Musical Freedom

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch

“The most important book on improvisation I've yet seen." -Keith Jarrett

 

Effortless Mastery, Kenny Werner

You may already be familiar with Kenny’s work, but if not, this is a liberating book.

 

The Music Lesson, Victor Wooten

A beautiful book by a beautiful guy, full of musical wisdom and warmth.

 

The Inner Game of Music, Barry Green

An excellent, practical book for all musicians working wrestling with inner demons like self-doubt, nerves, and fear of failure

 

Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel

Fascinating portrait of Zen from the inside; highly relevant to music

 

The Artist’s Journey, Steven Pressfield

What being an Artist (of any kind) really entails, and a guide to overcoming some of the inner obstacles we all encounter along the way. You may also enjoy The War of Art by the same author.

 

Musical Biography

Notes and Tones, Art Taylor

Interviews with many great jazz musicians by a great jazz musician, thus a very honest and revealing glimpse of jazz in 1968-1972

 

Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, Peter Pettinger

Great biography of one of the great jazz masters

 

John Coltrane, His Life and Music, Lewis Porter

Great biography written by a noted jazz scholar who happens to be my friend and bandmate

 

Thelonious Monk, The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin Kelley

Extensively researched and totally engaging biography

 

Raga Mala, The autobiography of Ravi Shankar

The fascinating story of the great sitar player who popularized North Indian classical music in the West

 

Philosophy and World Spiritual Traditions

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

A great introduction to the history of Western philosophy through an engaging (if at times somewhat disturbing) autobiographical story

 

Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

An illuminating autobiographical portrait of the life of a Self-realized Indian yoga master—the first to settle in the West and teach here. This is also the first book written about yoga in English by a true yogi.

 

The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, Translation and commentary by Paramahansa Yogananda

The best translation of the Gita (often called the Hindu bible by Westerners) I have found yet. Not just a translation, but a realization of the deep truths embodied in the Gita.

 

The Mahabharata, translation by Ramesh Menon

An engaging and modern translation of the colossal, multifaceted Indian epic from which the Gita is but a tiny slice. It reads like Lord of the Rings, but is almost twice the length. (You have to set aside some time for this one, but wow is it amazing!)

 

The Gift, Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky

Heartwarming and inspiring poetry by the most beloved Persian poet

 

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu (Laozi), translation by Stephen Mitchell

Timeless, pithy wisdom from the great 6th-century-BC Chinese Master and founder of Taoism.

 

The Way of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton

Written by the 4th-century-BC Taoist Master Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zhou) and follower of Lao Tzu in a similar style to the Tao Te Ching, translated with great affinity by a celebrated author and Trappist (Catholic) monk

 

Polishing the Mirror, Ram Das (formerly Richard Alpert, Harvard professor and psychedelic pioneer who renounced artificial highs, traveled to India, found a guru, and came back to the U.S. to teach what he learned there)

A Modern, practical, spiritual classic.  You may also want to check out Be Here Now by the same author, which is better known, but I this book is more down to earth, practical and helpful.

 

The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

A modern, readable guide to spiritual enlightenment.  Brilliantly written, by one who clearly knows what he’s talking about from personal experience.

 

Many Lives, Many Masters, Brian L. Wiess, M.D.

The remarkable story of one patient’s past-life regression therapy

 

Stop Worrying! There Probably Is an Afterlife, Greg Taylor

A refreshingly balanced, well-researched introduction to the idea of conscious survival of death.

 

Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

If you haven’t read it, take the time to read it! It’s long, but worth the time. Perhaps the greatest and most beloved novel of the 20th century, and definitely the best-selling.

 

History

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, Yuval Noah Harari

An absolutely fascinating big-picture view of the history of humanity, by one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered. Funny and full of unexpected twists and turns.

 

John Funkhouser, Berklee College of Music, jfunkhouser@berklee.edu, updated July, 2020

Suggested Reading