Paulie Horvath is never going to be a good student like his brother, John, never going to follow his hardworking father into the plumbing trade, never going to ease his mother's mind by passing tests or cleaning up his room. But once he hears jazz by accident from the basement of a speakeasy, he knows exactly what he will do: learn that music and make it his life. Jazz is all around in gangland Chicago, but not so easy for a 12-year-old to find, especially when his father disapproves of it. Paulie has to lie, beg, and steal just to get time for lessons, time to practice, time to slip across town to see stars like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
Lies last only so long until they are found out, and a confrontation is coming. Will he choose home and family or sleazy dives with that wonderful music? To decide, Paulie has to face an even tougher question. What is jazz, after all?
Author James Lincoln Collier has played and studied jazz throughout his life. Here is a novel that shows us a great moment in the history of jazz, and points at issues that still trouble us today.