Lennie Tristano

His Life in Music
Eunmi Shim
The first biography of one of the most influential but unheralded musicians in jazz history


Lennie Tristano occupies a rare position not only in jazz history but in the history of twentieth-century music. Emerging from an era when modernism was the guiding principle in art, Tristano explored musical avenues that were avant-garde even by modernism's experimental standards. In so doing, he tested and transcended the boundaries of jazz.

In 1949, years before musicians such as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor took credit for the movement, Tristano made the first recordings of "free jazz," a new kind of group improvisation based on spontaneous interaction among band members without any regard for predetermined form, harmony, or rhythm. Then, in the 1950s, Tristano broke new ground by his use of multitracking.

Tristano was also a pioneer in the teaching of jazz, devoting the latter part of his career almost exclusively to music instruction. He founded a jazz school—the first of its kind—among whose students were saxophonists Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz and pianist Sal Mosca.

With its blend of oral history, archival research, and musical analysis, Lennie Tristano sheds new light on the important role Tristano played in the jazz world and introduces this often-overlooked musician to a new generation of jazz aficionados.

Cover image © 1979 William P. Gottlieb, www.jazzphotos.com.

Eunmi Shim received her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is now Assistant Professor of Music at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. This is her first book.

Praise / Awards

  • "In Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music, Shim has provided a comprehensive biographical and analytical account of one of jazz's most important and most frequently misunderstood figures. Her insights into Tristano's personality are well nuanced, and the focus on his teaching makes a unique contribution to the history of jazz. This vividly written study is likely to become a standard work."
    —Brian Priestley, author of Chasin' The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker and co-author of The Rough Guide to Jazz

  • "Eunmi Shim's book is clearly a labor of love. Her thorough examination of Tristano's teaching is particularly important, for no one previously has assembled the thoughts of so many former students. Her illuminating transcriptions of, and commentaries on, Tristano's solos are also valuable. Lennie Tristano is an important contribution to the literature on jazz."
    —Tom Owens, author of Bebop: The Music and Its Players

  • "Comprehensive, objective, and acute in its judgments, this is the biography of Lennie Tristano we have been waiting for."
    —Larry Kart, author of Jazz In Search Of Itself
  • "impeccably and exhaustively researched. . . . one wishes that every biography of a jazz musician was researched this well . . . "
    all about jazz

  • ". . . Eunmi Shim has done a splendid job exploring the blind pianist's life work."
    Jazz Notes

  • Winner: Bronze Prize for the Independent Publisher Book Award for Performing Arts

  • Winner: Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) 2008 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research

Look Inside

Copyright © 2007, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 336pp.
  • 20 musical examples, 7 ganged photos, and 7 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11346-0

Add to Cart
  • $49.95 U.S.



  • jazz, jazz music, biography, American studies, musicology, Lennie Tristano, jazz history, twentieth century, avant-garde, modern, modernism, free jazz, music instruction, piano, pianist, oral history, archival research, biography