Jazz. Volume 1, Gumbo : [beginnings to 1917]

Take the 'A' Train to the Library to Learn about Jazz!

April is Jazz Appreciation Month—a great time to learn more about America’s original art form through the Library.

Originating in the 1910s, jazz has roots in African traditions, blues, ragtime, and European classical music. Gary Giddins’ and Scott DeVeaux’s book Jazz traces the genre's evolution from the early twentieth century to the fusion sounds of more recent times, and describes the major influences in its development. In the Emmy-nominated documentary miniseries of the same name, Ken Burns' Jazz traces the music's history from its beginnings in the African-American community of New Orleans.

Because a key feature of jazz is improvisation, there are as many ways to play it as there are musicians; books like Ted Gioia's How to Listen to Jazz are a great introduction to appreciating the genre. Enjoy the work of many of the most influential jazz musicians in history via the Library's Music CD and DVD collection, and online through Hoopla and Freegal—check out Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, or Ella Fitzgerald as starting points.

Learn more about the lives of jazz legends in biographies like Thelonious Monk: the Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley, John Szwed's Billie Holiday: the Musician and the Myth, and more in the Library's collection.

As for fiction, check out 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino, in which a nine-year-old aspiring singer searches Philadelphia for a legendary jazz club. Toni Morrison’s Jazz, set in 1920s Harlem, is “a dazzling act of jazz-like improvisation, moving seamlessly in and out of past, present, and future.” And Coming through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje is a fictionalized account of the life of Buddy Bolden, one of jazz’s pioneers.

Young jazz fans also find great books in the Children’s Area at the Library. 2016 Caldecott Honor book Trombone Shorty depicts musician Troy Andrews’ musical childhood in New Orleans. Different styles within the genre are celebrated in Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, also featuring colorful text and illustrations. Matthew Gollub's The Jazz Fly is a clever introduction to jazz singing—with a band of bugs as the protagonists. In Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora, a young boy plays an imaginary horn as he dreams of becoming a musician.

At your library, you'll discover it's never too late—or too early—to learn about the art form that has had such a tremendous influence on American music and pop culture for the past hundred years.