20 books on the iconic jazz age to recover from your La La Land sadness

Did La La Land convince you of your ignorance of the great art? If the movie piqued your interest in jazz, here are the books you should turn to next.
Miles
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Miles

by Miles Davis

About the book:  Miles discusses his life and music from playing trumpet in high school to the new instruments and sounds from the Caribbean.

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Straight Life
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Straight Life

by Art Pepper,Laurie Pepper

About the book:  Art Pepper (1925–1982) was called the greatest alto saxophonist of the post-Charlie Parker generation. But his autobiography, Straight Life, is much more than a jazz book—it is one of the most explosive, yet one of the most lyrical, of all autobiographies. This edition is updated with an extensive afterword by Laurie Pepper covering Art Pepper’s last years, and a complete and up-to-date discography by Todd Selbert.

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The History of Jazz
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The History of Jazz

by Ted Gioia

About the book:  Ted Gioia's History of Jazz has been universally hailed as a classic--acclaimed by jazz critics and fans around the world. Now Gioia brings his magnificent work completely up-to-date, drawing on the latest research and revisiting virtually every aspect of the music, past and present. Gioia tells the story of jazz as it had never been told before, in a book that brilliantly portrays the legendary jazz players, the breakthrough styles, and the world in which it evolved. Here are the giants of jazz and the great moments of jazz history--Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, cool jazz greats such as Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's advocacy of modern jazz in the 1940s, Miles Davis's 1955 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ornette Coleman's experiments with atonality, Pat Metheny's visionary extension of jazz-rock fusion, the contemporary sounds of Wynton Marsalis, and the post-modernists of the current day. Gioia provides the reader with lively portraits of these and many other great musicians, intertwined with vibrant commentary on the music they created. He also evokes the many worlds of jazz, taking the reader to the swamp lands of the Mississippi Delta, the bawdy houses of New Orleans, the rent parties of Harlem, the speakeasies of Chicago during the Jazz Age, the after hours spots of corrupt Kansas city, the Cotton Club, the Savoy, and the other locales where the history of jazz was made. And as he traces the spread of this protean form, Gioia provides much insight into the social context in which the music was born.

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Why Jazz Happened
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Why Jazz Happened

by Marc Myers

About the book:  Why Jazz Happened is the first comprehensive social history of jazz. It provides an intimate and compelling look at the many forces that shaped this most American of art forms and the many influences that gave rise to jazz’s post-war styles. Rich with the voices of musicians, producers, promoters, and others on the scene during the decades following World War II, this book views jazz’s evolution through the prism of technological advances, social transformations, changes in the law, economic trends, and much more. In an absorbing narrative enlivened by the commentary of key personalities, Marc Myers describes the myriad of events and trends that affected the music's evolution, among them, the American Federation of Musicians strike in the early 1940s, changes in radio and concert-promotion, the introduction of the long-playing record, the suburbanization of Los Angeles, the Civil Rights movement, the "British invasion" and the rise of electronic instruments. This groundbreaking book deepens our appreciation of this music by identifying many of the developments outside of jazz itself that contributed most to its texture, complexity, and growth.

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But Beautiful
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But Beautiful

by Geoff Dyer

About the book:  Lester Young fading away in a hotel room; Charles Mingus storming down the streets of New York on a too-small bicycle; Thelonius Monk creating his own private language on the piano. . . In eight poetically charged vignettes, Geoff Dyer skilfully evokes the embattled lives of the players who shaped modern jazz. He draws on photos and anecdotes, but music is the driving force of But Beautiful and Dyer brings it to life in luminescent and wildly metaphoric prose that mirrors the quirks, eccentricity, and brilliance of each musician's style.

