Best Jazz Books: 20 Essential Reads

Our list of just a few essential titles for newcomers and long-term aficionados to seek out.

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Photo: Dougal Waters / Getty Images

There’s only one reason to write about music and musicians, and that’s to encourage people to listen to the music. Every one of these books does just that. They range from the more scholarly end of the spectrum to the passionate and personal. Each one is written with love and affection for jazz, which has often inspired some of the best writing on music.

These are not the 20 “best” books on jazz, but every one is worth seeking out and reading. They will encourage you to listen to more music.

Which great books on jazz would you recommend and why?

Satchmo: My Life In New Orleans (Louis Armstrong)

Louis Armstrong’s exuberant first-hand account of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century is irresistible. Sometimes he may stray just a little from the facts, but that’s what also helps to make it so readable. There are other books about Pops, but only this one by the man himself.

Collected Works, A Journal Of Jazz (Whitney Balliett)

He’s been called “the most elegant of all jazz writers,” and it is hard to argue when you read his well-crafted prose. It is also a living history of half a century of jazz.

Treat It Gentle (Sidney Bechet)

A fascinating book about a fascinating man. It takes you back to New Orleans and then takes you on a journey to Europe and back to America. Bechet’s reputation is one that sometimes detracts from just how important he was.

Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz (Rudi Blesh)

Published in 1949, this book quotes W.B. Yeats in the frontispiece, so you know that it is going to be scholarly, which it definitely is, but it’s also very readable. It’s one of the very earliest books to attempt the task of offering a history of jazz.

Jazz (Bob Blumenthal)

Bob Blumenthal’s “Jazz: An Introduction to the History and Legends Behind America’s Music” is a fabulous book. It’s been called “ the single best compact introduction to jazz currently available”. It’s certainly one of the very best.

The Song Of The Hawk: The Life And Recordings Of Coleman Hawkins (John Chilton)

English musician, writer, and critic John Chilton passed away in early 2016 and was one of the great advocates for jazz. His perception when writing of Hawk’s music is like no other and his work is important in recognizing one of the true greats.

Miles (Miles Davis)

Miles Davis‘ autobiography gives us an insight to jazz in the middle of the 20th century like no other book. He was on the inside and his insights are therefore very personal. No one else could have written this one. A must-read.

Riding On A Blue Note: Jazz And American Pop (Gary Giddins)

“Nobody writes with greater style and authority about American music than Gary Giddins. The great musicians are all here – from Professor Longhair to Charlie Parker – and it’s a pleasure to enjoy their company with a fine writer,” says Pete Hamill.

Jam Session (Ralph Gleason)

Jazz critic and writer Gleason collected this fascinating anthology of jazz writing and published it in 1958. Reading it puts you right back in the moment.

Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice (Tad Hershorn)

A detailed and exhaustive biography of the man who was so important to the way we see and hear jazz through his groundbreaking Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts and his record labels, including Verve.

The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse! Records (Ashley Kahn)

One of the giants in terms of the music it recorded, Impulse! is a label with a great story and the albums that were recorded for the label are among the best from the 1960s and early 1970s. Kahn tells, in great detail, how Impulse! went about it.

Mister Jelly Roll (Alan Lomax)

By his own admission, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton was central to the emergence of jazz in the early 20th century, and this book is a wonderful romp through a time that almost no one living can now remember. Folklorist Alan Lomax recorded Morton’s reminiscences, anecdotes, boasts, and songs in 1938, and in 1950, Lomax converted the recordings into this book, graced by David Stone Martin’s wonderful line drawings.

Living With Jazz (Dan Morgenstern)

Everyone who knows Dan knows that he is a man that understands jazz better than most anyone on the planet. The former editor of Down Beat offers a collection of writing that covers every nook and cranny of the genre. Seek it out and put it beside your bed.

Why Jazz Happened (Marc Myers)

WSJ journalist and brilliant jazz blogger Marc Myers has written the first social history of jazz and it is unputdownable. It’s only a little over 200 pages, but every single one is crammed with facts and opinions that make it essential.

