Earlier this year, we posted a list of recommended reading material on Jazz History, selected by our curator Phil Schaap. If you haven’t seen the list, you can check it out here.
You may have noticed that list stops at about 1940. We don’t want to leave out any styles, so here we go with our Reading List, Part 2!
1) Masters of Bebop: A Listener’s Guide by Ira Gitler
Gitler is a legend amongst Jazz authors, and in reading this book, it’s easy to see why. An exceptional writer, Gitler (who was on the scene during this time) succeeds in taking you to the clubs where this music was born. Some of BeBop’s origins are lost to time, due to a recording ban, but this account from a first-hand witness helps explain the development of this extraordinary music.
2) Charlie Parker: His Music and Life by Carl Woideck
If you know a little bit of music theory and notation, and really want to dive into examining what made Bird’s music so revolutionary and lasting, this is the book for you. Woideck handles musical analysis of Bird’s music in a clear and helpful manner that is comprehensible by anyone with a basic knowledge of music.
3) Inside Bebop by Leonard Feather (now called Inside Jazz)
A relatively short, but exceedingly insightful look into the history of Bebop, by looking at the lives and works of some of its most beloved practitioners. Feather also includes a small amount of musical analysis towards the end of the book that adds new depths of insight to anyone who can read and follow notated music.
4) Four Lives in the Bebop Business by A.B. Spellman
Following, through analysis and first-hand interviews, the lives of four extraordinary and diverse artists–Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Jackie McLean, and Herbie Nichols–this is a must-read for any Jazz fan. In particular, the portrait of the consistently overlooked genius of Nichols and his music is vital reading.
5) John Coltrane: His Life and Music by Lewis Porter
Many wonderful authors have written on Trane, but few have matched the exceptional balance of scholarship and passion that Porter manages in this biography.
6) Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life by John Litweiler
For an artist of Coleman’s stature and influence, there are surprisingly few biographies on him. Litweiler’s is one of the most comprehensive and detailed, and is the best source for details on Coleman. But who knows? Coleman is still around, so we can keep our fingers crossed for an autobiography from him.
7) The Story of Jazz by Marshall Stearns
The books we’ve listed have largely avoided historical surveys, but this one is too good not to include. Marshall Stearns presents a wonderfully written piece drawn from extensive research and interviews, and offers a compelling narrative through the decades of Jazz’s development.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are many, many other great books to check out! However, these books represent a great starting point to get yourself grounded and listening to the music you love.