Last night I visited one of my favorite places in the world: the Strand Bookstore in NYC. I am a reader. I love to read. I love books. I love receiving books as gifts and I love giving them to others. If you’ve ever been to my apartment you know I have shelves on every wall where I house my precious friends (thank you Elias Bailey!). I have no favorite genre when it comes to reading, except possibly Jazz books. I love a good biography or history, and definitely love a good autobiography (even if everything is not “factual”!).
I went to the Strand last night looking for the new Bud Powell Biography (has anyone read it? Recommendations?), but when they didn’t have it I came away with “Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray” (I’m also a nut for correspondence and anything to do with fellow Oklahoman Ralph Ellison).
As the holiday gift-giving season fast approaches, I am going to share with you a few of my favorite Jazz books. This list is by no means comprehensive, and as I do not claim to be a Jazz historian by trade, I cannot vouch for the truthfulness of every book! However, I can say these are some of my favorites and I think you would enjoy them too. (all links take you to Amazon)
1) Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell by Francis Paudras When I first read this book it moved me to tears. This is not a biography, but instead a very personal story about Paudras’ hero and friend, Bud Powell. Quite interesting.
2) Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews by Art Taylor A must have for any Jazz minded person! Each interview is so relaxed and easy – I love hearing the real voice of the musicians. For those of you reading who aren’t musicians, don’t worry! The interviews don’t focus on “shop talk”, but instead cover a lot of social issues and personal histories.
3) Treat it Gentle: An Autobiography by Sidney Bechet I have heard it said that very little in this book is factual, but let me tell you, I don’t care! Great story-telling and it will keep you reading until the last page.
4) Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings I told you, I’m a nut for Ralph Ellison. When I first discovered this book I must have bought 50 copies and given them to everyone for Christmas. The book includes excerpts from his works of fiction and also essays, interviews, and a few letters. I love the nonfiction pieces, my favorites being “Living with Music” (where he writes about growing up in Oklahoma City) and “Homage to Duke Ellington on his Birthday”. I consider this a must read for anyone interested not only in Jazz, but American culture.
5) Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano by James Doran This is a collectors piece, since it has been out of print since the late 1980’s. There are still a few copies on Amazon (starting at $85), but for a serious Erroll Garner fan it might be worth it for the exhaustive discography alone. The stories from his family are very interesting and there’s much to be learned from the chronology as well. (If you want to discover Erroll Garner this holiday season, you can also check out the great new DVD which came out earlier this year: No One Can Hear You Read, which is very fascinating, and much more affordable)
6) Raise Up Off Me: A Portrait of Hampton Hawes This autobiography is a must-read and possibly my favorite Jazz autobiography of all time. There is a 2001 edition out now which includes pictures and a discography.
7) Bird: the Legend of Charlie Parker by Robert Reisner My favorite book about Charlie Parker because it is comprised of short accounts written by people who knew him (it’s not a biography!). One of my favorites is the account from Jay McShann.
8) Blues People (and it’s Sequel: Black Music) by LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) For the past few years the Jazz community has heard a lot of talk about defining Jazz and “Black American Music”. If you’re interested in the social aspect of this music (and its history), read LeRoi Jones. Jones (or Baraka) is the author of my favorite quote of all time: “The further Jazz moves away from the stark blue continuum and the collective realities of Afro-American and American life, the more it moves into academic concert-hall lifelessness, which can be replicated by any middle class showing off its music lessons.” His books will make you think.
9) Good Morning Blues: the Autobiography of Count Basie (as told to Albert Murray) Love this book and love Count Basie. What more can be said?
These are *some* of my favorites – what are yours? Have you read any of my recommendations? Can you recommend a new book for my library? Let me know in the comment section below: