There's a saying Kansas City jazz players use on one another before they solo. Tell us a story, the saying goes, and don't let it be a lie.
Jazz itself has not been especially well served by written stories. All the novels in the last 70 years that have told satisfying fictional truths about America's indigenous music could be counted on the fingers of Wingy Manone. Now Alan V. Hewat has added to that small shelf with "Lady's Time," a first novel that conjures up the spirit and early milieu of jazz as vividly as an old 78 by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five.
"Lady's Time" concerns itself with the life of Alice Beaudette, fair-skinned child of a Creole washerwoman in New Orleans. After her mother is viciously slain on New Year's Eve, 1900, little Alice learns the pianistic skills that will see her through her own troubled days--the "sunshine music" of ragtime, and the nighttime music of the blues. A teen-age Alice inherits her tutor's slot as keyboard "tickler" at the sporting house of Countess Eulalie Welcome. Later, transformed into Lady Winslow, Alice and her infant son settle in the New England town of Sand Springs, where she passes for white and finds work as a music teacher.