The best Miles Davis books

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to Miles Davis, and here are their favorite Miles Davis books.
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Yes to the Mess

By Frank J. Barrett,

Book cover of Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz

Marianne Broadbent Author Of The Agile Executive: Embracing Career Risks and Rewards

From the list on aspiring women leaders.

Who am I?

My passion for leadership and aspiring women leaders comes from my own leadership experiences and working with women and men executives and aspiring executives, every day. I had to make some difficult work choices in my 20s and 30s (with four young children) and was wonderfully supported by some wise women. Many of my choices were different from my peers and we continue to have to make more difficult choices than our male colleagues. We need to help each other, every day. I lead a blended life co-leading an executive search and leadership advisory firm, while also being a mother, grandmother, wife, mentor, friend, and lover of good music, theatre, food, wine, and curious people. 

Marianne's book list on aspiring women leaders

Discover why each book is one of Marianne's favorite books.

Why did Marianne love this book?

Early in my varied career I had musical training in piano and sang in choirs, including with orchestras.

The notion of a leader as an orchestra conductor, never appealed, as orchestras usually play set music. Leadership is usually not like that: situations are unpredictable, crises occur, and we take people in new directions.

Having observed one of my jazz-playing sons, I started using jazz groups and improvisation as a better analogy: a group of people who have a common goal, each have their own talents and want to explore musical journeys differently. They allow each other to ‘shine’ in a supportive and trusted environment.

The journey is greater than the individual parts. Barrett’s book then validated my messy thinking, and articulated these leadership lessons very well.  

By Frank J. Barrett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yes to the Mess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What Duke Ellington and Miles Davis teach us about leadership How do you cope when faced with complexity and constant change at work? Here's what the world's best leaders and teams do: they improvise. They invent novel responses and take calculated risks without a scripted plan or a safety net that guarantees specific outcomes. They negotiate with each other as they proceed, and they don't dwell on mistakes or stifle each other's ideas. In short, they say "yes to the mess" that is today's hurried, harried, yet enormously innovative and fertile world of work. This is exactly what great jazz…

Just as I Am

By Cicely Tyson, Michelle Burford,

Book cover of Just as I Am: A Memoir

Irene Smalls Author Of An Affirmation: NiteBabyNite

From the list on being a Black mother.

Who am I?

I have a passion for this topic because I grew up in Harlem, New York under segregation. Black is beautiful is in my DNA. As a former Black student activist, former Black Beauty queen, Miss Black New York State, and one of the first natural hair models in the 1960s this topic is who I am and who I am becoming. When I grew up in the 1950s, Harlem was a community of open hearts and open doors that loved its children. There was also a strong narrative "Black is Beautiful", "Black is Powerful" countering general societal views of Black inferiority. I developed the Positive Affirmation NiteBabyNite picture book series in remembrance of those times. 

Irene's book list on being a Black mother

Discover why each book is one of Irene's favorite books.

Why did Irene love this book?

Was an honor to read. To realize that this great woman had struggles, failures, missteps, and triumphs large and small as the rest of us spoke to her true greatness. She made it look easy. Her lifelong love of Miles Davis despite his many transgressions shows a real woman’s love. She modeled sacrifice and being true to yourself as a mother.

By Cicely Tyson, Michelle Burford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Just as I Am as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history." -President Barack Obama, 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony

"Just as I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn…

Thinking in Jazz

By Paul F. Berliner,

Book cover of Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation

Katherine Giuffre Author Of Outrage: The Arts and the Creation of Modernity

From the list on maverick creativity.

Who am I?

I’ve spent my career as a sociologist studying how creative people work, what social settings are most conducive to creativity, and how to foster creativity for everyone in our daily lives. I know that creativity is often not easy and can even be met with hostility much more frequently than we might think. Creativity is, after all, a type of deviance and creative people can face real obstacles in finding and following their vision. But a richer understanding of how and why creativity happens – and of its obstacles – can be a tool for making a more vibrant, creative, inclusive, and just world.

Katherine's book list on maverick creativity

Discover why each book is one of Katherine's favorite books.

