The most recommended books about jazz musicians

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to jazz musicians, and here are their favorite jazz musician books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of jazz musician book?

Loading...

Book cover of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

John Micklos Jr. Author Of Raindrops to Rainbow

From my list on recent picture books with a message.

Who am I?

I have written 60 books over the past 20 years. My titles include picture books, poetry books, and dozens of nonfiction books covering a wide range of history and social studies topics. My picture books deal with concepts such as counting and colors. I enjoy rhyming and wordplay and conveying ideas in simple terms. 

John's book list on recent picture books with a message

John Micklos Jr. Why did John love this book?

A talented saxophone player, Sonny Rollins left a successful performing career at age 29. He believed he could improve his craft by constant practice, and he found a unique place to do so—the Williamsburg Bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Inspired by the sights and sounds of the city, Rollins played his heart out. Gary Golio’s lyrical text captures the rhythm and flow of Rollins’ saxophone, while Ransome’s vibrant watercolor and collage artwork provides a perfect complement to the text. Back matter offers further information about Sonny Rollins’ life and career and about the Williamsburg Bridge. 

By Gary Golio, James E. Ransome (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

James Ransome's glorious art celebrates jazz icon Sonny Rollins and how he found an inspired spot to practice his saxophone when his neighbors complained.

Sonny Rollins loved his saxophone. As a teenager, he was already playing with jazz stars and making a name for himself. But in 1959, at age twenty-nine, he took a break from performing-to work on being a better, not just famous, musician. Practicing in a city apartment didn't please the neighbors, so Sonny found a surprising alternative-the Williamsburg Bridge. There, with his head in the clouds and foghorns for company, Sonny could play to his heart's…


Book cover of Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-Reality of Creative Music: Interviews and Tour Notes, England 1985

Philip Watson Author Of Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed the Sound of American Music

From my list on jazz (and a whole lot more).

Who am I?

I've mostly made my living as a feature writer, covering a broad range of subjects—from 9/11 to the Poker Million tournament, Miles Davis to (a film version of) James Joyce’s Ulysses, British soldiers injured in Afghanistan to the Peace One Day campaign—for numerous UK and Irish newspapers and magazines, including GQ, where I was formerly deputy editor, and Esquire, where I was editor-at-large. I've also written extensively about music, jazz in particular; musicians I've interviewed include Nick Cave, Gil Scott-Heron, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Marsalis, and Maria Schneider. My first book, a biography of the American guitarist Bill Frisell, was published by Faber in the spring of 2022.

Philip's book list on jazz (and a whole lot more)

Philip Watson Why did Philip love this book?

Don’t let the (original) lengthy subtitle, with its nearly forty-year-old date reference, put you off; this is a deeply original and highly engaging account of the music and philosophy of one of America’s most prolific and consistently creative musicians: composer, improviser, educator and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. With a double narrative that deftly alternates between lofty discussions of subjects such as metaphysics, mysticism, language, and astrology, and the daily grind of a challenging twelve-date tour of England by a Braxton quartet in the winter of 1985, Forces in Motion cleverly captures much of the complexity, intelligence, ambition and humour of its uncompromising subject. At one point Lock describes Braxton as “an alchemist, a man who opens doors you didn’t know existed”; the same can be said of the book itself. A perfect marriage of musician and writer. 

By Graham Lock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forces in Motion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Absolutely essential reading." — The Wire
One of modern music's towering figures, composer and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton has redefined critical concepts of jazz and the wider world of creative music. The Chicago native's works range from an early piece for 100 tubas to proposed compositions for orchestras on different planets. A modern classic, Forces in Motion follows Braxton's lauded quartet on a 1985 tour of England, noting his opinions of his musical predecessors — including Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Karlheinz Stockhausen — as well as his thoughts on racism and poverty.
For this new 30th anniversary edition, Graham Lock…


Book cover of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

Paul Austerlitz Author Of Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity

From my list on scholarly reads on jazz.

Who am I?

As a scholar as well as performer of the African American creative improvised music usually called jazz, my attunement to this art form resonates with its historico-cultural matrix as much as with the sounds themselves.  These books distinguish themselves for being well-researched and rigorous.  They are the real deal, doing justice to the heart as well as the intellect of this  art form.  


Paul's book list on scholarly reads on jazz

Paul Austerlitz Why did Paul love this book?

This scrupulous 624-page tome elucidates the life and work of the High Priest of Bebop, Saint Thelonious Monk, in amazing detail and exactitude, while remaining supremely engaging and easy to read. The fact that the author developed the book with members of Monk’s family comes through in the authenticity of the narrative.  


