Summer 🌞 Reading & Viewing

lisa hilton reading a book

I love to read, and always indulge this pleasure in the summer. These days I only read biographies – mainly on musicians – because their lives can be more fascinating than any fiction! I think it’s really cool to interact with what you are reading in more than one way: when I read the excellent 700 page biography last spring on Frederyck Chopin by Alan Walker, I also played on the piano his entire collection of compositions – 900 notated sheets of music understanding more about his life and creativity as I did.

If you read “The Making of ‘Kind of Blue’” by Eric Nisenson or really any book about Miles, you can listen to the Miles Davis best-selling jazz album of course, but then watch the excellent The Birth of Cool documentary to understand the era, the man and his music even more. Other great book/movie combinations are the biography of Cole Porter by Charles Schwartz and the movie De Lovely; The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius by Bill Milkowski and the recent movie Jaco: The Film are perfect. The biography of pianist Bud Powell by his friend Francis Paudras called Dance of the Infidels inspired the movie ‘Round Midnight. Going back a few years, one of my favorite books, The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman was made into a multi award winning movie by the same name. When you read about these great artists and then see their performances and photos or to see them portrayed by actors well, (like in the Miles Davis movie), it adds depth and interest.

Of course any of the recent documentaries on living musicians and producers make fun combinations too – I loved the book on Clive Davis as well as the documentary that showed live footage from the Monterey Jazz Festival along with the amazing performance by Janis Joplin – you might have seen that too? The Quincy Jones book Q was riveting as I’m sure the movie on the life of my friend will be too. I saw the terrific documentary produced by another friend, Stephen Badger, Muscle Shoals after finishing the book My Cross to Bear on Gregg Allman’s life. That movie has a LOT of American music history beautifully shot along the Tennessee River and includes interviews with the many musicians including the Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers.

Reading about jazz or other music in America is about our collective history and sometimes reading about the experiences of other musicians can help me in unexpected ways – Chopin lived through the cholera epidemic in Paris while suffering from tuberculosis for example. If he can survive a plague and continue to compose masterfully, I think the rest of us can keep at it don’t you?

What are my favorite books to recommend? (Yes there’s more!) I made a list on my website, because I love these books so much (recommended books link here) as well as my favorite pianists on that page too. Enjoy your Summer!



lisa hilton book grid