Reading Matter (5/09)

As a harmonica player and pianist, I often find myself practicing. As a composer, I often jot down little ideas in music notebooks that sometimes become compositions. Sometimes I’m at an instrument, sometimes not. And then there is recording, rehearsing, booking tours, etc. When people ask me if I have any hobbies, I usually just laugh, because Music is my Life. I spend so much time playing, writing, and thinking about it.   HOWEVER, I do read the occasional book, and I find myself influenced pretty heavily by what I read. Sometimes I’ll even write music inspired by things I read. So I thought I’d just share with you a short list of things I’ve read recently or am reading now.  As I look at it, I realize that most of them are about music. Oh well…

“Body and Soul” by Frank Conroy is one of the greatest books of fiction that I’ve ever read about music and musicians. The more you know about classical music and Jazz, the better it is. If you play piano and have ever lived in Manhattan (‘yes’ on both counts), it’s indescribably great. As I read the book, I felt like I wanted to call up the author and just thank him for writing it. To my great sorrow, I found that he died a few years ago. What a writer…

“The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra. I first read this when it came out about 30 years ago. It was a huge influence on me then, and re-reading it now has had no less profound an effect on me. It links together many of the concepts found in Eastern religion and particle physics. It is brilliant and deep.

“When my Fiddle’s in the Case” by Johnny Frigo. John was a dear friend, a great Jazz violinist who departed this earth last year at the age of 90, leaving behind a rich legacy of recordings and this fabulous book of his poetry and art. If you can find this book anywhere, buy it. I never tire of reading his poems, which are in many styles and are about, well, just about everything.

“Strange Sects and Curious Cults” by  Marcus Bach. Written in 1961, this is a fascinating exploration of some mainstream and not-so-mainstream religious groups and societies from ancient times to today. I peruse it often, opening to random chapters to immerse myself in the lore of these belief systems, which include the Shakers, Penitentes, Doukhobors, Voodoo, Father Divine, et al.

“Bird Lives” by Ross Russell. The first chapter, which is an account of Charlie Parker playing “Cherokee” at an L.A. Jazz club in the late 1940’s, is an amazing verbal description of his performance and everything surrounding it. You’ll feel like you were there after reading those 25 pages. And the rest of the book is a treasure trove. The more you love Bird, the more this book will mean to you.


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