By Robin D. G. Kelley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thelonious Monk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The image of Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982), with his trademark goatee, dark glasses, and hat, is today a poster-image of coolness just as Che Guevara's face once was an image of rebellion. Jazz fans revere Monk for his ground-breaking compositions and piano playing from the 1950s and 1960s, but to a wider audience he stands for something much bigger: the very idea of native genius; a quirky, absent-minded, unalloyed originality that is the perfect symbol of the indefinable essence of jazz. Monk's creations from the 1950s and 1960s rank among jazz's most beloved classics, yet Kelley shows that the life…


Book cover of The Monsters We Defy

Jody Bower Author Of Jane Eyre's Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine's Story

From Jody's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Cultural mythologist Fantasy & sci-fi lover Writer Singer Hiker

Jody's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jody Bower Why did Jody love this book?

Engaging work of historical fiction with a supernatural element, featuring a strong black heroine living in Washington DC during the 30s.

Clara was born with the ability to see spirits and speak to them, and the main plot is about her quest – accompanied by other Gifted people to fight a major threat from “the Over There.” The author brings in West African diaspora religions as well as historical persons, places, and events (I spent a lot of time Googling to find out more!). She deftly handles the constant fear that a person of color lives with as a fact of life, and the love story is believable and satisfying.

By Leslye Penelope,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monsters We Defy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[P]itch perfect, with wit, romance, and a lovable found family." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This smart and entertaining, magical heist novel hits all the right notes!" ―T.L. Huchu

NPR Best Book of 2022! Paste Best Fantasy Book of 2022!

"Never make a deal with shadows at night, especially ones that know your name.”

Washington D. C., 1925: Clara Johnson can talk to spirits—a gift that saved her during her darkest moments, now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So when a powerful spirit offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, Clara seizes the chance,…


Book cover of Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times

David W. Stowe Author Of Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

From my list on the social history of jazz.

Who am I?

I grew up hearing jazz thanks to my dad, a big swing fan who allegedly played Duke Ellington for me in the crib. My father couldn’t believe it when I developed a taste for “modern jazz,” bebop, even Coltrane, but he never threw me out. Fifty years later I still love to play jazz on drums and listen to as much as I can. But along the way, I realized the world might be better served by me writing about the music than trying to make a living performing it. I had the great privilege of studying jazz in graduate school and wrote about big-band jazz for my first book, which helped launch my career.

David's book list on the social history of jazz

David W. Stowe Why did David love this book?

Everyone knows that jazz is intimately and inextricably linked to Africa, but no book does a better job of breaking down just how strong this relationship is. Pianist Randy Weston and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik are pretty well known, but Kelley uncovers lots of fascinating new material on both musicians and their transnational connections. Drummer Guy Warren and vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin were new to me and both turned out to have incredible backstories. Kelley is as compelling on the jazz scenes of Cape Town and Lagos as he is on the more familiar haunts of Chicago and New York. It was such an exciting historical moment, with one African nation after another breaking free of their colonial subjugators. The jazz world was bursting with creativity. Anything seemed possible. Kelley knows the jazz world inside and out and writes beautifully.

By Robin D. G. Kelley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Africa Speaks, America Answers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, pianist Randy Weston and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik celebrated with song the revolutions spreading across Africa. In Ghana and South Africa, drummer Guy Warren and vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin fused local musical forms with the dizzying innovations of modern jazz. These four were among hundreds of musicians in the 1950s and '60s who forged connections between jazz and Africa that definitively reshaped both their music and the world.

Each artist identified in particular ways with Africa's struggle for liberation and made music dedicated to, or inspired by, demands for independence and self-determination. That music was the wild, boundary-breaking…


Book cover of Music is My Mistress

Lilian Terry Author Of Dizzy, Duke, Brother Ray, and Friends: On and Off the Record with Jazz Greats

From my list on to welcome you to the magical world 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.

Lilian's book list on to welcome you to the magical world of jazz

Lilian Terry Why did Lilian love this book?

I have three main reasons to love this book: a) it is brilliantly written by Ellington himself; with his gentle-ironical sense of humour and his intention to put down on paper his magic musical world for the entertainment of all generations to come. b) I was fortunate to be “adopted” by him during the last nine years of his life, when “Uncle Eddie” would dictate to me any subject that came to his mind and I would make sure he had his copy, for later use in his book. c) to the last days of his life he was a constant inspiration; as a generous human being and as a universal musician.

By Edward ‘Duke’ Ellington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Music is My Mistress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

}Music is my mistress, and she plays second fiddle to no one. This is the story of Duke Ellingtonthe 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 Harlems 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. Passionate about his music and the people who made…


Book cover of Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper

Robert Pinsky Author Of The Sounds of Poetry: a Brief Guide

From my list on that were composed by ear.

