Book Review: The Essential W. Royal Stokes

October 14, 2020


W. Royal Stokes has had an interesting career spending a decade as a Professor of Greek and Latin Language and Literature and Ancient History at five different universities.  After taking to the road for a transitional period, he settled down as a jazz journalist and radio host in the Washington, D.C. area.  Stokes served as the jazz reviewer for The Washington Post for several years, has written for magazines such as DownBeat and JazzTimes, has penned many liner notes, and is the author of five previous books about jazz.  The Essential W. Royal Stokes: Jazz, Blues and Beyond Reader (Hannah Books: Elkins, WV) is a compilation of his writings from a variety of sources.

The book comprises 11 chapters covering jazz musicians through the Swing Era, those of more modern sounds, Washington D.C. area players, international jazzers, blues and rock artists, those involved in activities ancillary to jazz, performance reviews and previews, book, record and video reviews, letters, personal reminiscences, and his period as an academician.

The pieces vary in length, most of them relatively brief.  He makes judicious use of his extensive knowledge of jazz history to enhance the articles about whatever subject he is addressing.  Stokes has a writing style that is uncluttered and highly readable. His inclusions of quotations from or about his subjects are consistently on target and relevant.

Several extended interviews demonstrate his incisive interviewing technique.  Stokes has the ability to bring out the information that he is seeking and often includes in his questions material that complements the responses that he elicits.

Stokes has wide tastes and interests, and will probably introduce most readers to many artists with whom they are unfamiliar. This is likely to cause many readers to explore some of the artists who have suddenly entered their consciousness. 

The concluding three chapters are the most personal and offer the reader an in-depth understanding of what makes Stokes tick. Reading this material before getting into his articles about the music sets his writings in a perspective that makes them even more appreciated.

Like any compilation, this is the kind of volume that is not designed to be read straight through, rather one that you will find yourself picking and choosing pieces from depending on your own interests.  One thing is certain, whichever pieces you opt to read, you will find writing that is well-conceived and interesting.

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