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JazzTimes 10: Great Jazz Memoirs

What some of the music's most important figures have written about themselves

The genre of memoirs by jazz musicians is a rich one, filled with tales of trials and tribulations as well as success stories. To make a memoir work, the author has to not only recall events and feelings from the past correctly, but also manage to project the right tone and voice, with genuine rather than false humility. On top of that, we readers would like to learn something about the author that we didn’t know before, which presents another challenge. Every memoir here except (spoiler alert!) Charles Mingus’ required an assist from a writer or editor, who deserves credit for helping to bring the project home.

5. Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren: I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (2010)

5. Jimmy Heath and Joseph McLaren: <i>I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath</i> (2010)

Another Philadelphian has stories of his own to share, and he intersperses them with short anecdotes from his friends and peers. The genial saxophonist fesses up to his heroin addiction, which made traveling with a big band a real adventure, albeit an often tragic one. Heath did indeed walk (and play) with giants in the jazz world, and he dishes about all of them in this breezy read.

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