Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to read more books?
If so, our curator–the great scholar and radio personality Phil Schaap–has graciously provided us with a recommended set of books for you to check out. This list below provides a starting point, with texts focusing primarily on earlier styles of Jazz. Phil provided even more titles covering later styles of the music, and we’ll list them in future posts.
We’ve added a few extra thoughts to accompany each book, and we have also provided links to copies. Happy reading!
1) This Is Ragtime, by Terry Waldo
Pianist and Early Jazz scholar Terry Waldo is one of our beloved Swing University instructors (and a Jazz Academy presenter!). When we say that Waldo literally wrote the book on Ragtime, we’re not exaggerating; his text has been the definitive resource on the style, and his corresponding series for NPR remains one of the most interesting and enjoyable studies on Ragtime. A onetime student of Ragtime legend Eubie Blake, Waldo combines incredible knowledge with a fun and engaging tone.
2) Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, by John Chilton
Clarinet and soprano saxophone master Sidney Bechet was and remains one of Jazz’s earliest and greatest geniuses. A flamboyant personality who led a fascinating life, Bechet offered up his own autobiography, entitled Treat It Gentle. While it’s a fascinating and highly enjoyable read, we also recommend checking out Chilton’s biography, which diligently fact-checks Bechet’s life and offers an eminently readable and accurate account of the artist’s journeys.
3) Early Jazz, by Gunther Schuller
Fans of Third Stream music are no doubt familiar with the name Gunther Schuller. For those who haven’t checked out his outstanding account of Early Jazz, be sure to pick up a copy. Its companion follow-up, The Swing Era, is also well worth reading.
4) Ellington: The Early Years, by Mark Tucker
Although Ellington is well-represented in biographies, press interviews, and even an autobiography, he remains an enigmatic figure in Jazz. Tucker’s work succeeds in drawing out some of Ellington’s earliest influences and highlighting the gradual formation of the Ellington Orchestra.
5) Jazz Masters of the 30s, by Rex Stewart
It stands to reason that if you want to learn about the music, lives, and personalities of the greatest Jazz artists of the 1930s, you should go straight to the source. Rex Stewart provides you with just that: a master cornetist and trumpeter who worked for Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington (among many others) Stewart provides incredible insights in this wonderful text.