Reasons to Read Nonfiction: Women In Jazz

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and this year the focus is on women in jazz. Here are some highlights from our collection of books and CDs (and even an LP!).

April is National Humor Poetry Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM)! This year, The National Museum of American History, where JAM began, is recognizing the contributions of women in jazz, with special focus on the great Nina Simone. This week's list of reading recommendations collects books on some of the leading figures in jazz who happen to be women, from the ground-breaking Miss Simone, to Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and more. Of course, no jazz reading list would be complete without an appropriate soundtrack, so we have included a list of some excellent jazz on CD, created by (primarily) women artists. In addition to recordings by the above-mentioned musicians, you will find works by Mary Halvorson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Gerri Allen, Alice Coltrane, Esperanza Spaulding, Toshiko Akyoshi, and Oakland's own Carla Bley (on vinyl LP!). Please join us in celebrating the history, present, and future of this amazing American art form by learning about (and listening to) some of the women who helped to create and popularize this essential, beautiful music.


Women In Jazz

Often compared to Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, Simone is known as one of the greatest singers of her generation. She has recorded forty-three albums, ranging from blues to jazz to folk, and her hits like "I Loves You, Porgy," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "I Put a Spell on You," and "Mississippi Goddam" have confirmed her as an enduring force in popular music. Her song "Young, Gifted, and Black" became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and thrust her beyond international stardom into the center of activism. But such worlds as Simone's are not without their grim valleys: disastrous marriages, arrest and the threat of imprisonment, mental breakdown, poverty, and attempted suicide. She has survived these trials and continues to perform throughout Europe and the United States. With undiminished passion and in her unconquerable voice, this is Nina Simone's powerful memoir of her tempestuous life.--From the publisher 


What Happened, Miss Simone? : A Biography    by Alan Light 
"Inspired by the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, an intimate and vivid look at the legendary life of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist. [...] This nuanced examination of Nina Simone's life highlights her musical inventiveness and unwavering quest for equality, while laying bare the personal demons that plagued her from the time of her Jim Crow childhood in North Carolina to her self-imposed exile in Liberia and Paris later in life. Harnessing the singular voice of Miss Simone herself and incorporating candid reflections from those who knew her best, including her only daughter, Light brings us face to face with a legend, examining the very public persona and very private struggles of one of our greatest artists"-- Provided by publisher. 



The jazz musician-composer-arranger Mary Lou Williams spent her sixty-year career working in—and stretching beyond—a dizzying range of musical styles. Her integration of classical music into her works helped expand jazz's compositional language. Her generosity made her a valued friend and mentor to the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. Her late-in-life flowering of faith saw her embrace a spiritual jazz oriented toward advancing the civil rights struggle and helping wounded souls [...] In-depth and epic in scope, Soul on Soul restores a pioneering African American woman to her rightful place in jazz history.--From the publisher


Mary Lou Williams -- pianist, arranger, composer, and probably the most influential woman in the history of jazz -- receives the attention she has long deserved in the definitive biography by a leading scholar of women in jazz [...] Linda Dahl, granted unprecedented access to the large Williams archive, has given us the whole of Williams's very full life, from her often harrowing days on the road to her tumultuous marriages and love affairs, from the ups and downs of her unique fifty-year career to the remarkable spirituality that came to inform both her daily life and her music. This is a striking portrait of one of our least understood and most important musicians.--From the publisher 


The life of the very private and media-shy Ella Fitzgerald has long been shrouded in a mixture of half-truths and fiction. What emerges in Stuart Nicholson's groundbreaking biography is a remarkable story of a poor black girl's determination to realize the American Dream in the face of racial and sexual prejudice. [...] In this fullest account ever of her life, Nicholson draws on fresh research and interviews with Ella's friends and colleagues. Supplemented by Phil Schaap's authoritative discography, Ella Fitzgerald is a rich and revealing portrait of one of the most popular American singers in history.--From the publisher 


During a career spanning over 50 years, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald won 13 Grammy Awards. This volume collects together interviews, articles and reviews, telling the story of Ella's orphan childhood, how she was discovered in Harlem, and her rise to the highest-paid jazz singer in the world.--From the publisher 



Billie Holiday : The Last Interview And Other Conversations / with an introduction by Khanya Mtshali 

Legendary singer Billie Holiday comes alive in this first-ever collection of interviews from throughout her career. Included is her last interview, given from her deathbed in a New York City hospital, where police were standing by ready to arrest her for a parole violation should she recover. Also included: The transcript of an interrogation by a US Customs official questioning about whether she'd violated her parole by using drugs on a foreign tour. [...] In frank and open conversations, Billie Holiday proves herself far more articulate, aware, intelligent, and even heroic than the way she's often portrayed. This collection is an essential volume for all who have been moved by her music.--From the publisher 



Billie Holiday At Sugar Hill / Jerry Dantzic, Grayson Dantzic ; introduction by Zadie Smith 

