, community leaders, and family members who believed in two young black men with talent but no formal musical training; as they tell of their struggles, their perseverance, and their ultimate success.
Jazz is indeed a uniquely American musical tradition, and there are no better guides to this inspiring art than Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff.
"In this account of the world adventures of two splendid jazz artists, Bill Zinsser has given us one of the most exciting books about America's original art form that I've ever read. It's a revelation."--Studs Terkel
"As good as any reportage being written today. Mr Zinsser obviously admires his subjects and has a sense of wonder at the way that have combined lowbrow and highbrow, stern intellectual discipline with joyful emotion, and humble origins with astonishing achievements."--Wall Street Journal