Who am I?

As a poet, my main gift is related to my first ambition, to be a musician. I like to talk, I like to listen, I like the sounds of words and I like to hear (for example) what Emily Dickinson and William Butler Yeats have to say.

Robert's book list on that were composed by ear

Robert Pinsky Why did Robert love this book?

An artist—a wonderful horn player—speaks his candid, clear-eyed, eloquent account of his life: self-destructive, immensely creative.

If the horn is broken, if the player is just out of prison, if he’s drug-riddled... all that might be bad for himself or others, but he improvises with his back to the wall, to get out of it. And in speech as in music, a great improviser.

By Art Pepper, Laurie Pepper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Straight Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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.


Book cover of Free Jazz

Sammy Stein Author Of Fabulous Female Musicians

From my list on female musicians.

Who am I?

I've been passionate about music for almost my entire life. Jazz music in particular speaks to me but not just jazz. I love music, full stop. I really discovered jazz when I attended a jazz club workshop in London and there, I had to join in or leave. I chose to join in and since then I have never looked back. I was introduced to more jazz musicians and now write about music for three major columns as well as Readers’ Digest. My Women In Jazz book won several awards. I have been International Editor for the Jazz Journalist Association and had my work commissioned by the Library of Congress. 

Sammy's book list on female musicians

Sammy Stein Why did Sammy love this book?

I loved this book because it spoke directly to me. Jost looks at jazz music and in particular the development of free jazz.

It all fits together and flows so easily. He includes discussions on different musicians, their impact on free jazz music and explains how different areas within America developed their own subgenres of music. This book contains so many ‘aha!’ moments which is why I recommend it. 

By Ekkehard Jost,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Free Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When originally published in 1974, Ekkehard Jost's Free Jazz was the first examination of the new music of such innovators as Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Jost studied the music (not the lives) of a selection of musicians,black jazz artists who pioneered a new form of African American music,to arrive at the most in-depth look so far at the phenomenon of free jazz. Free jazz is not absolutely free, as Jost is at pains to point out. As each convention of the old music was abrogated, new conventions arose, whether they were rhythmic, melodic, tonal,…


Book cover of John Coltrane: His Life and Music

Paul Austerlitz Author Of Jazz Consciousness: Music, Race, and Humanity

From my list on scholarly reads on jazz.

Who am I?

As a scholar as well as performer of the African American creative improvised music usually called jazz, my attunement to this art form resonates with its historico-cultural matrix as much as with the sounds themselves.  These books distinguish themselves for being well-researched and rigorous.  They are the real deal, doing justice to the heart as well as the intellect of this  art form.  


Paul's book list on scholarly reads on jazz

Paul Austerlitz Why did Paul love this book?

To me, due to the rigor of its scholarship, this is the best book written about Coltrane. It combines meticulous attention to Coltrane’s life story with in-depth musical analysis of his oeuvre. A must-read for anyone who wants to really delve into the music of this monumental musical master. 

By Lewis Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked John Coltrane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a definitive assessment of the life and work of jazz musician John Coltrane, based on new interviews with his colleagues and never-before-published material. 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, the first by a professional jazz scholar and performer, 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. Compiled from scratch with the assistance of dozens of Coltrane's colleagues, friends, and family,…


Book cover of What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist (Studies in Jazz)

James Kaplan Author Of Sinatra: The Chairman

From my list on jazz through the stories of jazz musicians.

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.

James' book list on jazz through the stories of jazz musicians

James Kaplan Why did James love this book?

Saxophonist, flutist, and jazz educator Dave Liebman (born in 1946) was the son of two Jewish Brooklyn schoolteachers, who envisioned the same life for him — all the more so after he contracted polio at age nine. Much to their dismay, Liebman had different ideas. Because he couldn’t play sports, he nourished a passionate interest in music, first taking piano lessons, then moving on to his real interest, the saxophone. A strong student with an interest in history, he might have followed his parents’ wishes and become a teacher — until the night, at age 16, he took a date to the New York jazz club Birdland and heard the saxophone giant John Coltrane for the first time, and realized the one and only thing he wanted to do with his life.

Written in the form of a dialogue with the jazz writer and musician Lewis Porter, What It Is…

By Dave Liebman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What It Is as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dave Liebman is one of the leading forces in contemporary jazz. Prominently known for performing with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, he has exerted considerable influence as a saxophonist, bandleader, composer, author, and educator. In addition to his recent recognition as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, he has received the Order of Arts and Letters from France and holds an honorary doctorate from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. He has mentored many of today's most notable young jazz musicians worldwide and is a prolific writer on jazz.

In What It Is: The Life of a Jazz…