Chris May's Best Jazz Books of 2012


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Are the best books always about the past rather than the present, or is it simply easier to write about events on which the dust has settled? Whatever. These three books are all about the past and each is outstanding.

Matthew Ruddick

Funny Valentine: The Story Of Chet Baker

Grippingly written and meticulously researched, Matthew Ruddick's 828-page opus is the definitive biography of trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. More than that, it is a vivid account of the junkie subculture that ran through mid-to-late 20th century jazz, as seen through the incident-packed life of one of its most spectacular participants. The book combines some of the best qualities of saxophonist Art Pepper's unflinching autobiography, Straight Life (Schirmer Books, 1979), and Ian Carr's scholarly musical biography Miles Davis (Quartet, 1982). It is a compelling and authoritative page-turner in the highest rank of jazz biographies. Baker, born in 1929, found fame early, in 1952, as a member of baritone...continue.

David Kastin

Nica's Dream: The Life And Legend Of The Jazz Baroness

Wonderful woman, wonderful book. David Kastin's assiduously researched biography of Baroness Kathleen Annie Panonnica Rothschild de Koenigswarter (1913-88) brilliantly relates the life of the London-born heiress and last great private patron of American jazz—the "Nica" of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica," Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream," Sonny Clark's "Nica," Gigi Gryce's "Nica's Tempo," Freddie Redd's "Nica Steps Out" and another dozen or so compositions. Along the way, Kastin received practically no assistance from the Rothschilds. De Koenigswarter's rejection of her aristocratic European background, and lifelong embrace of the New York jazz world following her separation from her husband and her move to NYC in..continue.

Bob Willoughby

Jazz: Body And Soul

To the wider world, Bob Willoughby is the Los Angeles photographer who took a raft of iconic photographs of movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. During the earlier part of this period, as the first-call photographer for studios wishing to document the making of a movie, he was, according to Popular Photography magazine, "the man who virtually invented the photojournalistic motion picture still." But before he hit pay dirt in the movie business, Willoughby (1927-2009), an avid jazz fan, spent much of his time photographing jazz musicians performing in and around Los Angeles: onstage, backstage, in their dressing rooms—and not forgetting their audiences. He was certainly one of the men who invented...continue.

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