Good Vibes: A Life in Jazz
I started buying records 70 years ago. I worked in a car factory for a decade, then landed a job in publishing, having written a couple of magazine articles, and finally got a chance to do what I was born to do: write about my favorite subject. Music has been the most important thing in the world to me ever since I heard the hits of the 1940s on the radio, playing on the kitchen floor while my mother did the ironing. I believe music is a mystery, more important than we can know, in every way: intellectual, psychological, emotional, philosophical. That is why it is such a big business, even if the business itself is often less than salubrious.
Mine was the first book to make full use of a treasure trove of interviews with people who knew Billie Holiday from the time she was a kid in Baltimore. Her real name is Eleanora Harris; I discovered her birth certificate. Her doomy, gloomy so-called autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues, was written to sell to the movies; there was much more to her than that. (Her ghostwriter, Bill Dufty, described her as the funniest woman he had ever known.)
I wanted to write about her because after listening to her music for decades, I knew she was not a tragic figure, but a feisty girl who made a lot of money, spent it all, and mostly did as she pleased. Helen Oakley Dance, her close friend, wrote about my book that "We shall probably have to wait a long time for another life of Billie Holiday to supersede Donald Clarke's achievement." The book is about her music as well as her life.
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We think you will like Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, Beneath the Underdog, and To Be, or Not... to Bop if you like this list.
From Dennis's list on The best books about jazz and the story it tells about America.
From Philip's list on The best books about jazz (and a whole lot more).
You might reasonably expect the notorious yet absorbing autobiography of celebrated jazz bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus to contain a series of names, facts, dates, album titles, compositions, and chronologies. And, indeed, some insight into Mingus’s vibrant music and highly creative process. What you’ll discover, however, is a book that is part visceral, self-mythologising confession memoir and part Dionysian fantasy autofiction. Mingus’s unconventional self-portrait is a spiralling work of impassioned creative writing that, despite its often tiresome literary, personal, and, especially, sexual excesses, somehow manages to say more about the man, his mind, and his times than many a fastidiously detailed and faithful study. Wild, ugly, contradictory, angry, tender, and loving, Beneath the Underdog—like many of my very favourite books—exists entirely on its own terms.
From Lilian's list on The best books to welcome you to the magical world of jazz.
For the same reason I would recommend attending any musical performance by John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie: Sheer entertainment, surprisingly touching aspects of his personality, instant feelings of friendship shared, and his unbreakable optimism, with which to face and endure whatever life had in store for him. In Italy he was a beloved “Italian,” officially elected honorary citizen of Bassano del Grappa, where we had opened the “Dizzy Gillespie Popular School of Music” that carried an integrated section for blind students. When his memoirs were published he asked me to translate the book into Italian, therefore I had to read it with particular concentration. Many were the moments I would have to shut the book and laugh out loud! Oh yes, Diz the Wiz, or The Joyous Soul of Jazz!