In 1957, New York photojournalist Jerry Dantzic spent time with the iconic singer Billie Holiday during a week-long run of performances at the Newark, New Jersey, nightclub Sugar Hill. The resulting images offer a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of Billie with her family, friends, and her pet chihuahua, Pepe. [...] The years and the struggles seem to vanish when she sings; her face lights up. Later that same year, Dantzic photographed her in color at the second New York Jazz Festival at Randall's Island. Only a handful of the photographs in the book have ever been published. In her text, Zadie Smith evokes Lady Day herself and shows us what she sees as she inhabits these images and reveals what she is thinking.--From the publisher 



Blues For Lady Day   written and illustrated by Paolo Parisi ; translated by Denise Tripodi 

Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, had a troubled life: a childhood in poverty, brothels, jail, broken love, and a dependence on alcohol and heroin. Her first performances in the night clubs of prohibitionist America was where her pioneering vocal style was born―later to become a lasting influence on jazz, pop, and modern music to this day. Performing with jazz legends such as Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw, she became a true American icon. This graphic novel, told through short biographical fragments, is the story of Lady Day.--From the publisher 


Sarah Vaughan, a pivotal figure in the formation of bebop, influenced a broad array of singers who followed in her wake, yet the breadth and depth of her impact—not just as an artist, but also as an African-American woman—remain overlooked. [...] Hayes deftly traces the influence that Vaughan’s singing had on the perception and appreciation of vocalists—not to mention women—in jazz. She reveals how, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Vaughan helped desegregate American airwaves, opening doors for future African-American artists seeking mainstream success, while also setting the stage for the civil rights activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Equal parts biography, criticism, and good old-fashioned American success story, Queen of Bebop is the definitive biography of a hugely influential artist.--From the publisher 



All In Good Time    by Marian McPartland 

In this collection of musical portraits, jazz pianist and radio host Marian McPartland pays tribute to such beloved and legendary figures as Benny Goodman, Bill Evans, Joe Morello, Paul Desmond, Alec Wilder, Mary Lou Williams, and others. McPartland’s reminiscences and anecdotes about these jazz greats are informed by her encyclopedic knowledge of their music, making this richly detailed collection an important addition to the literature of jazz. In a preface to this edition, McPartland extends her commentary to include details of her long-running National Public Radio show “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz” and memories of her late husband, famed Chicago trumpeter Jimmy McPartland.--From the publisher 



Even though the potential passage of the Equal Rights Amendment had cracked glass ceilings across the country, in 1978 jazz remained a boys’ club. Two Kansas City women, Carol Comer and Dianne Gregg, challenged that inequitable standard. With the support of jazz luminaries Marian McPartland and Leonard Feather, inaugural performances by Betty Carter, Mary Lou Williams, an unprecedented All-Star band of women, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s band, plus dozens of Kansas City musicians and volunteers, a casual conversation between two friends evolved into the annual Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival (WJF).  But with success came controversy. [...] They fought for equality not with speeches but with swing, without protest signs but with bebop. [...] This book is an important testament to the ability of two friends to emphatically prove jazz genderless, thereby changing the course of jazz history.--From the publisher 



Jazzwomen : Conversations With Twenty-One Musicians    by Wayne Enstice and Janis Stockhouse 

Between 1995 and 2000, Wayne Enstice and Janis Stockhouse interviewed dozens of women jazz instrumentalists and vocalists. Jazzwomen collects 21 of the most fascinating interviews. The participants discuss everything—their personal lives, musical training and inspirations, recordings, relationships with other musicians, the music industry, sexism on the bandstand—and often make candid and revealing statements. At the end of each interview is a recommended discography compiled by the authors. Every jazz listener, musician, teacher, and student will be captivated by interviews with Marian McPartland, Regina Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, and their peers. Includes a sampler CD with complete works by several of the artists, including Jane Ira Bloom and Ingrid Jensen.--From the publisher 



Women In Jazz On CD (and LP!)





Forbidden Fruit/ Nina Simone 

Fodder On My Wings/ Nina Simone 

The Ballad Of The Fallen/ arrangements by Carla Bley (VINYL LP) 

5 Original Albums/ Ella Fitzgerald 

Ella Fitzgerald: The Voice Of Jazz/ Ella Fitzgerald 

The Best of Billie HolidayBillie Holiday 

Zodiac Suite Revisited/ The Mary Lou Williams Collective 

Code Girl/ Mary Halvorson ; Code Girl 

Social CallJazzmeia Horn 

12 Little Spells/ Esperanza Spalding 

The Life of a song/ Geri Allen ; Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette 

Waiting Game/ Terri Lyne Carrington 

Perfection/ David Murray, Geri Allen & Terri Lyne Carrington 

Getz / Gilberto '76/ Stan Getz & João Gilberto (Featuring Joanne Brackeen)