Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz is clear, concise, and comprehensive. From the prehistory of jazz to the swing era to the rise of big band to the pathbreaking of bebop style, Gioia’s analytic force captures images of jazz figures on the pages. Jelly Roll Morton places his pistol on the piano; Louis Armstrong drops the music sheet during a recording session; Charlie Parker drinks his life away; Miles Davis makes history with the recording of Kind of Blue. This book is a required reading for my jazz history class, and I can see why my instructor, Brian Mann, selected it, and it is highly recommended for those who are interested in learning the remarkable stories behind an American original music.
James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is an intriguing story of a talented ragtime pianist and an outsider (an ex-colored who does not belong to either black or white) looking into the world of both races, and not sure which one to be identified with. After witnessing a tragical incident, he decided to live his life as a white man because of the “shame at being identified with a people that could with impunity be treated worse than animals.” Even though this book is also a required text for my jazz course, it has nothing to do with jazz (more of a race issue). Still, the novel is short and compelling.