17 Best Books About Jazz Update 05/2022

There was a new Lee Daniels movie on Hulu called “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which made people want to learn more about the people who made their favorite jazz records. It’s not just the history of jazz that’s important. The best books about jazz also show us the legends who built the style and the heartbreaking stories that inspired their every note and melody.

History of Jazz by Ted Gioia

Ted Gioia, a pianist and music historian, has written an in-depth history of jazz that will take you from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans, Chicago, and more. This book isn’t just about the best musicians in jazz. It also talks about the important places and times where legends like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Kamasi Washington, and Esperanza Spalding made their mark.

Light shines on women who “shaped the genre,” and it shows how jazz has become more popular in modern culture.

Miles by Miles Davis

Jazz legend Miles Davis doesn’t hold back in his 448-page autobiography, which he wrote with journalist Quincy Troupe. He talks about everything from his drug addiction to racism in the music industry and more (who wrote his own memoir about his friendship with the musician). Even the most ardent fans of Davis know that he has a Jekyll and Hyde-like personality. The trumpeter is unapologetic when he talks about his failed marriages (and admits to abusing his wives) and the people with whom he shared many stages (including Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others). It comes with 32 pages of photos, as well as a short history of the band.

Jazz: New York in the Roaring Twenties by Robert Nippoldt

This book by graphic designer Robert Nippoldt looks at the Roaring Twenties and the rise of jazz in New York, where Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington played in Harlem nightclubs. The coffee table book looks at 24 legends of the genre, including Bessie Smith, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Benny Goodman, and many more. It includes illustrations, anecdotes, and information about the jazz scene in New York City. The 144-page book comes with a 20-track CD that features the artists who appear in the book.

Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday

This book about Billie Holiday is by Lady Day herself, and it is one of the best. David Ritz, a music writer, wrote a foreword for this 50th-anniversary edition of Lady Sings the Blues. It includes more photos and a new discography, and it tells Holiday’s story in her own brutally honest words. Holiday’s 264-page autobiography was written with co-author William Dufty and was published three years before the jazz great died at the age of 44. It tells about Holiday’s tumultuous childhood in Baltimore, her battle with drugs, the racism she faced as she rose to fame, and more.

Jazz: A History of America’s Music by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns

In this 512-page book, Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, two of the world’s best-known documentarians and historians, explain more about the 10-part PBS TV show they made together. This book is filled with more than 500 photos, many of which have never been seen before. It tells the stories of famous musicians like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, and many more. It also shows how the Jazz Age shaped American history from the Great Depression to the Civil Rights Movement.

The book talks about how jazz helped cities like Chicago and New Orleans grow, how it was used as propaganda against the counterculture during the Cold War, and more.

Visions of Jazz by Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins, a jazz critic for the Village Voice, has written a book called “Visions of Jazz.” It has 704 pages and is a must-have for any music fan. In this book, there are 79 chapters about the most important people in the history of jazz, like Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan. There are also crooners like Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, and Rosemary Clooney, who are also praised for their jazz skills. In this book, there are also modern and rising artists who are “boldly expanding the horizons of jazz.”

Sittin’ In: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s by Jeff Gold

No jazz fan’s coffee table book collection is complete without this collection of 200 souvenir photos and memorabilia from some of the most important jazz clubs of the 1940s and 50s. Music historian Jeff Gold put together this 260-page hardcover book. He paints a picture of some of the world’s best musicians and the people who go to clubs every day, as seen by the club’s own photographers.

Readers can read in-depth interviews with Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins, Robin Givhan, jazz musician Jason Moran, and other people in the book. As a way to give people who love jazz a real sense of what it must have been like to see some of the most famous shows, the book also includes club menus, handbills and more.

Conversations in Jazz by Ralph J. Gleason

It’s been a long time since you’ve thought about what it would be like to meet Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Quincy Jones in person. This is what Ralph J. Gleason, a music journalist, does. He talks about some of his most memorable in-depth talks with the jazz greats, as well as other big names in the genre, like Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and more. Music fans will learn about the artists’ work and their true personalities, their lives, and interesting facts that show how their talents shaped music.

Black Music by Amiri Baraka

Fans of jazz from the early Sixties will want to read this book by a well-known jazz critic and prolific writer, Amiri Baraka. In it, he talks about the period’s best-known musicians. Black Music is a collection of reviews, interviews, essays, personal observations, and scholarly critiques of the genre and its most well-known artists from 1959 to 1967.

Thelonious Monk by Robin D.G. Kelley

This 624-page biography of Thelonious Monk is a must-have for anyone who wants to learn more about the legendary jazz composer and his musical genius. The definitive book gives us a picture of the mysterious and private musician thanks to access to Monk’s family and their archives that isn’t available anywhere else. In this book, jazz fans will learn about the man who invented bebop, from his heartbreaking poverty to his friendships. They will also learn about his artistic struggle to push the boundaries, which can be heard in his dissonant compositions.

Jazzlife by William Claxton

A photographer named William Claxton and a journalist named Jachim-Ernst Berendt took pictures of jazz artists all over the world, from street performers in New Orleans and San Francisco to big names like John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. The result is this beautiful 720-page coffee table book that tells the story of jazz across the United States in 1960. It comes in an extra-large 13-inch by 3.18-inch by 18.75-inch format.

Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong

Though Louis Armstrong thought his birthday was July 4, 1900, the trumpeter’s real story began on August 4, 1901, when he was born in New Orleans. His birth certificate wasn’t found until the 1980s. In his 248-page autobiography, Satchmo paints a vivid picture of Armstrong’s life in poverty and how he was taken in by a family of Lithuanian Jews who treated him like one of their own. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about his journey in jazz. As a child, he learned how to play the tin horn and made his way to Chicago at the age of 21 to play with his idol, King Oliver.

Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra by John Szwed

If you’re a fan of Afrofuturism, you won’t be able to put down Jon Szwed’s biography of Sun Ra, a pioneering musician and “self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn.” He started out as a pianist who played blues and swing. Then, he became an avant-garde polymath who also played free jazz and boogie-woogie. This 512-page book talks about his journey.

Four Lives in the Bebop Business by A.B. Spellman

In this 256-page book, A.B. Spellman tells the stories of Jackie McLean, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Herbie Nichols, four jazz artists who haven’t been talked about as much as they should have been.

Jazz fans can look forward to in-depth profiles that go into great detail about the musicians’ creative process, personal and professional hardships, and more from the legends who made the music we know today.

The Jazz Ear by Ben Ratliff

The Jazz Ear lets people listen in on some of the most insightful conversations between some of the best musicians in the world. When Wayne Shorter died, he left behind a lot These are just a few of the jazz legends who share the records that have helped them develop their own unique style. In the process, they show how jazz works and how they work as musicians.

Playing Changes by Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen, a well-known jazz critic, has written a 288-page hardcover that explains the beloved genre’s resurgence in “a graceful and comprehensive way,” Rolling Stone writer Evan Haga says. The book “examines the concepts and movements that bolster this robust, diverse present,” he says.

Contemporary jazz artists like Kamasi Washington and Esperanza Spalding and changemakers like Vijay Iyer and Mary Halvorson are some of the people featured in this important book, which you should read!

Footprints by Michelle Mercer

It’s a must-read for anyone who likes jazz to read this biography of composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Michelle Mercer, an author, talks about the influential figure’s 50-year career and how his music has influenced the history of the genre.

352 pages of interviews with people who knew and played with jazz legend Shorter are in the book, as well as “vivid recollections” from the jazz legend himself.

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