Nina Simone & Jazz Books for the Time Capsule

Nina Simone

Yesterday I was on North Carolina Public Radio’s State of Things show, hosted by Frank Stasio, to talk about Nina Simone, who grew up in Tryon, NC.  During the show I described drummer Arthur Taylor’s book, Notes and Tonesas a “time capsule jazz book.”  A friend emailed to ask what other jazz books I’d put in the time capsule.  Here they are:

Whitney Balliett’s “Collected Works” and “American Musicians II.”

A.B. Spellman’s “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” republished as “Four Jazz Lives.”

Paul Berliner’s “Thinking in Jazz.

The collected jazz writings of Nat Hentoff, in all formats including his liner notes, a collection that hasn’t been assembled or published, yet, unfortunately, but is essential.  Like Balliett and Spellman what separates Hentoff is that his story of jazz is not just a story of the recordings, but a record of the human beings in their own voices.  (I volunteer to edit Hentoff’s jazz work into a massive compendium, which would immediately become perhaps the most indispensable non-audio jazz document in the literature).

Michael Ondaatje’s novel about Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter.

Sue Mingus’ memoir, Tonight at Noon.

Art Pepper’s memoir, Straight Life.

Robert O’Meally’s anthology, Jazz Cadence of American Culture.

Robert O’Meally’s introduction to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finnin which he calls that novel the first “blues” novel.

Rafi Zabor’s novel, The Bear Comes Home.

Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography, Thelonious Monk.

Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s, Three Wishes.

Dan Morgenstern’s, Living with Jazz.

Ben Ratliff’s, The Jazz Ear.

Lawrence Gushee’s Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band:  Gushee did the impossible.  He documented the undocumentable.  The Creole Band was a New Orleans band that existed entirely west of the Mississippi, mostly in vaudeville theaters on the West Coast, a band that was never recorded and perhaps never played in New Orleans.  Gushee spent 20-30 years scouring locals newspapers in the western US and he put together this mind-blowing history of a band that was only a myth before his work.

-Sam Stephenson



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