Hopefully, you’ve been enjoying our virtual bus trips, exploring the world every Wednesday during the pandemic from the safety of our homes. A few weeks ago we “visited” the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City to gain a better appreciation of Jazz music. If you want to add even more Jazz to your life check out this list of books for Jazz fans.
Jazz: A History of America’s Music by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
Here are the stories of the extraordinary men and women who made the music: Louis Armstrong, the fatherless waif whose unrivaled genius helped turn jazz into a soloist’s art and influenced every singer, every instrumentalist who came after him; Duke Ellington, the pampered son of middle-class parents who turned a whole orchestra into his personal instrument, wrote nearly two thousand pieces for it, and captured more of American life than any other composer. Bix Beiderbecke, the doomed cornet prodigy who showed white musicians that they too could make an important contribution to the music; Benny Goodman, the immigrants’ son who learned the clarinet to help feed his family, but who grew up to teach a whole country how to dance; Billie Holiday, whose distinctive style routinely transformed mediocre music into great art; Charlie Parker, who helped lead a musical revolution, only to destroy himself at thirty-four; and Miles Davis, whose search for fresh ways to sound made him the most influential jazz musician of his generation, and then led him to abandon jazz altogether. Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Artie Shaw, and Ella Fitzgerald are all here; so are Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and a host of others.
Jazz by Gary Giddins
Emphasizing its African American roots, Jazz traces the history of the music over the last hundred years. From ragtime and blues to the international craze for swing, from the heated protests of the avant-garde to the radical diversity of today’s artists, Jazz describes the travails and triumphs of musical innovators struggling for work, respect, and cultural acceptance set against the backdrop of American history, commerce, and politics. With vibrant photographs by legendary jazz chronicler Herman Leonard, Jazz is also an arresting visual history of a century of music.
Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker by Chuck Haddix
Saxophone virtuoso Charlie “Bird” Parker began playing professionally in his early teens, became a heroin addict at 16, changed the course of music, and then died when only 34 years old. His friend Robert Reisner observed, “Parker, in the brief span of his life, crowded more living into it than any other human being.” Like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, he was a transitional composer and improviser who ushered in a new era of jazz by pioneering bebop and influenced subsequent generations of musicians.
Meticulously researched and written, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker tells the story of his life, music, and career. This new biography artfully weaves together firsthand accounts from those who knew him with new information about his life and career to create a compelling narrative portrait of a tragic genius.
R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country
Anyone who knows R. Crumb’s work as an illustrator knows of his passion for music. And all those who collect his work prize the Heroes of the Blues, Early Jazz Greats, and Pioneers of Country Music trading card sets he created in the early to- mid-1980s. Now they are packaged together for the first time in book form. A bio of each musician is provided, along with a full-color original illustration by the cartoonist. A characteristically idiosyncratic tribute by an underground icon to the musical innovators who helped inspire him, R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country is a must-have collection for Crumb aficionados, comics fans, and music lovers alike.
The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965 by Sam Stephenson and W. Eugene Smith
In 1957, Eugene Smith, a thirty-eight-year-old magazine photographer, walked out of his comfortable settled world–his longtime well-paying job at Life and the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, New York–to move into a dilapidated, five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue (between Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth streets) in New York City’s wholesale flower district. Smith was trying to complete the most ambitious project of his life, a massive photo-essay on the city of Pittsburgh.
821 Sixth Avenue was a late-night haunt of musicians, including some of the biggest names in jazz–Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk among them–and countless fascinating, underground characters. As his ambitions broke down for his quixotic Pittsburgh opus, Smith found solace in the chaotic, somnambulistic world of the loft and its artists. He turned his documentary impulses away from Pittsburgh and toward his offbeat new surroundings.