Books to Help You Understand Jazz Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


We’ve put together a list of books to help you understand jazz music. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or just want to learn more about it, these books will give you a great foundation.


Jazz music can be a confusing and misunderstood genre for those who are not familiar with it. Contrary to popular belief, jazz is not just random noise or people playing whatever they want. There is actually a lot of structure and theory that goes into it. If you are new to jazz and wanting to learn more, or even if you are a seasoned listener but would like to understand it better, here are five books that can help give you a better understanding of jazz music.

1) How to Listen to Jazz by Ted Gioia
This book covers the various elements of jazz and how to listen for them. It also gives a history of the genre and introduces some of the key figures in its development.

2) Jazz: A Very Short Introduction by Brian Morton
As the title suggests, this book provides a brief but informative introduction to jazz. It covers the basics of theory and history, and also touches on some of the more controversial aspects of the genre such as race and politics.

3) Understanding Jazz by Paul Tanner
This book is geared more towards those with some prior knowledge of music theory. It goes into more depth about chord progressions, improvisation, and other musical concepts central to jazz.

4) The Jazz Mind by Bill Dobbins
This book takes a psychological approach to understanding jazz, exploring the creative process behind improvising and composing in this style. It also includes interviews with famous jazz musicians about their own thought processes while playing.

5) Jazz Styles: History and Analysis by Mark C. Gridley
This textbook-style book surveys the various styles of jazz that have developed over the years, from early New Orleansstyles up through fusion and beyond. It includes listening examples for each style so you can hear the differences for yourself.

Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer known for his innovative and original style. He was a major force in the development of bebop and modern jazz, and his unique improvisational skills and melodic sensibility influenced generations of musicians. Monk is one of the most celebrated and influential figures in jazz history, and his music continues to be popular among fans and performers alike. If you’re looking to learn more about Monk’s life and work, check out these five books.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist and composer who was one of the most influential figures in jazz history. A major innovator in the development of bebop and hard bop, he played a crucial role in the transition from swing to modal jazz. He is best known for his timeless classic, “A Love Supreme,” which is considered one of the most important pieces of music in the history of jazz.

If you’re looking to learn more about Coltrane and his music, we’ve compiled a list of books that can help.

Miles Davis

Miles Davis was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical styles throughout his career that made him one of the best-selling artists of his time.

Born and raised in Illinois, Davis left high school at age 16 to pursue a musical career in New York City. He first gained prominence as a member of Charlie Parker’s bebop quintet from 1945 to 1948, after which he recorded as a leader for the first time. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Davis alternated between performing jazz at clubs and recording landmark albums like Kind of Blue (1959) and Bitches Brew (1970). In the 1970s, he experimented with rock, funk, and electric jazz before returning to his more acoustically oriented roots with albums such as We Want Miles (1982) and Amandla (1989).

During his five-decade career, Davis earned many awards for his recordings and compositions; he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Several of his albums have been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, including Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew. In 2000, The National Endowment for the Arts honored him with its highest honor in jazz, the NEA Jazz Masters Award. Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African American family in Alton, Illinois. His father Miles Henry Davis IIof Arkansas was a successful dental surgeon who owned a private practice while also employing three assistants; his mother Cleota Mae Davisof Arkansaswas a regular churchgoer who later became an independent businesswoman after her husband’s death; she also worked as an assistant at her son’s dental practice while maintaining her own beauty parlor next door beginning in 1955 until she retired shortly before her death decades later on January 17th 2004 at 92 years old.

The second-greatest influence on MilesDavis’s life was music…

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker is one of the most important and influential figures in the history of jazz. Though his career was relatively short, he left a lasting legacy, innovating the bebop style of jazz and inspiring generations of musicians. If you’re looking to learn more about this musical giant, check out some of these books.

-Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker by Ross Russell
-Norman Granz: The Man Who Recorded Jazz by Tad Hershorn
-A Life In Jazz by Danny Barker
-Charlie Parker: Jazz Master by Carl Woideck

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. Her vocal style, influenced by her life experiences and her personal pain, helped to define the genre of jazz. Her heart-wrenching lyrics and soulful voice continue to inspire singers and musicians today. If you want to learn more about the life and work of this legendary artist, check out these books:

-The Billie Holiday Companion: Seven Decades of Commentary
-Lady Sings the Blues
-Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights
-God Bless the Child: Billie Holiday’s Life in Her Own Words


In conclusion, jazz music is a beautiful and complex genre that can be difficult to understand. However, with the help of these five books, you will be well on your way to developing a deeper understanding and appreciation for this great music.

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