The best Miles Davis books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Miles Davis and why they recommend each book.

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Pryor Convictions

By Richard Pryor,

Book cover of Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences

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,…


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.


I wrote...

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

By Jerry Stahl,

Book cover of Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man's Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust

What is my book about?

There's nothing quite like Jerry Stahl’s transgressive fiction (i.e. Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex on Speed, Pain Killers, Perv - A Love Story, etc.) or the movies that he wrote (i.e. Zoolander, Bad Boys II, etc.). He has outdone himself with his new book, Nein, Nein, Nein! One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment and A Bus Tour of the Holocaust

In 2016 with his life-long depression (which started after his father’s suicide when he was a teen) at an all-time high and his career and personal life at an all-time low, he decided to embark upon a two-week guided tour to concentration camps in Poland and Germany. The trip would allow him to confront personal and historical demons, albeit with two dozen strangers on a bus tour.

The Blue Moment

By Richard Williams,

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

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…


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.


I wrote...

Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed the Sound of American Music

By Philip Watson,

Book cover of Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed the Sound of American Music

What is my book about?

Over a period of forty-five years, Bill Frisell established himself as one of the most innovative and influential musicians at work today. A quietly revolutionary guitar hero for our genre-blurring times, he has synthesised many disparate musical elementsfrom jazz to pop, folk to film music, ambient to avant-garde, country to classicalinto one compellingly singular sound.

Described as “the favourite guitarist of many people who agree on little else in music,” Frisell connects to a diverse range of artists and admirers, including Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Vernon/Bon Iver, all of whom feature in the book. Through unprecedented access to the guitarist and interviews with his close family, friends, and associates, Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer tells the legendary guitarist’s story for the first time.

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.

Miles

By Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe,

Book cover of Miles

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.

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.

Thinking in Jazz

By Paul F. Berliner,

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

Christopher Hall made a convincing case that we should think of music not as a thing but as a social activity: musicking. No book does a better job getting inside jazz musicking than Thinking in Jazz. Paul Berliner is a veteran musicologist and trumpet player who spent 15 years embedded in the world of jazz, learning to play jazz and carrying out interviews with dozens of musicians, including the likes of Art Farmer, Max Roach, Lee Konitz, James Moody, Tommy Flanagan, Emily Remler, Barry Harris, Doc Cheatham, Carmen Lundy, and Wynton Marsalis. He analyzes musical examples drawn from the first years of jazz to the present. Most impressively, he takes us into the lightning-fast interplay of muscle memory, spontaneous inspiration, and group dialogue that constitutes jazz at its finest. There is so much going on in the moment of creation and it’s incredible how well Berliner captures it all.…


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.


I wrote...

Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

By David W. Stowe,

Book cover of Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America

What is my book about?

Bands were playing, people were dancing, the music business was booming. It was the big-band era, and swing was giving a new shape and sound to American culture. Swing Changes looks at New Deal America through its music and shows us how the contradictions and tensions within swing—over race, politics, its own cultural status, the role of women—mirrored those played out in the larger society. Drawing on memoirs, oral histories, newspapers, magazines, recordings, photographs, literature, and films, Swing Changes offers a vibrant picture of American society at a pivotal time and a new perspective on music as a cultural force.

What It Is

By Dave Liebman,

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

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…


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.

Notes and Tones

By Arthur Taylor,

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

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.


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.


I wrote...

Five Night Stand

By Richard J. Alley,

Book cover of Five Night Stand

What is my book about?

Legendary jazz pianist Oliver Pleasant finds himself alone at the end of his career, playing his last five shows, hoping the music will reunite his estranged family. Journalist Frank Severs, middle-aged, out-of-work, is at a crossroads as hope and marriage grind to a standstill. And piano prodigy Agnes Cassady grasps a dream before a debilitating disease wrenches control from her trembling fingers.

When Frank and Agnes visit New York, the force of Oliver’s music pulls them together. Over the course of five nights, they reflect on their triumphs and sorrows: family, regret, secrets. Their shared search for meaning and direction creates a bond that just might help them make sense of the past, find peace in the present, and muster the courage to face the future.

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