High Times, Hard Times (Anita O’Day with George Eells)

It’s harrowing, and in places horrible, but Anita was there, knew them all, and lived to tell the tale. A classic.

The Blue Moment (Richard Williams)

This exquisitely written meditation on Miles Davis’ album, Kind Of Blue, is elegant and insightful and tells you all you want to know about this seminal recording. It is also a wonderful evocation of the very meaning and essence of blue. No praise is too high.

What A Wonderful World: The Magic Of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years (Ricky Riccardi)

Anyone who knows writer, historian, archivist, blogger, and the single most exciting advocate of Pops’s music, hears Ricky Riccardi saying every word that’s in this brilliant book. Enthusiasm and insight are important when writing about jazz.

Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya, the Story Of Jazz As Told By The Men Who Made It (Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff)

This is an oral history of jazz published in 1955, in which a vast array of musicians talk about the music, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. Get it!

Space Is the Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra (John F. Szwed)

A fascinating musician and a book that offers amazing insights into his life and work.

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Terry Teachout)

A wonderful, meticulously researched book that tells you an enormous amount about Armstrong.



  1. Rachel

    March 20, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    A book which should be on this list is But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer. It’s simply perfect. I find it amazing that I found a love for jazz through reading this book. Love, love, love it and the author.

    • Manel Ortega Ferrer

      March 20, 2016 at 8:20 pm

      Yes, really a beautiful Booker!

    • uDiscover

      March 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      Seriously, this was 21 on our list. We love it too!

      • Karl-Erik Liljeros

        September 27, 2017 at 4:28 pm

        Really the Blues, Mezz Mezzrow!
        I miss that book as # 22

    • Greg

      March 20, 2016 at 11:27 pm

      totally agree

    • Bernie Hirschbein

      March 21, 2016 at 6:25 am

      Yes, I totally agree. Unfortunately I loved the book so much I lent it out, and when I forgot who I lent it to I bought it again and lent it out. It’s so good!

      • Isaac Mizrahi

        September 28, 2016 at 9:18 am

        bernie…you made me laugh….you remind me of me….

    • Nic

      March 21, 2016 at 11:10 am

      I agree Rachel. This is a wounderful book. You can tell that the author is passionate about Jazz. It´s an awesome subject !

    • Sam

      July 14, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      The reviews I’ve seen says it all, it’s next on my list!

    • Kelechi

      July 16, 2020 at 4:16 pm

      Excellent book. It is to jazz music what Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby is to English football.

  2. Ian

    March 20, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    The Baroness: The Search for Nica the Rebellious Rothschild by Hannah Rothschild is an excellent read, documenting Pannonica Rothcshild’s introduction to jazz and her relationship with Thelonius Monk

    • uDiscover

      March 20, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      A perfect book, we agree!

  3. Will Haight

    March 20, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Paul Bley’s “Stopping Time” is a magnificent read.

  4. John motheral

    March 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Life long jazz lover””….70 years.”…


    March 20, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

  6. Ricky Green

    March 20, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    A New History of Jazz by Alyn Shipton and Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz are rhe best books on the music’s history that I have read

  7. Sanford Josephson

    March 20, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Jeru’s Journey: The Life and Music of Gerry Mulligan

  8. Steve Griggs

    March 20, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Treat It Gentle by Sidney Bechet

  9. sam

    March 20, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    i’ve not heard Miles album ‘King of Blue’, anyone tell me what it’s like

    • Paul

      March 20, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      Haha your comment just made my day

    • uDiscover

      March 20, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      Sam, we were beaten by the damn predictive!

    • John

      March 20, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      “Kind of Blue”
      Listen to it on youtube here:

      Belongs in every jazz collection.

    • T G A Smith

      July 26, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      I am envious Sam – I’ve heard it countless times – you still have a wonderful surprise in store. It’s stunning!

  10. Annette

    March 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    “King of Blue”?

    • uDiscover

      March 20, 2016 at 11:14 pm

      Annette, the predictive beat us!

  11. Brad

    March 20, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960’s -frank kofsky

  12. Bo Leibowitz

    March 20, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I find Gunther Schuller’s “Early Jazz” and “The Swing Era” to be both definitive and indispensable.

