Tuesday, July 19, 2011

15 favorite music books

Inspired by Ethan Iverson's list, in turn inspired by Pitchfork's list, here are 15 of my favorite books about music. Like EI's selection, this is simply the result of a quick bookshelf scan, but unlike that list, this one does include memoirs, biographies and the like.

As Serious as Your Life

Valerie Wilmer
I still remember the thrill of discovering this in Labyrinth Books in Morningside Heights. "Holy shit, there's a whole book about free jazz?!?"

Forces in Motion

Graham Lock
I've gushed about this one before. A tender and informative duet between author and subject (that being Anthony Braxton).

Chronicles, Volume One
Bob Dylan
A magical and terrifying tome. People say it's obscure, but it's totally clear. Tells us more than we ever thought we'd hear from the horse's mouth.

Shakey: Neil Young's Biography
Jimmy McDonough
Another one I've praised to the heavens. A constant spray of mindblowing information. The essential guide to one of our most essential artists.

Steve Lacy: Conversations
Jason Weiss ed.
A series of startlingly lucid interviews with one of the great jazz philosophers.

This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
Levon Helm with Stephen Davis
The straight dope about one of my most beloved bands. You'll never watch The Last Waltz the same way again.

Miles Beyond: The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis 1967–1991
Paul Tingen
This book has a philosophical patina that can be off-putting, but push through and you'll find a painstakingly detailed, step-by-step study of this crucial period, all tied to the Miles disocgraphy. Great interview material.

Rockers, Jazzbos & Visionaries
Bill Milkowski
One of my favorite interview books. Zorn, Laswell, Fripp, Quine, the Marsalises, Tony Williams, Jimmy Smith and a ton of others.

Scott Tennent [33 1/3 series]
Does exactly what a history book should: Tell you a ton that you don't already know. Some prior thoughts here.

Miles Ornette Cecil
Howard Mandel
An oblique book, incorporating new and previously published material, but it has its own logic. A record of decades spent ruminating on (and interacting with) three masters. Prior thoughts here.

Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal

Jeff Wagner
A no-nonsense encyclopedia of a favorite subgenre. Prior thoughts here.

The Jazz Ear
Ben Ratliff
Probably my favorite jazz book. Sit-downs with the masters that double as definitive portraits. Prior thoughts here.

Precious Metal
Albert Mudrian ed.
Speaking of definitive portraits. 25 classic extreme-metal albums get the Behind the Music treatment. Some of these records you'll know; others you'll be thrilled to discover. Prior thoughts here.

Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews
Arthur Taylor
Intimate, hard-hitting conversations. Taylor, a master jazz drummer, interviewed his peers and they rose to the occasion. I'll never forget, e.g., Hampton Hawes's profane musings.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
Robin D.G. Kelley
Kelley lays it all out in a readable fashion. This is the kind of book that should exist for every major figure in politics, sports, the arts, whatever, i.e., the place you go first. Prior thoughts here.

P.S. I've only just started it, but the new Bob Mould book is really cool.


Marichiweu said...

I love Notes and Tones, especially the unusually candid conversations about race and Taylor's question for everyone, "Do you play for the audience, for other musicians, or for yourself?" A lot of ways to answer that question. I don't know how well it holds up, but I really loved Ben Sidran's Black Talk, too.

Bret Sjerven said...

Yeah! As Serious As Your Life! Surprised nobody had mentioned it already. That book really changed my direction in music. More than a primer. The free jazz batting lineup at the back of the book has been so important to my collecting habits.

Anonymous said...

some cool stuff here. thanks

Dan Fitch said...

Thanks for this list, got a few more things to add to the stack now.

Kevin Music Books said...

Thanks for the recommendations. Although I'm a music books fanatic, I read only a few of the ones you have mentioned, but hopefully I'll read them all :)