Billie Holiday‘s 1957 TV appearance must be among the most moving videos ever, with Billie in rapture, showing the depth of the rapport between great musicians (for the making of the film, see here). Don’t miss the final trumpet solo from Roy Eldridge!
For my personal Billie Holiday playlist, see here. As to books on her, don’t get me started…
Apart from the experience of listening, jazz biographies are just as captivating as jazz photos. If only I could bring the Li family Daoists to life with such detail as we find in books like
- Ross Russell, Bird lives (for a fine review of three more books on Charlie Parker, interrogating the whole genre of jazz biographies, see here)
- Miles, The autobiography (see e.g. Miles meets Bird and Some middle-period Miles, as well as under Mahler, vibrato, jazz, and Daoism and The spiritual path of John Coltrane)
- David Brun-Lambert, Nina Simone: the biography
- J.C. Thomas, Coltrane: Chasing the trane
More academic, but (sic) masterly, is
- Paul Berliner, Thinking in Jazz.
In books like this, it’s not just the social and personal detail that impresses, but the technical aspects of their constant musical strivings—the musos’ obsession with chords, timbre, and so on. From Charlie Parker’s use of the Rico number five reed (Russell pp.10–13) to Keith Richards‘ sheer exhilaration at discovering the open five-string tuning (in Life p.270ff., no less captivating than the many gaudy experiences throughout the book).
We could compile lists of similar excursions in world music, but jazz leads the way…
While I’m about it, don’t forget
- George Melly, Owning up.
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Conversely, Miles’s autobiography should be read in the voice of the Queen, Brian Sewell, Jacob Wee-Smug [aka The Haunted Pencil]—or (for yet older readers…) the presenter of Listen with Mother. If serialised on Radio 4, it could be called Listen with Motherfucker.