  13. Wayne

    March 20, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    There are a few books that should be read
    1. Straight Life by Art Pepper . Lays it out honestly being a junkie in jazz and his eventual return to great acclaim .
    2. The triumph of Charlie Parker by Gary Giddins. A superb book detailing the genius and the tragedy of Parker.
    3.The World of Duke Ellington by Stanley Dance. Interviews with Ellington,band members ,and associates . Gives a unique insight to the wonders of the greatest composer and orchestra that jazz has produced

    • Robert Ball

      September 30, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      Straight life by Art Pepper is amazing. You’re not sure you like him when it’s done but you sure are glad he wrote the book . Few people have the courage to show themselves warts and all.

  14. d.a.

    March 20, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    not a better overall book around than “The guide to classic recorded jazz” by Tom Piazza

  15. bhikku

    March 20, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    As Serious As Your Life, by Val Wilmer.

  16. Mark Fisher

    March 20, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Reading Jazz, A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now

    Edited by Robert Gottlieb

    Encyclopedic and fascinating read

  17. Teagardener

    March 20, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Along with all the books mentioned above, look for “Really The Blues” by Milton “Mezz” Mesirow.

  18. GregM

    March 20, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Dance of the Infidels–A Portrait of Bud Powell by Francis Paudras

  19. Shaun McGlue

    March 20, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    The Stardust Road by Hoagy Carmichael. Life of Bix Beiderbeck, and those around him.

  20. Boaz D Dror

    March 20, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Essential omissions:

    A. B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in The Bebop Business”
    Val Wilmer’s “As serious as your life”
    Mezz Mezzrow “Really The Blues”

  21. John

    March 20, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Any book about Lester Young.
    Also the “childrens” book: The First book of Jazz, by Langston Hughes.

  22. Bill

    March 21, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Mezz Mezzrow- Really the Blues
    Straight Life- Art and Laurie Pepper

    • lahope

      March 22, 2016 at 1:39 am

      I second the Straight Life.

  23. Ket

    March 21, 2016 at 1:05 am

    The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP, and Cassette: A Coprehensive, critical guide to recorded jazz — From its beginnings until the Present [1992], Richard Cook and Brian Morton

  24. Pierre

    March 21, 2016 at 1:51 am

    A specialized but highly interesting book is about the development of jazz in Japan: “Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan”, by E. Taylor Atkins. It is well known that jazz is still popular in Japan, as in France and elsewhere. In addition, Japan produced exciting artists: The fantastic pianist virtuoso Hiromi Uehara is doing very well, her last record Spark already produced large sales in Japan, and it will be available soon worldwide. To understand the development of Jazz in that country is fascinating.

  25. angela levey

    March 21, 2016 at 3:06 am

    A new one,just out—“-Stan Levey-Jazz Heavyweight”by Frank Hayde–Informative and a good read.

  26. lilididoomdoom

    March 21, 2016 at 4:14 am

    Duke Elington’s “Music is my Mistress”. Well-rounded curation of Jazz personalities from Ellington’s time; best platform to start a personal research.

  27. Jeff

    March 21, 2016 at 7:03 am

    “Raise up off me” by Hampton Hawes should be on this list

    • Michael Rodifer

      March 13, 2019 at 6:33 pm

      Agree 100%!

  28. Tim

    March 21, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Both ‘A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers’ and ‘Jazz Singing:Americas Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond’ By Will Friedwald.

    Lush Life; A Biography of Billy Strayhorn. By David Hajdu

    Thelonious Monk; Life and Times of an American Original. By Robin D.G. Kelley.

    all essential

  29. Roger Strong

    March 21, 2016 at 9:11 am

    ‘Shining Trumpets’ is very one-eyed view of jazz in my opinion. So many books missing- what about ‘We Called it Music’ by Eddie Condon? Nothing I saw by Whitney Balliet who must be the finest writer in jazz….

    • B Rousseau

      March 30, 2021 at 7:15 pm

      Condon was so good at playing, writing, organizing He did a lot to and for jazz music and musicians. Book is great.

