Jazz Biographies

Jazz biographies are a great way to appreciate the music and lives of many legendary jazz musicians. Here's a list of some of my favorites.

For more than forty years Miles Davis has been in the front rank of American music. Universally acclaimed as a musical genius, Miles is one of the most important and influential musicians in the world. The subject of several biographies, now Miles speaks out himself about his extraordinary life. He tells his enthralling story in his own words in this book and it is a must read!

Charlie Parker paved the way for Miles, Coltrane and the entire modern era of jazz. This is a fantastic biography written by Robert Riesner who was close to Bird and shows his life through the eyes of many of his collegues, friends, and family. 


John Coltrane was a key figure in jazz, a pioneer in world music, and an intensely emotional force whose following continues to grow. This new biography presents a huge amount of never-before-published material, including interviews with Coltrane, photos, genealogical documents, and innovative musical analysis that offers a fresh view of Coltrane's genius.

Robin Kelley's new biography is thorough, detailed, and written with a true affinity for Monk's humaneness and creative musical output. It fills in the missing pieces about the growth of the jazz scene in New York through the forties, fifties, and sixties, detailing each step of Monk's development -- who passed through his bands, what gigs he played, and what happened on those scenes. It's an invaluable and close look at the center of the world's most important creative musical developments in those decades: New York City.

This biography of Louis Armstrong presents the rich mosaic of the life of the founding father of jazz. It uses his life story to describe the history of early jazz--from his childhood on the streets of New Orleans, his move to Chicago where he made his famous recordings with the Hot Five and Hot Seven, and on to New York and Europe. Armstrong's blowing and singing, his restless amiable spirit, is a bracing ode to being alive. Bergreen's meticulous empathy lets us share the extravagance.

”Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one.” This is the story of Duke Ellington—the story of Jazz itself. Told in his own way, in his own words, a symphony written by the King of Jazz. His story spans and defines a half-century of modern music.This man who created over 1500 compositions was as much at home in Harlem’s Cotton Club in the ‘20s as he was at a White House birthday celebration in his honor in the ‘60s. For Duke knew everyone and savored them all.

Although he did not invent ragtime, Joplin (1868-1917) is the best-known exponent of this type of jazz, with its characteristic syncopated rhythms. Despite years of detective work by musicologists, Joplin's life remains something of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Berlin's work is the most coherent and robust work on Joplin's life to date.

A fitting tribute to the troubled genius who revolutionized electric bass playing and bridged the gaps between jazz, R&B, rock and funk. From his early days in R&B club bands through his international stardom with fusion group Weather Report and on to his solo career and tragic death at age 35, this book portrays the life and music of Jaco Pastorius, the self-proclaimed "world's greatest bass player."

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