Highlight denotes Black author or source | Highly recommended ︎


Ragtime, New Orleans jazz, swing bands, bebop.
Origins: Late 19th century.


  • Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong, 1952.

  • Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday, 1956. ︎

  • Four Lives in the Bebop Business by A. B. Spellman, 1966. ︎

  • Black Music by Amiri Baraka (as LeRoi Jones), 1967.  ︎

  • Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, Cab Calloway by Bryant Rollins and Cab Calloway, 1976.

  • Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews by Art Taylor, 1977.

  • Rags and Ragtime by David A. Jasen, 1978.

  • In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz by Donald M. Marquis, 1978.

  • Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women by Linda Dahl, 1984. ︎

  • Lester Young by Lewis Porter, 1985.

  • A Life in Jazz by Danny Barker, 1986.

  • Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography Of Count Basie by Count Basie, Albert Murray, 1986.

  • Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker by Gary Giddins, 1986. 

  • Klook: The Story of Kenny Clarke by Mike Hennessey, 1989.

  • Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, 1989.  ︎

  • Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time by Phyllis Rose, 1989.

  • Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices From Bessie Smith To Bebop And Beyond by Will Friedwald, 1990.

  • Fire Music: A Bibliography of the New Jazz, 1959 - 1990 by John Gray, 1991. 

  • But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer, 1994. ︎

  • Jazz by Toni Morrison, 1992. ︎

  • The Duke Ellington Reader by Mark Tucker, 1993. ︎

  • King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era by Edward A. Berlin, 1995.

  • Bebop: The Music and Its Players by Thomas Owens, 1995.

  • History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, 1997.

  • Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell by Francis Paudras, 1998.

  • Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra by John F. Szwed, 1998.

  • Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn, 2000. ︎

  • Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings by Louis Armstrong, ed. Thomas Brothers, 2001. ︎

  • Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan by E. Taylor Atkins, 2001.

  • Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young by Douglas Henry Daniels, 2002.

  • Living with Music: Ralph Ellison's Jazz Writings by Ralph Ellison (Compiled by Robert O’Meally), 2002. ︎︎︎

  • A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album by Ashley Kahn, 2002.  ︎
    • Check out Greg Tate’s review for some particularly lovely words about Trane and this book: “The Supreme,” Village Voice, 2002.

  • In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition by Fred Moton, 2003. ︎

  • Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop by Guthrie P. Ramsey, 2003.
    • Another comprehensive text that starts with jazz.

  • Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams by Tammy Kernodle, 2004. ︎

  • The Autobiography of Pops Foster: New Orleans Jazz Man by Pops Foster (as told to Tom Stoddard), 2005. ︎

  • A Biography of Charlie Christian, Jazz Guitar's King of Swing Book by Craig R. McKinney and Wayne E. Goins, 2005.

  • One O'clock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils by Douglas Henry Daniels, 2006.

  • Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz by Stanley Crouch, 2006.
    • Curator’s note: This was a tricky one to include, but it’s here because it doesn’t feel right to omit. That said, Crouch is one of the premiere jazz critics of our time and an an ornery champion of the past—this means he’s uninterested in new movements in jazz, and is the kind of guy to dismiss Prince as “vulgarian.” If you read him, consider his takes carefully.

  • Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff, 2007.

  • Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs," and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz by Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff, 2007.

  • Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz by Howard Mandel, 2007.

  • A Power Stronger than Itself: The A.A.C.M. and American Experimental Music by George Lewis, 2007.

  • Subversive Sounds: Race and Birth of New Orleans Jazz by Charles B. Hersch, 2007.

  • The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music by Ben Ratliff, 2008.︎

  • Up Close: Ella Fitzgerald by Tanya Lee Stone, 2008.

  • Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley, 2009.

  • I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath by Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren, 2010.

  • Let Freedom Swing: Collected Writings on Jazz, Blues, and Gospel by Howard Reich, 2010.

  • Duke Ellington's America by Harvey G. Cohen, 2010.

  • Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers, 2012.

  • Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times by Robin D.G. Kelley, 2012.

  • The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop by Guthrie Ramsey, 2013. 

  • Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout, 2013.

  • Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City by Tyina Steptoe, 2016.

  • Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan by Elaine M. Hayes, 2017. 

  • Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music by Gerald Horne, 2019.


  • Bud's Bubble” by Francis Davis, The Atlantic, January 1996.


  • The Last of the Blue Devils, dir. Bruce Ricker, 1979. 1h 30m.

  • Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, dir. Robert Mugge, 1980. 1h.

  • Imagine the Sound, dir. Rob Mann, 1981. 1h 31m. 

  • Ornette: Made in America, dir. Shirley Clarke, 1985. 1h 25m.

  • Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, dir. Charlotte Zwerin, 1988. 1h 33m.

  • A Great Day in Harlem, dir. Jean Bach, 1994. 1 hour. ︎

  • Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz, dir. Julian Benedikt, Andreas Morell, 1997. 2 hours.

  • Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog, dir. Don McGlynn, 1998. 1h 18m.

  • Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, dir. Ian McCrudden, 2007. 1h 33m.

  • The Girls in the Band, dir. Judy Chaikin, 2011. 1h 27m. ︎

  • Chasing Trane, dir. John Scheinfeld, 2017. 1h 39m. Available on Netflix.

  • Quincy, dir. Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks, 2018. 2h 4m. Available on Netflix.

  • We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told, dir. Jeff Sewald, prod. Marty Ashby, 2018. 1h.

  • Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, dir. Stanley Nelson Jr., 2019. 1h 55m. Available on Netflix. ︎

  • Bolden, dir. Daniel Pritzker, 2019. 1h 48m.

  • Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things, dir. Leslie Woodhead, 2020, 1h 30m.