  30. Wayne Symes

    March 21, 2016 at 10:55 am

    I love Uncompromising Expression: The Cover Art of Blue Note Records as well

  31. Tyler Smith

    March 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I would have A.B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business” on the list. Takes you inside the hard work and commitment required to be a jazz musician, as told by the musicians themselves, including Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor — two who took a huge amount of abuse from critics and other musicians.

  32. Tyler Smith

    March 21, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I would have A.B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business” on the list. Takes you inside the hard work and commitment required to be a jazz musician, as told by the musicians themselves, including Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor — two who took a huge amount of abuse from critics and other musicians. Jackie McLean and Herbie Nichols are also profiled.

    Also “Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews” by the late great drummer Art Taylor would make mine. Very provocative reflections about music, race, class and other issues in the voices of the musicians.

  33. Norman Shoaf

    March 21, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    “The History of Jazz” and “West Coast Jazz,” both by pianist, critic, and music historian Ted Gioia. Thoroughly researched, readable, and compelling. These two books will leave you with a strong overview of jazz in America from Bix Beiderbecke to the present.

  34. Don Hales

    March 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Surely a book about Ladyday should be in there?

  35. Jacquelyn Weinbrenner

    March 21, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    I am so very disappointed that none of the TWENTY books listed regard women in jazz. I’m sure there must be some great ones. Last year, I read ‘Billie Holiday’ by John Szwed and ‘Blues Legacies and Black Feminism’ by Angela Davis, both of which were awesome. I’m gonna see if there are any good books on Sarah Vaughn.

    • Paul Hebert

      March 21, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks for pointing out the glaring omission. I would especially love to read more about female instrumentalists — Mary Lou Williams, Geri Allen, Carla Bley, Alice Coltrane, Mary Osborne, etc….Got any recommendations?

  36. rob

    March 21, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    All what jazz by Phillip of the funniest and opinionated books on Jazz.
    Joe harriott fire in his soul by Alan Robertson..great biog of a overlooked pioneer.
    A history of jazz in britain by Jim Godbolt (who also wrote all this and many a dog)
    Red and Hot..the fate of Jazz in the soviet union by S Frederick Starr..
    Hot Jazz,Cold Feet by John Chilton

  37. Tom

    March 22, 2016 at 2:33 am

    How about Gene Lees “Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s” and a spectacular history and comprehensive readers’ guide entitled “Jazz Fiction” by David Rife. The author synopses 700 jazz titles with a “voice” as clever and distinctive as the best jazz soloists.

  38. Andy Whyte

    March 22, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Straight Life (Art Pepper), Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (Doug Ramsey), How Many of You Are There In The Quartet, Mr Brubeck (Paul Desmond*), Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (Ashley Kahn),
    A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album (Ashley Kahn), Cats of Any Color (Gene Lees), Facebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz (Richard Terrill)
    * Unfortunately Desmond never got around to writing it.

  39. Andy Whyte

    March 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Fakebook, not Facebook, goddammit! Sorry Richard.

  40. Ron Weinstock

    March 22, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Art Hodes – Selections from the Gutter: Portraits from the “Jazz Record”; Kelley’s magnificent Monk biography; Peter Pullman’s Wail: The Life of Bud Powell (only available for Kindle I believe).

  41. Adam Engelhardt

    March 22, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Also strongly suggest “Straight Life” by Art Pepper. Excellent read about the dark side of addiction and an outstanding musician’s career.

  42. Cicily Janus

    March 29, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Has anyone read my book? If not, I’d love for you to check it out. The New Face of Jazz.


    March 29, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Info very informative. Most of the Books were unfamiliar to me but the performers were not. It took me back to a close friend, Horace Silver and the times spent in Upper Manhattan, NY. “The Good Olde Days”. Abou

  44. Bob Taylor

    April 2, 2016 at 5:49 am

    It’s beyond depressing that Richard Sudhalter’s “Lost Chords” is omitted yet again. This magnificent book is one of the greatest contributions to the scholarship of America’s music in the history of the nation. It should have won all sorts of awards besides the Deems Taylor ASCAP award it did get. Only a completely unjustified political correctness has kept this fascinating book unknown to most jazz lovers but thank God for freedom of the press and the genuinely thoughtful minds who have kept it in print.

