Mitchell & Ruff: An American Profile in Jazz

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Paul Dry Books, 2000 - Biography & Autobiography - 191 pages
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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

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Mitchell & Ruff: an American profile in jazz

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Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff comprise one of the most distinctive musical teams in popular music. Piano and bass (also French horn) players, respectively, these jazzmen have been playing together ... Read full review

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About the author (2000)

William Zinsser is author of the best-selling On Writing Well and fifteen other books. He has been a writer, columnist, critic, and editor at leading newspapers and magazines as well as general editor of the Book-of-the-Month Club. During the 1970s he was master of Branford College at Yale University, where he taught nonfiction writing and where he first met Willie Ruff. On the faculty of the New School University in New York City, Mr. Zinsser is a part-time jazz pianist and a student of Dwike Mitchell.

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