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Top 5 Jazz & Swing Inspired Books You’ll Love!

Updated: May 15, 2021

Jazz and blues music has been stealing our hearts since the early 1920s and we are loving every minute of it. The rich tapestry of Ellington's orchestra, combined with the Trumpet growls of Armstrong and all the backstage showbusiness combined, it is no wonder that we daydream about the dazzling ‘Jazz Age’. However, was it really that fabulous and charming as we think it was? We will let you be the judge of that with a little help of jazz-inspired fiction. The cheapest and easiest way to travel without actually having to leave the comfort of your home. Now, get comfy with your favourite drink and let’s get started.

by Rebecca Rotert

The book is set in the early 1960s Chicago, a time when jazz was blooming but so did the tensions of the Cold War. We will follow a story of Naomi Hill, a struggling singer at the Blue Angel club, her 10-year-old daughter Sophia, and photographer Jim who is desperately in love with Naomi. Told from various of view, every chapter you read will feel like solving a puzzle.

One might presume that it is a typical romance novel but it is everything but that. There is the love of the music world and the lure of fortune and fame; the love for family; and the opposite of romance revealed in the world of other characters. Taking you through the streets of Chicago, while imagining the magnificent old buildings depicted by Jim, you will want to visit it when this pandemic is over.

Not only will you get to know and love the characters but you will learn to sympathize with each and every one of them. Prepare yourself for a dynamic night of glam and drama.

The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

Ready to travel back to New Orleans in 1919 and solve a mystery? We sure are!

Based on a true story, the book follows the enigmatic “New Orleans Axeman” and people who are trying to discover his identity.

It all starts when a journalist named John Riley receives an unusual letter which he suspects is coming from the killer. In the letter, the Axeman says he will be in the city soon and he is setting a challenge for its citizens - play jazz or be the next victim. Then we go back to months before when the murders started happening.

What makes this story so appealing to the readers is that various point of view aspect. We have a journalist, detective, mafia members, a female lead and none other than the great Louis Armstrong. Each of them has a unique story and a secret reason why they are trying to solve this puzzling case.

We recommend getting the sequel Dead Man's Blues as you will get so immersed in the story that you won’t be able to stop reading. Just as you think you figured something out the book will remind you that the story isn’t over yet.

Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker

Young Man with a Horn is widely considered the first jazz novel, as it magnificently depicts the music and atmosphere which defined that time. Baker’s book was inspired by the artistry of legendary Bix Beiderbecke, and it was also adapted into a movie starring Doris Day, Kirk Douglas and more (however, be sure to read the book first 😉).

The story centres around an underaged white boy Rick Martin and his passion for brass and all that jazz. Although a child he got a chance to perform in a band at the Cotton Club. We will read about his poor childhood in 1910 and how he ended up playing in one of the most prestigious night clubs in New York.

An amazing story that follows the dreams and pitfalls which we can sympathize but most importantly the main focus is on the music and the development of jazz in the roaring twenties. We recommend reading this with fine jazz in the background to get the complete feel of it all.

Girl Singer by Mick Carlon

Love Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and all those amazing legends? Then this book will blow you away!

Imagine this, Harlem in 1938, a young aspiring black, Avery, singer gets recognised by Count Basie’s saxophonist Lester "Pres" Young. He was so amazed by her that he recommended her to Basie and Avery is only 18 years old gets a chance to become a lead singer in the Count Basie Orchestra. The book will show you the difficulties and glam of living the jazz life. It will feel like receiving a musical education and the major is jazz.

Not only will you read about the songs that Carlon writes about but you’ll feel compelled to listen to them as you read. Also, this book gives you a glimpse of the racism during that time and it shows how black people handled attitudes of prejudice with courage in the early 20s.

Fun fact -‘The Count Basie Orchestra’ performed for everyone of any race anywhere despite that it was forbidden to perform for black audiences at times.

Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Naturally, the list wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t contain at least one of Scott Fitzgerald’s books. This time we will shine the light on the incredible compilation of short stories dedicated to the ‘Jazz Age’. It contains eleven stories:

  • "The Jelly-Bean"

  • "The Camel's Back"

  • "May Day"

  • "Porcelain and Pink"

  • "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz

  • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

  • "Tarquin of Cheapside"

  • "Oh, Russet Witch!"

  • "The Lees of Happiness"

  • "Mr Icky"

  • "Jemina"

Interestingly enough the recurring theme among all of them is the harsh reality of the Roaring Twenties - wasted privilege, youth, lives, and that the glitter and glam you think exists is, in fact, symbolic & brittle. Delightfully tragic. No one captures the magic of this period better than F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Wait, the list is not over yet! We have one more amazing book recommendation:


High Times, Hard Times by Anita O'Day, George Eells

I know, I know, we promised fiction but we couldn’t resist adding this fabulous travelogue of Anita O’ Day. She will take you through the jazz world. A world filled with incredibly depicted images of Roy Eldridge, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday and Stan Kenton.

She is telling it like it was, a no-nonsense narrative from one of the best to grace the Jazz stage. You know what they say a great jazz singer tells git like no other.

Let us know if you think that’s true in the comments below!

Dixiebird Records are a London based, live and recorded entertainment agency. Producing and supplying vintage theatrical bands for the private and corporate events industry.

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