The best books on Charlie Parker (jazz musician)

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Charlie Parker (jazz musician) and why they recommend each book.

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Considering Genius

By Stanley Crouch,

Book cover of Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz

Crouch (1945-2020) was many things: jazz drummer, poet, philosopher, novelist, biographer, critic. In that last role he was, as the publisher’s notes to this indispensable book of essays on jazz and related matters puts it, “the perennial bull in the china shop of African-American intelligentsia.” Crouch relished controversy — he hated fusion, the popular blend of jazz and rock that came along in the 1970s; he abhorred rap; he even had unkind words to say about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. He was passionately contrarian on racial matters, refusing to hew to any politically correct line. He detested simplistic thinking in any form. Calling Bird, Clint Eastwood’s widely praised 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker “very bad,” Crouch wrote of the “stack of glowing reviews… that reveal the extent to which many who would be sympathetic to Negroes are prone to an unintentional, liberal racism. That racism reduces the complexities of…

Who am I?

Now it can be said: three decades ago, when Vanity Fair assigned me to write a profile of Miles Davis to accompany an excerpt of his about-to-be-published memoir, I presented myself as a jazz expert — when in fact my enthusiasm for the music far outweighed my knowledge. But in the years since I’ve learned a lot about America’s great art form, in part through researching my Frank Sinatra biography — Sinatra worked with many important jazz musicians — and now in working on my latest book, about Miles and two of the geniuses who collaborated with him on his historic album Kind of Blue, the saxophonist John Coltrane and the pianist Bill Evans.

I wrote...

Sinatra: The Chairman

By James Kaplan,

Book cover of Sinatra: The Chairman

What is my book about?

James Kaplan goes behind the legend to give us the man in full, in his many guises and aspects: peerless singer, (sometimes) powerful actor, business mogul, tireless lover, and associate of the powerful and infamous.

The story of 'Ol' Blue Eyes" continues the day after Frank claimed his Academy Award in 1954 and was beginning to reestablish himself as the top recording artist in music. Frank's life post-Oscar was incredibly dense: in between recording albums and singles, he often shot four or five movies a year; did TV show and nightclub appearances; started his own label, Reprise; and juggled his considerable commercial ventures (movie production, the restaurant business, even prizefighter management) alongside his famous and sometimes notorious social activities and commitments.

Easy Meat

By John Harvey,

Book cover of Easy Meat

As a jazz critic, I was long struck by the absence of knowledgable (and fun) references to this music in mystery novels, my second love. Then I happened upon a pair of remaindered books by British novelist John Harvey. A blurb referring to his police detective Charlie Resnick's devotion to bebop giants Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk sealed the deal. Harvey doesn't just drop names and titles in Easy Meat, he plays jazz critic himself: "It was a bad sign, Resnick knew, when he played Monk last thing at night, the pianist’s fractured attempts at melody obeying no logic but their own. A big man, as Resnick was big, Monk’s fingers stabbed down at single notes, crushed chords into the beauty of an abstract painting, twisted scaffolding seen in a certain light." 

Who am I?

My earliest filmgoing memory is of a bad guy getting pushed down the stairs in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. That shocking scene has stayed with me, leading me into a lifetime of exploring the dark visions of crime stories. It was only natural that my love of rock music, and in its interaction with other media would draw me to mystery writers whose books were fueled by their love of rock, blues and pop. "If not for music and movies, I wouldn't be a novelist," George Pelecanos once told me. "They have influenced me more than any author. I want to shout about it." Me too.

I wrote...

T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

By Lloyd Sachs,

Book cover of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

What is my book about?

T Bone Burnett offers the first critical appreciation of Burnett’s wide-ranging contributions to American music, his passionate advocacy for analog sound, and the striking contradictions that define his maverick artistry. Lloyd Sachs highlights all the important aspects of Burnett’s musical pursuits, from his early days as a member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and his collaboration with the playwright Sam Shepard to the music he recently composed for the TV shows Nashville and True Detective and his production of the all-star album Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Sachs also underscores Burnett’s brilliance as a singer-songwriter in his own right. T Bone Burnett reveals how this consummate music maker has exerted a powerful influence on American music and culture across four decades.

To Be, or Not... to Bop

By Dizzy Gillespie, Al Fraser,

Book cover of To Be, or Not... to Bop

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!     

Who am I?

Lilian Terry’s background is quite out-of-the-ordinary. Born in Egypt in 1930 to Maltese and Italian parents, she undertook academic studies in Cairo and Florence. Terry studied classical piano until age 17, developing an interest in jazz in her early teens. She participated in a variety of ways with jazz in Europe, beginning in the 1950s. As a singer, she was an active performer and recording artist. At the same time, she produced radio and television shows for Italy’s RAI network, and this activity led to some of her encounters with major figures of American jazz. Seven of these interactions (most of which spanned decades) are the subject of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends.

I wrote...

Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

By Lilian Terry,

Book cover of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

What is my book about?

"Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends offers a positive glimpse into the world of beloved jazz artist personalities with amusing anecdotes. From Ellington’s poetry to conversations with Roach, Charles, Silver, and Gillespie, Terry’s shared experiences and interviews present a captivating look into the world of jazz and its private moments." - Kerilie McDowall, Downbeat Magazine, January 2018

The Birth of Bebop

By Scott DeVeaux,

Book cover of The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History

When I began my book I’d been out of graduate school for 25 years. I read deeply to see what I’d missed and discovered what is now called cultural history. It seems to me that a great deal of it is written to a template rather than directly from the facts as discovered. Even though DeVeaux comes out of the academic world, I get no such sense from Bop. It’s brilliant. Immaculately researched and nicely written, it addresses the extraordinary transition of Black music from entertainment-driven (however artful) to art (however entertaining). It’s an important story, and DeVeaux tells it beautifully.

Who am I?

I have a sophisticated education, including a Ph.D. in History from the University of Massachusetts. I have had a career, if that’s precisely the word, in the music business as the publicist for the Grateful Dead. I spent ten years researching what became On Highway 61. I have been a close observer of America’s racial politics at least since 1962, when the head of the Hollywood NAACP, James Tolbert, and his family, moved in next door to my family’s home in the white working-class neighborhood of Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Tolbert instructed me in music among other things, and I’ve been studying ever since.

I wrote...

On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

By Dennis McNally,

Book cover of On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

What is my book about?

61 traces the relationship of African American culture, generally music, from the 1850s to the 1960s. It begins with Henry David Thoreau, whose thinking on government was profoundly influenced by slavery and his role in supporting abolition. Mark Twain grew from a conventional racist to a writer who could write the powerfully liberating satire of Huckleberry Finn, in considerable part due to the influence of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Ragtime was an essential element in bringing the modern to mainstream America. Jazz in various forms each influenced white youth, from the Austin High Gang to Jack Kerouac. And Bob Dylan synthesized black form (rock and roll) with literature to make rock and roll high art.

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