  45. Greg Thomas

    April 3, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Two important books that encounter and explain, with different emphases, the relation of blues to jazz is Blues People by Leroi Jones (who became Amiri Baraka) and Stomping the Blues by Albert Murray, who would have been 100 on May 12, 2016. The blues and black American culture are at the root of jazz, so these books are essential.

  46. Mark

    April 16, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Rafi Zabor and his bear.

  47. adrian

    May 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

    The Jazz Book by Joachim-Ernst Berendt is still the jazz bible.

    • Antony Collinge

      September 29, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      yes, real authority

  48. Sam

    July 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Well all the great comments and reviews I’ve seen about the book “But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer”. It is on my list to buy. I love jazz of the fact we have 100 years of different genres, styles, profiles, studio and live performances to explore. I am a novice and Jazz is my passion to enjoy and explore the ones I haven’t heard before. Miles, Duke, The Bird and Django are my favourites. lets not forget the silk sounds of jazz vocals which are timeless ladies i salute you. We are spoilt for choice.

  49. Peter Gage

    August 22, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Four lives in the Be-bop business
    Bird Lives
    Miles autobiography

  50. Peter Howard

    September 27, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    I very much enjoyed “Jazz Is” by Nat Hentoff and think it worthy of this list.

  51. Shaun McGlue

    September 27, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    If you like Bix you will love The Stardust Road by Hoagy Carmichael.
    A must read for all jazz lovers.
    So be it So bend it So burn it.

  52. Graham Taylor

    September 27, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    No list can be complete without reference to the great Mr Morton – Mister Jelly Roll by Alan Lomax & Laurie Wright’s painstakingly researched Mr Jelly Lord. Essential social history even if you don’t appreciate the guy’s music!

  53. Paul Loubriel

    September 27, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    3 Really good ones with a lot of first hand accounts by musicians:
    Swing to Bop – Ira Gitler
    Gil Evans: Out of the Cool: His Life and Music – Stephanie Stein Crease
    Reminiscing In Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington Hardcover – Stuart Nicholson

    • Kelly

      September 28, 2016 at 3:53 am

      Swing to Bop is excellent. Used it extensively in a grad school paper about the Deep Deuce area in OKC

  54. ed

    September 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    What about “Beneath the Underdog” by Charles Mingus?

  55. John Anthony

    September 27, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence by Andre Hodeir

  56. Philippe Lauwers

    September 27, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    I was hoping to find some fiction that would plunge the reader into the world of jazz. But maybe that’s a subject for another list 😉

  57. Kevin Raske

    September 27, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Jazz Giants by Studs Terkel

  58. Tony

    September 28, 2016 at 12:57 am

    “Blues People” by LeRoi Jones. Excellent!

  59. DrumPhil

    September 28, 2016 at 3:49 am

    I would add “Hard Bop Academy”, that covers everyone who played with Art Blakey, and “Blowin’ Hot and Cool”, a history of jazz as seen through the critics who covered jazz in the media. Great list!

  60. Kelly

    September 28, 2016 at 3:58 am

    Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War by Penny M Von Eschen.

    Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley

  61. Soren Bogelund

    September 28, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Billie Holiday and William Dufty: Lady Sings the Blues. 1956
    Ross Russel: Bird Lives!. 1972
    Important reading about two of the greatest artists in jazz!

  62. Enno Jönsson

    September 28, 2016 at 9:38 am

    “Straight Life” by Art Pepper. Apart from the tragic story the dedicated reader can follow up with the music itself in parallel – the list of recordings w/ dates, locations, musicians etc. is super helpful.
    This year 2016 Benny Golson published “Whisper Not”, and this book covers much more than the interesting developments of Mr Golsons career, but also gives insights into the mindset of this great artist.

