Recommended Jazz Books

The Blue Note Years, Jazz Photography of Frances Wolff

Wolff was co-founder of the Blue Note label and an accomplished photographer. He used simple but effective means and this collection of pictures, taken in the period 1941-1968 is quite unique. Wolff, as one of the directors of Blue Note, had access to the recording studios and thus to the greatest musicians of the time. There is much sponanteity here with the players (Monk, Miles, Coltrane and many more) going about their business in the studio, without posing, just recording, talking or resting. 176 pages full of history beautifully captured.

Kind of Blue, The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn, Jimmy Cobb

A well written book in which the author places the making of Kind of Blue in the cultural and political context of 1950s New York. There is a lot to enjoy in this book; Interviews with the drummer Jimmy Cobb, the only surviving member of the of Davis' recording group, reflections on Miles' relationships with Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly and Cannonball Adderley, his musical and personal style and the way his leadership influenced his colleagues. Kahn also allows the reader a glimpse into the Columbia recording studios in the 1950 as well as it's inner workings such as the equipment, the marketing, the A&R policy and production process.

Jazz, An illustrated History, Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns

Geoffrey C. Ward is the author of eleven books, including A First-class Temperament, which won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written or co-written many documentary films, including The Civil War, Baseball, The West, Thomas Jefferson and Not for Ourselves Alone. Ken Burns is a director, producer, and writer who has been making documentaries for more than twenty years. His film The Civil War was the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. This book follows Burns' 10-part documentary Jazz: A History of American Music. It is a lavishly illustrated volume featuring more than 500 pictures, some never previously published. The history of Jazz is treated (both in the book and the film) chronologically using the so-called Great Man perspective, following the lives of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis to carry the history of Jazz. This approach has come under attack from leading Jazz critics, but one could argue that any approach was always likely raise cries of protest. Wynton Marsalis take center stage as Jazz authority and many other great names in the history of Jazz are featured Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald are all here; so are Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Blue Note, The Album Cover Art, Vol 1 by Graham Marsh

For anyone with a passion for design and the history of graphic Art. These volumes tell the history of Jazz in images, rather than words. Blue Note has issued many great looking albums over the years and always was forward thinking in terms of design. This collection provides a wonderful trip down memory lane. A very interesting collection and a great visual experience. There is a second volume which is more of the same and frankly less interesting.

John Coltrane, His Life and Music by Lewis Porter

Porter has written a factual and meticulous historical biography of Coltrane, sticking to the facts and avoiding glorification. In every detail it is clear that Porter is incredibly well prepared. He has read everything there is to read about Coltrane and spoken to everyone who knew him. Working chronologically, this books offers even the hardened "Trane-experts" some tidbits of new information. Throughout the book Porter avoids painting the picture of a saint, a tendency so often found in other books about Coltrane. As a pianist and a Jazz music scholar Porter's analysis of the music can sometimes be a bit difficult, especially for those who are not familiar with analysing and researching transcriptions and musical formulas.

Miles Davis, The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe

Fascinating Autobiography in which Miles holds nothing back ! Here one of the greatest musical pioneers and innovators of the 20th century speaks frankly about his life, his early training and education, his music and his drugs problems. Also he reflects on is friendships and musical colleagues, such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane but also Jimmy Hendrix, Michael Jackson and James Brown. (You have to be able to deal with the incessant obscenity, as the book tends to take down Miles' own vernacular and use of language)

Bill Evans, How My Heart Sings by Bill Evans

Biographer Peter Pettinger was himself a professional pianist and a long time listener to Evans. It makes him an expert in articulating the nuances of the music. Evans was a retiring character and the only white member of Miles Davis' monumental group that recorded Kind of Blue. He was also, like so many other Jazz artists in the 50s, a heroin addict. Yet his drug habit never seems to have affected his playing which was of an exceptional and individual quality almost until his death in 1980. The book is a true tribute to the burdened artist and his transcendent music.

Chet Baker, His Life, His Music by Jeroen de Valk

Chet Baker's life and music never fails to catch the imagination of the more romantically inclined. Highly photogenic, gifted, extraordinarily musical and with a talent for communicating with his lyrical style of trumpet-playing, Chet was also troubled throughout his life by addictions. His life reads like a succession of drug problems and incarcerations, but it only seems to enhance the romantic attraction to this story. The talent, the good looks, the rise to fame the problems with drugs; almost a ready made Hollywood script. De Valk has written an objective book, packed with commentary and biographical information. In the event he quashes a few legends that have sprang up around Chet Baker. It also features a selected discography and a full discography with useful recommendations..


Collected Works, A Journal of Jazz by Whitley Balliett

Balliett is arguably the greatest observer of the modern Jazz scene. He certainly is one of America's most prolific, jazz critics. This anthology brings together the hundreds of album and concert reviews, musician profiles, book reviews, and other essays on jazz music Balliett has written for the New Yorker magazine since 1954. An enormous collection of work and a valuable reference guide to Jazz Music.

Art Pepper, Straight Life, by Art Pepper

A powerful, moving and brutally honest autobiography. Even someone who has never heard of Art Pepper should read this book. If you like his music, it is indispensable. The book gives a clear insight in the man Art Pepper. He gives honest criticisms of himself, his weaknesses and his talents. Art did not write the book, his wife Laurie did using and editing tapes and comments by Art on his own life, feelings and (unfortunately) not so much about his music.