Why did Katherine love this book?

How do jazz musicians think about what they are doing when they are improvising within a group? How do they learn to do such a thing in the first place – going their own way, but still going there together?

This is an immersion into the minds of musicians, starting with their earliest days and going through the rigors of learning their craft and then mastering it. The combination of discipline and freedom, hard work and wild inventive joy, finding an individual voice, and being part of the larger whole – the things that make improvisation a breath-taking artistic high-wire act – come together in this book.

I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but this book made me wish I was a jazz musician.

By Paul F. Berliner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Thinking in Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text reveals how musicians, both individually and collectively, learn to improvise. It aims to illuminate the distinctive creative processes that comprise improvisation. Chronicling leading musicians from their first encounters with jazz to the development of a unique improvisatory voice, Paul Berliner demonstrates that a lifetime of preparation lies behind the skilled improviser's every note. Berliner's integration of data concerning musical development, the rigorous practice and thought artists devote to jazz outside performance, and the complexities of composing in the moment leads to a new understanding of jazz improvisation as a language, an aesthetic and a tradition. The product of…


By Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe,

Book cover of Miles

Dennis McNally Author Of On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

From the list on jazz and the story it tells about America.

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.

Dennis' book list on jazz and the story it tells about America

Discover why each book is one of Dennis' favorite books.

Why did Dennis love this book?

Miles Davis is one of the two or three ultimate masters of modern music, both as a performer and composer, and although there are excellent books about him (John Szwed’s comes to mind), this is the bedrock source. Troupe got him to look at himself with a wider view than most musicians ever communicate (verbally), and Miles dug deep to get to the stories of his life. And it is without a doubt the greatest example of all the possible grammatical uses of the word “motherfucker” ever written.

By Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Miles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Miles: The Autobiography, like the man himself, holds nothing back. He talks about his battles against drugs and racism, and discusses the many women in his life. But above all, Miles talks about music and musicians, including the legends he has played with over the years: Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Trane, Mingus and many others. The man who has given us the most exciting music of recent times has now given us a fascinating and compelling insight into his extraordinary life. 'An engrossing read fascinating insights into the cult phenomenon' Miles Copeland, Weekend Telegraph 'Magnificently truthful, action packed, raw and…

Pryor Convictions

By Richard Pryor,

Book cover of Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences

Jerry Stahl Author Of Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man's Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust

From the list on turning insane personal history into entertainment.

Who am I?

Jerry Stahl is an American novelist and screenwriter. His latest release, Nein, Nein, Nein! One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychis Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust relieves Stahl’s group tour to concentration camps in Poland and Germany. He has written a number of novels including Perv: A Love Story, Plainclothes Naked, I, Fatty, Pain Killers, Bad Sex on Speed, and Happy Mutant Baby Pills: A NovelStahl got this start publishing short fiction, winning a Pushcart Prize in 1976 for a story in the Transatlantic Review. His 1995 memoir Permanent Midnight was adapted into a film starring Ben Stiller as well as the screenplay for Bad Boys II, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.

Jerry's book list on turning insane personal history into entertainment

Discover why each book is one of Jerry's favorite books.

Why did Jerry love this book?

Two reasons I love Richard Pryor’s memoir—his failures and his successes. 1967, Richard Pryor flamed out in front of Dean Martin in Vegas, asking a sold-out crowd: What the fuck am I doing here? A year later, scheduled to open for Miles Davis at the Village Gate, a guy pops backstage to say Miles Davis would be opening for him. A gesture of ultimate respect. From boyhood brothel to Sunset Boulevard icon—there is so much heart in this book, so much raw honesty, so many crazy highs and unbelievable bottoms, I feel almost guilty marching out the killer anecdotes: Yes,  Pryor scored weed for Jackie Gleason. Yes, he smuggled dope into Arizona prisoners filming Stir Crazy. But what makes this memoir essential reading is Richard Pryor’s genius. “You all know how Black humor started? It started on slave ships. Cat was rowing and dude says,…

By Richard Pryor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Richard Pryor journeys from his childhood in a family that worked in whore-houses and bars, through to his years in Hollywood - the money, the women, the drugs - and the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Notes and Tones

By Arthur Taylor,

Book cover of Notes and Tones: Musician-To-Musician Interviews

Richard J. Alley Author Of Five Night Stand

From the list on culture of mid-20th century music and musicians.