  63. Antony Collinge

    September 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    ‘Buck Clayton’s Jazz World’ is absorbing, frank and hugely entertaining.

  64. Rich Pulin

    November 3, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    What about Bill Crow’s 2 famous and funny Books?

  65. Rich Pulin

    November 3, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Duke…”Music Is My Mistress”

  66. Doug

    February 23, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    “Shall We Play That One Together? The Life and Art of Jazz Piano Legend Marian McPartland” by Paul de Barros

  67. Alan Brinkworth

    February 25, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    One of the very best biographies is The Long Shadow Of The Little Giant by Simon Spillett covering the life of Tubby Hayes

  68. Pecaito

    March 2, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    THelonious Monk, the life and Times of an Amarican Original.

  69. Dave Pearson

    March 2, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    I’d add Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago – a compilation of features from Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s Magazine. A really excellent collection of insightful articles covering the whole jazz spectrum. Plus Ronnie’s legendary well worn jokes to enjoy one more time.

  70. Jimmy McArdle

    March 2, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    I would also recommend WE CALLED IT MUSIC by Eddie Condon with Thomas Sugrue and JACK TEAGARDEN/ The story of a Jazz Maverick by Jay D Smith and Len Guttridge Two books that I pick up every now and then and reread.

  71. Amadeu António Mortari

    March 2, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    I have a impressive book from 1962: JAZZ -A history of the New York scene – by Samuel Charters and Leonard Kunstadt. For jazz lovers it’s indispensable!

  72. Steve Andrews

    March 3, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    “Hendersonia, A Bio-Discography” by Walter C. Allen. Meticulously researched, it tells you everything about Fletcher Henderson, his Orchestra, his arranging and recordings. Indispensible!

  73. Crocodile Chuck

    April 1, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    “Hard Bop”, David Rosenthal. About the best book on Mid 20thC music.

  74. JazzTN37

    April 2, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Wonderful list — maybe too skewed towards a few early bio’s verging towards hagiography’s — and many great added recos (some that WERE on original list) but the voice of another woman besides Anita O’Day would’ve been nice. There’s a cool slim volume by Amy Beal on Carla Bley, Ellen Johnson’s portrait of Sheila Jordan, Jazz Child. Also might add A.J. Albany’s memoir of her father, Joe Albany in Lowdown (also great indie film) and Lorraine Gordon’s Alive at The Village Vanguard. For me the most striking omission is what often used to be considered perhaps the best single volume providing an overview/framework for thinking about the evolution of the music and compiler of the classic Smithsonian : Martin Williams, The Jazz Tradition (!)

  75. beth

    April 3, 2017 at 12:55 am

    Give a look at Jean Pierre Lion’s exceptional Bix, The Definitive Biography of a Jazz Legend, from 2005; the discography literally follows session dates with commentary across 300+ pages. Lion continues in the vein of Philip R Evans and Richard Sudhalter and he doesn’t skimp on the important full quotations from key musicians who knew BIx both as a musician (ex. Pops) and as a friend and associate. Lion also writes with both poise and elegance which is a joy to read.

    • B. Rousseau

      March 30, 2021 at 8:38 pm

      BIX. All books about Bix are good Lion, RALPH BERTON, Brendan Wolfe “Finding Bix”.

      Also a book about Hoagy, Paul Whiteman, etc.

  76. Andrew Homzy

    April 3, 2017 at 1:11 am

    I think the list of 25 is flawed in many ways.
    1. it is very Ameri-centric.
    2. I don’t think there is any musical notation in any of those books.
    3. The Miles autobiography is a sham.
    4. Even though Blesh quotes Yeats, it doesn’t mean he has written a good book
    5. I’d rather see a list come from somebody with great creds – like Dan Morgenstern or Ethan Iverson. Knowing the Beatles & Megadeath is not a jazz-qualifier.

  77. George

    April 3, 2017 at 10:52 am

    The late Ian Carr’s biography of Miles Davis is still definitive on Miles – and is one of the best books on jazz.

  78. JohnE

    April 8, 2017 at 2:23 am

    Forces in Motion by Graham Lock. I am very surprised that no one else has mentioned this so far.

