Seeking book recommendations: Biographies of Jazz greats

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Hatfield92, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Hatfield92

    Hatfield92 Tele-Meister

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    Since I was a teenager, I’ve been a sucker for a good rock star bio. I’ve read dozens over the years. I’ve read a bunch of Elvis books, a bunch of Stones books, quite a few Beatles books. Standout volumes include Peter Guralnick’s two-volume Elvis bio, a great Gram Parsons book entitled Twenty Thousand Roads, one on Hendrix called Room Full of Mirrors... not all are great, but I almost always find them highly entertaining at the very least.

    So within the past decade, I’ve become quite fond of jazz, especially guys like Coltrane and Miles. I’d love to learn more about them, as well as Parker, Armstrong, Billie and the like.

    I’d like to at least start out with a truly great biography. Something that really captures the person, their story and their time. Any fellow bookworms on here able to suggest some standout titles?
     
  2. Northern Tele

    Northern Tele Tele-Meister

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    'The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker. Ross Russel . Highly recommended. Great book and it was written in 73' so a lot of primary sources were still around and Russel knew Bird . I've read others but this is a superb,poignant biography. The bookprovides a fascinating view of Parker's early life and the trials and tribulations that shaped him into the iconic musician he became. The end where he is basically homeless wandering the lonely metropolis of NYC is truly heartbreaking . I have probably read this book 40 times.
     
  3. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    if you can find it, you'll want to read "dance of the infidels: a portrait of bud powell". if you have ever seen the movie "round midnight" with dexter gordon, this is the book the movie was derived from. and if you've never seen "round midnight", you want to.

    another great jazz book is "deep in a dream: the long night of chet baker" by james gavin. great book, but it's so much about his addiction and not as much his music.
     
  4. Chanan

    Chanan Tele-Meister

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    Herbie Hancock’s book is a fantastic read.

    Also, though it’s not jazz - if you haven’t read Willie Dixon’s autobiography I Am The Blues, that should go to the top of the list (imho)
     
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  5. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    yeah, willie Dixon's book is really good and so is bb king's autobiography.
     
  6. Shango66

    Shango66 Friend of Leo's

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    Straight Life, Art Pepper.
     
  7. Pechorin

    Pechorin TDPRI Member

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    Lush Life: Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu.
     
  8. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's

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    A lot of recent jazz biography tends to focus less on the crazy/lurid stuff than, say, the Ross Russell book about Bird. Stanley Crouch's book about Bird ealry years is realy good and gives a completely different sense of him

    Second the recommendation of the Strayhorn book. really well done.

    Thomas Brothers wrote a two volume biography of Louis Armstrong that's really excellent.

    Douglas Daniels, Lester Leaps in, on Lester Young

    Footprints, the life of Wayne Shorter was good if you're a Shorter fan.

    Robin Kelly's book on Monk is huge and thorough.

    Terry Teachout's biography of Ellington is good.
     
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  9. slauson slim

    slauson slim Friend of Leo's

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    Mingus autobio Beneath The Underdog. The late Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliet, and Gary Giddins, are all fine and knowing writers on jazz and its artists. Balliet can be erudite and lyrical.
     
  10. WingedWords

    WingedWords Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    J C Thomas Chasin the Trane - Coltrane biog. A good while since I read it, but I remember enjoying it a lot.

    Maybe Bill Milkowski's biog of Jaco Pastorius? I vaguely remember it tended towards the sensational and I think the Pastorius family weren't too happy with it.
     
  11. nvilletele

    nvilletele Friend of Leo's

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    Nobody’s yet mentioned Miles Davis’s autobiography. It’s a great great read. Highly recommended.