Who am I?

I was born in 1970. From my earliest memory there was music. But it’s never been just about the music, I have a natural curiosity for the people who make that music. The artist on the album cover, but also the side musicians, the producers, engineers, and promoters. I’m also fascinated by the roadmap from blues to rock to Laurel Canyon to disco to punk and on and on. Real music infuses and informs the fiction I write — by reading real-life accounts and listening to the songs, I’m put in the world from which it was all born.

Richard's book list on culture of mid-20th century music and musicians

Discover why each book is one of Richard's favorite books.

Why did Richard love this book?

I was writing my novel in 2013, but 20 years earlier I’d picked up a book by the jazz drummer Arthur Taylor. I didn’t realize how much it influenced me until I went back to it again and again as I worked to get dialog and cadence and the ‘feel’ of jazz on paper. I prefer memoirs because I want to hear the shorthand, slang, and shortcuts artists take. This book has that and more. Taylor interviews the best of the best — Ornette, Roach, Dizzy, Nina. I like to think had my protagonist been real, he’d have been included in this list. I owe a lot to this book and if you’re looking to learn not just about jazz music, but jazz culture and life, this is a great start.

By Arthur Taylor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Notes and Tones is one of the most controversial, honest, and insightful books ever written about jazz. As a black musician himself, Arthur Taylor was able to ask his subjects hard questions about the role of black artists in a white society. Free to speak their minds, these musicians offer startling insights into their music, their lives, and the creative process itself. This expanded edition is supplemented with previously unpublished interviews with Dexter Gordon and Thelonious Monk, a new introduction by the author, and new photographs. Notes and Tones consists of twenty-nine no-holds-barred conversations which drummer Arthur Taylor held with…

Easy Meat

By John Harvey,

Book cover of Easy Meat

Lloyd Sachs Author Of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

From the list on crime with soundtracks you'll want to playlist.

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.

Lloyd's book list on crime with soundtracks you'll want to playlist

Discover why each book is one of Lloyd's favorite books.

Why did Lloyd love this book?

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." 

By John Harvey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fifteen year old Nicky Snape is found hanging from the shower in a local authority home where he is awaiting trial for his involvement in a brutally violent burglary. Charlie Resnick, Nicky's arresting officer, knows the poor, working-class Snape family well and suspects foul play. When the investigation results in a vicious murder on the banks of the River Trent, Resnick's suspicions about the case appear to have been well founded. The deaths coincide with a series of brutal male rapes in the city and Resnick finds himself in charge of investigations that lead to some startling and sinister revelations.…

What It Is

By Dave Liebman,

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

James Kaplan Author Of Sinatra: The Chairman

From the 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

Discover why each book is one of James' favorite books.

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…

Book cover of Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader

Ljubinko Zivkovic

From the list on music in the late sixties and seventies.

Who am I?

Popular music in all its shapes and forms has permeated my life since my pre-teen years and has remained both an intimate and professional preoccupation of mine throughout my life, even when I was doing other things professionally. Books dealing with all aspects of music, from artist biographies to its cultural and social examinations have been and remain that essential element that both fuel and satisfy that interest and give it that expanded feature it needs. As somebody who has a degree in journalism and had careers as a journalist, diplomat, and a translator, and now as a freelance writer, music and books on music remain that thread that connects them all.

Ljubinko's book list on music in the late sixties and seventies

Discover why each book is one of Ljubinko's favorite books.

Why did Ljubinko love this book?

Late Lester Bangs is probably the first name that comes to my mind when piercing, observant rock criticism is concerned, but it seems his books are currently collecting dust somewhere, even though they have not lost any of their relevance.

He is also one of the authors that not only shaped my personal views on music, but also the style of writing I’m trying to pursue.

