The Collector | Percy Mabandu on his favourite jazz books

Journalist, artist and author Percy Mabadu. Image by Siyabonga Mkhasibe

Mr Percy Mabandu is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on numerous South African and international publications. A lifelong man of words and music aficionado,  his obsessions peak at the intersection of  jazz and literature. He shared some of his favourite jazz books with MS. ALUWANI RATSHIUNGO.

Mr Mabandu has been writing about art, jazz and the black experience for over ten years and recently published Yakhal’inkomo: Portraits of a Jazz Classic – a book about Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s iconic jazz record, Yakhal’inkomo – which locates the man, the artwork and the times that shaped them both.

He admits that choosing his five favourite books was no easy feat and as a result, he picked six. “It’s unfair to call these my most favourite books of all time ’cause there’s so many books I’m indebted to but I just selected the books that I keep going back to.”

Miles: The Autobiography By Quincy Troupe

I remember the first time I read it. I could hear Miles’ voice. There are a lot of Miles-isms in the autobiography so it’s rooted in him almost talking to you. It doesn’t feel literary. It reads like you are sitting with Miles and he is telling you the story of his life and I like that. And the profanities in there, if you count how many times he used the word “motherfucker”, you’d almost run out of numbers. It’s a book worthy of its subject in the way it’s put together. I like that Quincy Troupe did not intrude so much onto the text that it became a book by Quincy Troupe about Miles and I sort of see why the follow up book had to be “Miles and Me” in which he writes about the experience of working with Miles on this autobiography. I was tempted to pick that book as well. There are so many books on the life of Miles that call themselves the authoritative biography but I’m glad that I can always go back to Miles’ own work on himself so you are sort of getting it from the motherfucker’s mouth.

Coming Through Slaughter By Michael Ondaatje

When I was working on my book, I’d read this book every time before I started writing just to get into the spirit. For me this is the most beautiful book ever written on jazz. It treads that space between fiction and history. It’s about the life of Buddy Bolden who’s credited as being the first jazz trumpeter/musician in history. In jazz there’s this legend of this guy and he’s never been recorded so nobody can tell you what he sounded like. His name comes down through the corridors of history; through the tales of where this thing called jazz began. So Buddy Bolden has become like a mythological figure in jazz folklore. Michael Ondaatje- who is an amazing writer – wrote this book as a stab at something that could resemble a biographical sketch of who Buddy Bolden was. What I enjoy about this book is how he deals with details of place; details of New Orleans that he actually just conjures out of the stuff of his creativity cause he can’t have been there; he wasn’t even born then. So it’s stuff of research, folklore and the richness of his own imagination. A major part of his strength is that he is a poet and he enjoys language and he enjoys his subject. It’s almost like Geoff Dyer’s ‘But Beautiful’.

But Beautiful By Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer brings in his capacity to read photographs of the time to tell the story of these musicians he loves. Every chapter is almost like a biographical sketch as well, for particular musicians. He opens each chapter with an image of Duke Ellington driving in a car on his way to a gig somewhere and whatever happens on the road becomes an opener to every chapter and he reads photographs in that as well; and he reads into the music. For all the facts that he is able to dig out of history he ensures that he keeps it beautiful, hence, ‘But Beautiful’. The music almost always demands that the writing about it is at least an attempt to be as beautiful as the music is. For me this is some other shit.

Clawing At The Limits Of Cool By Salim Washington

Salim Washington is a Coltrane scholar. I know him personally and he helped me a lot when I was working on my own book. He was friends with the subject of my book [Winston Mankunku Ngozi] This book is about studying the relationship between Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He studies that relationship as a phenomenon in Jazz history and what it means for the music and the history of the culture. I thought that was a great idea because this interaction still reverberates in the music today. A lot of people in the music are still consequences, if you will, of that relationship that got together in the mid-1950’s until 1962/63. It’s beautifully written, meticulously researched and it’s passionately argued. It’s amazing.

Making the changes By Michael Titlestad

This is perhaps one of the most important books in South African jazz. I realized that I had to bring in a local flavour, not for the sake of it but because this is a very rigorous academic book on jazz reportage in South African literature and news. He goes into South African literature and newspapers to trace jazz as a presence in all of this work and he teases it out. I keep going back to this book because it is teaching me how to think about the music as well. It’s an academic text – it’s hard to read – but once you actually break it down and get it, it’s beautiful. It’s an empowering tool. I owe him a lot as well.

Kansas City Lighting : The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker By Stanley Crouch

This man gave me the courage to become a journalist working in jazz. His books taught me how to write. He is almost like the Miles Davis of jazz literature in that he doesn’t give a fuck. He says his thing and he goes after it and that’s a beautiful thing. This is his first volume of the Charlie Parker biography. Stanley Crouch took 8 years, I think, working on this. It’s beautifully written as well but the meticulousness of the research is what I like about it.

These are almost like my tools as someone who writes about this stuff. I’m always going back to them. You have to go back to the guys that did it and did it well. I hold myself up to account to the standard they set and hopefully I come out cool and worthy of the books I’ve read in my attempt.

Image By Mr Siyabonga Mkhasibe

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