Ten Jazz Biographies

Their music is inspiring and their stories are captivating. Below are 10 biographies of some of the most important figures in jazz. Read about the lives of ten legendary musicians whose talents were matched with personal struggles.

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"Satchmo - My Life In New Orleans" by Louis Armstrong

© Da Capo Press

Louis Armstrong recounts his childhood in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. The iconic trumpeter tells, with glowing humor and optimism, of his impoverished beginnings, and his early years as a musician studying under the tutelage of King Oliver.

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"Lady Sings the Blues" by Billie Holiday

© Harlem Moon

Billie Holiday tells of her squalid Baltimore upbringing and her rise to fame in Harlem. She discusses her encounters with top musicians during one of the most vibrant periods of jazz as well as her decline into depression and drug addiction.

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"Music Is My Mistress" by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington

© Da Capo Press

Duke Ellington is arguably the most important American composers. In this autobiography he writes of the music and musicians who inspired him. His descriptions of his performances and compositions, as well as his wit, grace, and humor make this book a clear glimpse into Duke's life and work. This is a must read for any jazz lover.

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"Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn" by David Hajdu

© North Point Press

Composer Billy Strayhorn was Duke Ellington's collaborator and musical advisor, and was responsible for some of the Duke Ellington Orchestra's most famous arrangements and compositions. This book gives a compelling account of Strayhorn's career, with inside stories anout the musicians with whom he worked as well as his struggles against racial prejudice, homophobia and depression.

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"Bird Lives!: The High Life And Hard Times Of Charlie Parker" by Ross Russell

© Da Capo Press

Charlie Parker is considered one of the most influential jazz musicians in the history of the music. This biography is a vivid account of the innovative saxophonist's immense talents and tragic flaws. From the perspective of Ross Russell, who worked closely with Parker as a record producer, the book tells of Bird's rapid ascent to legendary status, and his spiraling downfall and early death.Another must read for jazz history lovers.

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"To Be Or Not To Bop" by John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie

© Doubleday

Dizzy Gillespie, with his magnetic humor and wit, discusses the history of jazz leading to the development of bebop. And how it is he played a bent horn.

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"John Coltrane: His Life and Music" by Lewis Porter

© University of Michigan Press

John Coltrane scholar Lewis Porter offers a fresh look at the music and life of the great innovator. In addition to insightful biographical information, Porter includes analyses of Coltrane's music that are accessible to non-musicians.

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"Miles" by Miles Davis

© Simon & Schuster

Read about the great trumpeter and bandleader Miles Davis in his own words. He discusses the days when he would cut class at Juilliard to seek out Charlie Parker, his triumph over heroin addiction, and his constantly evolving approach to music.

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"Beneath the Underdog" by Charles Mingus

© Vintage Press

This autobiography by Charles Mingus, one of the most prominent composers and bassists in jazz, is a look into the mind of the troubled artist. The writing is described as loose and disorderly, which isn't surprising considering the layered, verging on chaotic compositions of this jazz legend. A true adventure inside the mind of a musical genius.

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"Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter" by Michelle Mercer

© Tarcher Press

Wayne Shorter's eccentricity has afforded him a career that spans 50 years. Mercer sheds light on the musicians and philosophies that shaped the saxophonist's work. Still a viable force in jazz, this book brings into perspective his genius.