By Lester Bangs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before his untimely death in 1982, Lester Bangs was inarguably the most influential critic of rock and roll. Writing in hyper-intelligent Benzedrine prose that calls to mind Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, he eschewed all conventional thinking as he discussed everything from Black Sabbath being the first truly Catholic band to Anne Murray’s smoldering sexuality. In Mainlines, Blood Feasts, Bad Taste fellow rock critic John Morthland has compiled a companion volume to Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, the first, now classic collection of Bangs’s work. Here are excerpts from an autobiographical piece Bangs wrote as a teenager, travel essays,…

The Blue Moment

By Richard Williams,

Book cover of The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music

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

From the 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)

Discover why each book is one of Philip's favorite books.

Why did Philip love this book?

A book about the creation and meaning of the one jazz album that every music fan seems to own, Miles Davis’s meditative and miraculous 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blueand how it connects to a whole lot more. Loudly trumpeted on its back cover as the record that “influenced the whole course of late twentieth-century music,” The Blue Moment takes the album as a starting point and expands ever outwards to trace its wider roots, contexts, echoes, correspondences, undercurrents, and legacies. It’s quite a ride: from Bauhaus to Brian Eno; from the existential modernism of Antonioni to the minimalism of La Monte Young; from Picasso’s Blue Period to the aesthetics of esteemed German record label ECM. For me, not all of the links and associations, some of which are tenuous at best, stand up. Yet Williams is one of music writing’s most elegant chroniclers and insightful thinkers, and The…

By Richard Williams,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"It is the most singular of sounds, yet among the most ubiquitous. It is the sound of isolation that has sold itself to millions." Miles Davis's Kind of Blue is the best-selling piece of music in jazz history and, for many listeners, among the most haunting works of the twentieth century. It is also, notoriously, the only jazz album many people own. Recorded in 1959 (in nine miraculous hours), there has been nothing like it since. Richard Williams's "richly informative" (The Guardian) history considers the album within its wider cultural context, showing how the record influenced such diverse artists as…

Left Bank

By Agnes Poirier,

Book cover of Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50

Katrina Lawrence Author Of Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick

From the list on the history of Paris (and Parisians).

Who am I?

I’ve been obsessed with Paris since the age of five. For most of my life I’ve travelled there regularly and read every book on the subject I could find. After working as a beauty editor, I decided to try to make my passion my day job. That inspired me to write Paris Dreaming: What the City of Light Taught Me About Life, Love & Lipstick, and launch a travel consultancy business, Paris for Dreamers. I work with like-minded lovers of Paris, who constantly yearn for the city’s beguiling beauty and fascinating history, and who are always planning their next trip—or visiting Paris virtually, through the pages of a book!

Katrina's book list on the history of Paris (and Parisians)

Discover why each book is one of Katrina's favorite books.

Why did Katrina love this book?

While Poirier’s book covers the same period as Sebba’s, the mood is completely different. Her focus is on artists, with a cast that reads as your ultimate dinner-party guest wishlist: Juliette Gréco, Simone de Beauvoir, James Baldwin, Miles Davis... Such creators couldn’t help but salvage something from their war experiences, create a new world on their own terms. Poirier knows that history is made of people. And Paris is a rich source, for it’s a city that has attracted a multitude of movers and shakers for centuries. Poirier shows how such creators can produce much more than art, or a movement—they can mould an entire period. Poirier also knows that this personal telling of history makes reading it more enjoyable; her plotting is on point, her sprinkle of gossipy anecdotes just-so.

By Agnes Poirier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An incandescent group portrait of the midcentury artists and thinkers whose lives, loves, collaborations, and passions were forged against the wartime destruction and postwar rebirth of Paris.

In this fascinating tour of a celebrated city during one of its most trying, significant, and ultimately triumphant eras, Agnès Poirier unspools the stories of the poets, writers, painters, and philosophers whose lives collided to extraordinary effect between 1940 and 1950. She gives us the human drama behind some of the most celebrated works of the 20th century, from Richard Wright’s Native Son, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and James Baldwin's Giovanni's…