  79. Erland Eikestad

    August 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Shouldn’t Ross Russell’s “Bird Lives! The Hard Life and High Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker” really be on that list? Yes, it should., yet it isn’t.

  80. Norm Johnson

    August 1, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    “To Beep or Not to Bop”
    By Mr. John Birks Gillespie i would definitely recomend!

  81. Bill Moody

    August 1, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Anybody read mine? The Jazz Exiles or for jazz in fiction the Evan Horne series. There are 7 of them

  82. John Illingworth

    August 2, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Bill Crow’s “Jazz Anecdotes” and “Birdland To Broadway” are both informative and entertaining. Scott DeVeaux ‘s “The Birth Of Bebop” is a scholarly tome!

  83. Chaz

    September 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    An unfortunate omission is Dizzy Gillespie’s “To Be Or Not . . . To Bop.” Not only is it one of the best books about jazz, it is also one of the best autobiographies that I have read.

  84. Christopher Sjoholm

    September 27, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    I would add “Kansas City Lightning-The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker” by Stanley Crouch. Crouch’s supple prose gives voice to what gave birth to Parker’s originality. This book is not just musical criticism. It is adroit political, social and cultural criticism, too.

  85. Boaz

    September 28, 2017 at 12:39 am

    FOUR LIVES IN THE BEBOP BUSINESS and AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE should be on this list. Essential.

  86. Marissa

    September 28, 2017 at 12:53 am

    Bill Evans How My Heart Sings Peter Pottinger. Thorough biography. Written by a concert pianist.

  87. Debbie Burke

    March 28, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    “GLISSANDO: A story of love, lust and jazz” is a jazz story from the perspective of midlife angst and passion. I’d add it to the list as well!

  88. Debbie Burke

    December 16, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Published after this article ran but worth checking out- snarky sassy jazz novel about midlife, rediscovered lust that has protagonist and anti-hero reeling! Sparkling authenticity in its jazzy feel and references: GLISSANDO: A story of love, lust and jazz

  89. Richard Leigh

    July 28, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Andy Hamilton’s book of interviews with Lee Konitz is essential – a great musician and highly articulate and entertaining thinker, interviewed by someone who understands music and is familiar with Konitz’s vast output of records.

  90. Andrew

    July 29, 2019 at 1:13 am

    Straight Life by Art Pepper is an absolute must-read
    Visions of Jazz Gary Giddins
    Any of the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings
    The Sound of the Trumpet by Bill Moody

  91. Thomas Viti

    July 29, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    I’m late to the party, but agree wholeheartedly with Christopher Sjoholm about placing the music and musicians in their social and political context. That’s one of the reasons the books by Kelley and Crouch are so great. The Spellman and Baraka works started me on this path more than 40 years ago. The definitive Coltrane bio has yet to be written. The Rosenthal, Hadju and the Mingus autobiography are all good. I’d put Murray’s Stomping the Blues on the list even though the original 20 are heavily weighted to pre 1950.

  92. Jon Taylor

    September 14, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    James Lincoln Collier’s The Making Of Jazz is a good read.

  93. Carnak

    November 21, 2020 at 1:39 am

    I strongly second the vote for Raise Up Off Me. For those who merely want to understand what Jazz is I would read Jazz Styles by Mark C. Gridley, a beautifully written and comprehensive guide. Phil Woods & Chan Richardson [Parker] both have autobiographies out, Life in E Flat & My Life in E Flat.

  94. N Hawkin

    January 19, 2021 at 10:45 pm

    Can anyone tell me where the image from the top of the page is from? massive jazz lover and would love this for my wall

  95. Mark Belaert

    February 12, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Straight Life by Art Pepper is seriously missing in this list.

  96. Brian M Bacchus

    April 2, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    3 that should be on there and one which is recent:
    Raise UP Off Me by Hampton Hawes and Don Asher
    Notes and Tones by Art Taylor
    Griot by Jeremy Pelt (recent)
    The last two of collections of interviews of jazz musicians by a jazz musician so also musicians in their own words! All are excellent!

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