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Swing that Music
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Swing that Music

by Louis Armstrong

About the book:  The first autobiography of a jazz musician, Louis Armstrong’s Swing That Music is a milestone in jazz literature. Armstrong wrote most of the biographical material, which is of a different nature and scope than that of his other, later autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (also published by Da Capo/Perseus Books Group). Satchmo covers in intimate detail Armstrong’s life until his 1922 move to Chicago; but Swing That Music also covers his days on Chicago’s South Side with ”King” Oliver, his courtship and marriage to Lil Hardin, his 1929 move to New York, the formation of his own band, his European tours, and his international success. One of the most earnest justifications ever written for the new style of music then called ”swing” but more broadly referred to as ”Jazz,” Swing That Music is a biography, a history, and an entertainment that really ”swings.”

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Louis Armstrong's New Orleans
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Louis Armstrong's New Orleans

by Thomas Brothers

About the book:  A rags-to-riches narrative of the eminent jazz artist's early life describes how his childhood was marked by such challenges as poverty, Jim Crow legislation, and vigilante terrorism but how his musical prowess was shaped by the culturally rich African-American traditions of New Orleans. Reprint.

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Really The Blues
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Really The Blues

by Mezz Mezzrow,Bernard Wolfe

About the book:  Mezz Mezzrow was a white Jewish boy who learnt how to play saxophone while he was in reformatory school. He was one of the first white musicians to dedicate himself to jazz (as a saxophonist, a manager for Louis Armstrong, owning his own record label and he was also one of jazz's most famous drug dealers) and crossed the racial divide in 1920's America to make himself part of black culture. In Really the Blues he describes the underworld of 1920's and 30's America, from New York to Chicago and New Orleans. Mezzrow captures the atmosphere of the brothels, bars and honky-tonks, as well as the oversized personalities of those musicians he played with; from Bessie Smith and Sidney Bechet to Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong. Written in the slang of the jazz underground, Mezzrow introduced the world to words such as 'hipster", "groovy" and "high". It is one of the great music autobiographies (and its influence has been felt for decades, Tom Waits still credits it as a major influence on his own life and work). Mezz Mezzrow was the literary pioneer for the Beats, hippies and every writer since who has written about the music that has moved their generation to rebellion or joy.

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Thelonious Monk
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Thelonious Monk

by Robin Kelley

About the book:  A comprehensive profile of the enigmatic jazz pianist and composer offers insight into his origins, his early musical career, and the mid-twentieth-century cultural upheavals that shaped his personal and creative life.

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Thinking in Jazz
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Thinking in Jazz

by Paul F. Berliner

About the book:  A landmark in jazz studies, Thinking in Jazz reveals as never before how musicians, both individually and collectively, learn to improvise. Chronicling leading musicians from their first encounters with jazz to the development of a unique improvisatory voice, Paul Berliner documents the lifetime of preparation that lies behind the skilled improviser's every idea. The product of more than fifteen years of immersion in the jazz world, Thinking in Jazz combines participant observation with detailed musicological analysis, the author's experience as a jazz trumpeter, interpretations of published material by scholars and performers, and, above all, original data from interviews with more than fifty professional musicians: bassists George Duvivier and Rufus Reid; drummers Max Roach, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Akira Tana; guitarist Emily Remler; pianists Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris; saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Lee Konitz, and James Moody; trombonist Curtis Fuller; trumpeters Doc Cheatham, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, and Red Rodney; vocalists Carmen Lundy and Vea Williams; and others. Together, the interviews provide insight into the production of jazz by great artists like Betty Carter, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker. Thinking in Jazz overflows with musical examples from the 1920s to the present, including original transcriptions (keyed to commercial recordings) of collective improvisations by Miles Davis's and John Coltrane's groups. These transcriptions provide additional insight into the structure and creativity of jazz improvisation and represent a remarkable resource for jazz musicians as well as students and educators. Berliner explores the alternative ways—aural, visual, kinetic, verbal, emotional, theoretical, associative—in which these performers conceptualize their music and describes the delicate interplay of soloist and ensemble in collective improvisation. Berliner's skillful integration of data concerning musical development, the rigorous practice and thought artists devote to jazz outside of performance, and the complexities of composing in the moment leads to a new understanding of jazz improvisation as a language, an aesthetic, and a tradition. This unprecedented journey to the heart of the jazz tradition will fascinate and enlighten musicians, musicologists, and jazz fans alike.

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