Getting a jump on jazz

February 23, 2000

AS WE celebrate the contributions of African-Americans this month, it is a great time to recognize one of the most creative gifts to the world's music -- jazz.

This unique musical form was shaped by the combination of the many experiences and traditions of Africans in America and melded from spirituals, work songs and city and delta rhythms.

Whether created in joy, pain or hope, jazz provided a new form of expression that changed the way the world listened to music.

The city of Baltimore has a special place in the history and creation of jazz. Many great jazz musicians were born, reared and lived here.

Their names are a virtual jazz hall of fame, including Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Chick Webb and Ethel Ennis. During the past decade, many new books about jazz and its major contributors have been published.

Some of the books use creative styles and illustrations that echo and evoke the jazz idiom. Others give insight into the influences and forces that led musicians to create, change and direct this unique form. The books in this list give an insight into the history of jazz and its musicians. Several books feature one of the most influential and interesting Baltimore legends, Billie Holiday.

These books and more, along with many related tapes, records and CDs, offer a jump start to learning about jazz.

"Great African Americans in Jazz," by Carlotta Hacker (Crabtree Publishers, 1997). Profiles of 13 musicians who helped shape the genre, including notables Miles Davis and Duke Ellington.

"Big Star Fallin' Mama: Five Women in Black Music," by Hettie Jones (Puffin Books, 1997). Portraits and music that include biographies of jazz legends Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

"Jazz Stars" (Chelsea House Publishers, 1994). Eight short biographical sketches of jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

"Louis Armstrong: Jazz Musician," by Pat McKissack (Enslow Publishers, 1991). Simple text and illustrations describe the life and accomplishments of the trumpeter who was nicknamed Satchmo.

"Charlie Parker played be bop," by Christopher Raschka (Orchard Books, 1992). Introduces the famous saxophonist who developed a style of jazz known as bebop.

"Mysterious Thelonious," by Christopher Raschka (Orchard Books, 1997). A portrait of the musician who composed the famous jazz work "Mysterioso." The book also matches the tones of the diatonic scale to the values of the color wheel.

"Don't Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday," by Alexis De Veaux (Harper & Row, 1980). A prose poem recounting the life of the Baltimore singer affectionately known as "Lady Day."

"Billie Holiday: The Tragedy and Triumph of Lady Day," by Leslie Gourse (Franklin Watts, 1995). Relates the story of Holiday, who despite a turbulent life became one of the most famous singers in the history of jazz.

"Tiny's Hat," by Ann Grifalconi (Harper Collins, 1999). A beautiful picture book about a young girl who misses her father, a traveling blues musician. She lifts her spirits by wearing his hat and singing his songs. Based on the early life of Billie Holiday.

"The Jazz Man," by Mary Hays Welk (MacMillan, 1993). The story of 9-year-old Zeke, who listens to the music from the jazz musicians piano across the court and escapes for a while from his worries.

Compiled by Carla D. Hayden, director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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