    Also, check to see if your local library has the (New) Grove Dictionary of Jazz, or pick up a used set on line. It’s got an incredible amount of biographical info and lots lots lots more on history, theory, recordings, etc etc

    Synopsis:
    “Another title updated in the "New Grove" series in 2001. In 3 volumes and with 7750 articles, "The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz", second edition is a resource for any serious jazz enthusiast or scholar. Featuring 2750 new entries and 1500 new biographies of musicians who came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, this new edition draws on the explosion of jazz research over the past dozen years. In addition, Barry Kernfield and his team have completely revised and updated all entries and have made tens of thousands of corrections throughout. New features include unprecedented coverage of previously underrepresented areas in world jazz, such as Caribbean, South African and Japanese musicians, extended lists of venues world-wide, a selected films and videos section, and the inclusion of URLs in the bibliographies.”
     
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  12. Northern Tele

    Northern Tele Tele-Meister

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    I think the Jaco book by Milkowiki is very good. The family doesn't like it because it presents some very unpleasant and disturbing aspects of Jaco's life- which are an important part of the story.

    To leave out unseemly details makes for unbalanced and frankly, boring reading. The Bird book by Russell is miles better than whatever Crouch has written. He has a tendency to try to revise history as he wanted things to be and juxtaposes his own societal views as fact. In short..I can't stand Stanley Crouch.

    Not jazz but I am leery about picking up the new SRV book as everyone and family are endorsing it..probably will be a white wash feel good type read ..no thanks.
     
  13. Random1643

    Random1643 Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    Great thread!

    I think Gary Giddins does a good job. His Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong is a good read; and less than 200 pages. I also enjoyed Giddins' Bing Crosby: A Pocket Full of Dreams about the first half of Crosby's life - if you consider swing to be danceable jazz - Crosby's role in advancing technology within the music industry is IMO super interesting.
     
  14. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Poster Extraordinaire

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    +1 on the Miles Davis autobiography... potty mouthed genius
     
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  15. Stringbanger

    Stringbanger Telefied Ad Free Member

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    “Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life” by Laurence Bergreen! Bergreen is a good writer and he keeps it interesting. Highly recommend!
     
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  16. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I just got the new Guitar World issue in the mail and it has an excerpt from the SRV book. if this bit of the book is representative, it doesn't seem to me to be "whitewash" because it talks about his drug use. what I see there as a possible problem is that I don't think I read anything I haven't read before. one quote from Dr. John seems lifted from an earlier biography.
     
  17. matrix

    matrix Tele-Meister

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    I will +1 on Miles Davis Autobiography.

    Guitaristically, I Sharony Green's biography of Grant Green may not be the greatest book ever written, but as a massive Grant Green fan, I consider it a must read.

    I think Michael Dregni's biography of Django is also must read if you are into Gypsy Jazz.

    And for an astoundingly good, highly readable, wonderfully researched but concise jazz history, I have never seen anything better than the book by Grover Sales Jazz: America's Classical Music. Reading that in my late teens set a foundation for the rest of my musical life.
     
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  18. Saxonbowman

    Saxonbowman TDPRI Member

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    Lots of good suggestions here. I'll have to check them out.

    The biography of jazz guitar great Johnny Smith, Moonlight in Vermont, isn't bad.

    I really enjoyed Robin Kelly's bio of Thelonious Monk that was mentioned above.
     
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  19. obi-john

    obi-john TDPRI Member

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    A little different source, but for a sometimes minute by minute oral history of Bird, check out Bird Flight on WKCR. The host, Phil Schaap, is a walking Charlie Parker encyclopedia. Show archives go back a couple of years.

    WKCR does great birthday broadcasts. You can hear some of them on Phil's Radio page. The 6/29/17 broadcast gives an overview of Bird's musical life.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2019
  20. DekeDog

    DekeDog Tele-Meister

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    Miles (with Quincy Troupe) was excellent. Couldn't put it down. Since it's told from the first person, I don't think it accurately captures what a jerk he was, but it is still a great read... great perspective.

    John Coltrane by Lewis Porter was a painfully slow biography, but it was an excellent discussion of his music.

    To Be or Not to Bop by Al Fraser (about Dizzy Gillespie) was good, but long.

    Jaco by Bill Milkowski was another one I couldn't put down. It captured Jaco's genius and his slow demise from the perspective of many who knew him.
     
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