Vital Reading about Music and
I've been reading and collecting books about
music and musicians for about 25 years. Here is
a list of some of my favorite books that I have
found to be a great source of information and
People by LeRoi Jones
This book is
required reading for all musicians who play any
form of US music. Blues People is a very
well-researched and well-written book on the
history of the blues. Typical "history of the
blues" books go back to the early 1920s or 1930s
-- this one goes back 400 years to the beginning
of slavery in the U.S. and really tells the
Father Of The Blues
- an Autobiography by W. C. Handy
Handy is a good story teller and he documents
how he discovered the beauty of the blues,
inspiring him to write -- in sheet music form --
blues tunes, which helped spread the blues to
"mainstream America." This writing gives us
insight into the life of a professional musician
in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
Deep Blues by Robert Palmer
Blues is a well-written book that explains the
history and development of Delta Blues. This
music has incredible emotional impact and depth
and had a profound impact on U.S. Music,
especially rock; this makes Deep Blues required
reading. Palmer includes often overlooked
details about the survival of African drumming
concepts in the US during the slavery years when
drumming was outlawed for the slaves. Palmer
uses occasional references from Dena Epstein's
book Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, which led me
to read her book.
and Spirituals - Black Folk Music to the Civil
War by Dena Epstein
Sinful Tunes and
Spirituals is the "Holy Grail" when it comes to
research material on the foundation of U.S.
Popular Music. Dena Epstein did 20 years of
research before writing this indispensable book
which is chock-full of findings and first-hand
written accounts regarding the survival,
evolution and acculturation of African musical
concepts in the U.S. (1600s to the mid 1800s).
Also included is information about the slaves of
the Caribbean and South America.
Early Jazz by Gunther Schuller
Schuller is a music scholar of the highest
order. His comments give us a perfect example of
how to critically listen to music. This piece of
work is a comprehensive analysis of jazz from
the early 1900s to the 1930s.
Mister Jelly Roll by Alan Lomax
consider this book to be the "Dead Sea Scrolls"
of jazz. It's an incredible story as told by the
self-proclaimed "inventor of jazz," Jelly Roll
Morton. Alan Lomax interviewed Jelly Roll
extensively and then removed himself from the
interview so Jelly does all the talking -- very
The Baby Dodds Story
by Larry Gara
The Baby Dodds Story
is inspired by and written in a similar way to
Mister Jelly Roll. This book is rich with
timeless words of wisdom from one of the first
great jazz drummers; this is required reading
for the serious student of the drums.
Klook - The Story Of Kenny Clarke by
Kenny Clarke was one
of the founding fathers of bebop music and bebop
drumming. Because "Klook" moved to France in the
early 1950s, he didn't get as much credit and
attention as some of the drummers who followed
his lead (e.g., Max Roach, Roy Haynes). This is
an educational, interesting and well-written
Traps - The Drum Wonder -
The Life Of Buddy Rich by Mel Torme
Mel Torme kept my interest in his biography
about his friend Buddy Rich, "the greatest
drummer of all time." Mel Torme was mainly known
as a singer but he also played drums well enough
to be able to understand and then write
coherently about Buddy Rich, the drummer. He
also knew Buddy as a friend, so we get an
insight into Buddy Rich, the man.
Backbeat - Earl Palmer's Story by Tony Scherman
Backbeat is the story of
one the USA's great session players and one of
the creators of Rock Drumming. Earl Palmer's
musical journey is a good example of the early
"rock 'n roll session musician" -- starting off
as jazz player but following the more lucrative
emerging genres of rhythm and blues and rock 'n
The Wrecking Crew by Hal
Hal is a born story teller
and he recounts many interesting episodes in
this book about his life as a session drummer.
The Wrecking Crew gives us a glimpse into the LA
studio scene during the 1960s and 1970s.
Big Bangs by Howard Goodall
This is a story of five discoveries/inventions
that profoundly changed Western music -- music
notation, equal temperament tuning, opera, the
piano, and sound recording. Goodall is a
composer/historian from the UK who writes in a
very down-to-earth and humorous way.
The Sound Of The City by Charlie Gillett
This is the best history of rock and roll music
that I have read, as told by a very well
informed and articulate English music
writer/radio personality, Charlie Gillett.
Jazz Rock - A History by Stuart
This is the best book
written on the history of jazz/rock/fusion.
Stuart writes in great detail about the emerging
jazz/rock scene in the early/mid 60s -- a period
many writers overlook -- and progresses through
the 70s, 80s and 90s. Another writer/historian
from the UK; they really do their homework!
Drumming On The Edge Of Magic by
This book covers Mickey
Hart's own history as well as the history of
drumming on the planet Earth, which he calls
"Planet Drum." Starting with the "Big Bang," as
the first drum beat, Mickey's writing is
thought-provoking and educational.
Afro-Cuban Jazz by Scott Yanow
Scott Yanow is a very knowledgeable writer and
he tells the story of the "Latin" influence in
U.S. Music. The book profiles the important
players and recommends good Afro-Cuban jazz
recordings. Yanow has also written excellent
books on Swing and Bebop.
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