Monday, February 23, 2009

Kind of Blue Turns Fifty


March 2nd will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis' most perfect recording, and maybe the most perfect in the history of jazz. I plan to return to this theme. For now, here is a post I wrote two years ago.

NPR has a new series, Jazz Profiles, that is available by podcast. I have only listened to one: "Miles Davis: Kind of Blue", a 54 minute adoration to the best selling record in the history of jazz. Almost fifty years after its release, more than 5,000 copies of Kind of Blue are purchased every week. And of course, those are only the legal purchases.

Kind of Blue brought together seven now-legendary musicians in the prime of their careers: tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and, of course, trumpeter Miles Davis.

If you are interested in modern jazz, the program is worth a listen. Unfortunately, the writer felt compelled to tell us, over and over again, how great the record is, something that should speak for itself when they treat each selection. Most of the information is hardly new, but it is nice to have it in one package, with the music as the background. Any certified jazz nerd knows that when Wynton Kelly showed up at the first of two sessions, he was irritated to find Bill Evans at the piano. Kelly had just replaced Evans in Miles' band. Kelly played on only one of the five tracks.

It is also well-known, but well worth repeating, that Evans was as much or even more responsible for the compositions as Davis was. Bill Evans was one of the prime geniuses of modern jazz, and if he got little share of the immense royalties from the disc, he ought at least to get credit for his input.

The best thing about the program is the many brief interviews. I had never heard Bill Evans actually talk before. It is also fascinating to hear how Miles' genius as leader worked.

Davis was at a musical peak in the 1950s and had been preparing the ideas that would become Kind of Blue for years. A year before the recording, Davis slipped Evans a piece of paper on which he'd written with the musical symbols for "G minor" and "A augmented." "See what you can do with this," Davis said. Evans went on to create a cycle of chords as a meditative framework for solos on "Blue in Green."

"Blue in Green" is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music that I have ever heard. Here is a clip of Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing "So What?", the first piece on Kind of Blue.

Postscript:

Here is a version of "All Blues," one of the compositions on KOB.

Miles Davis/All Blues/Live at the Plugged Nickel

This is no substitute for the original, but I have to say that just the resonance with the original makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Besides, this is very fine jazz work.

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