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Kind of Blue turns 50
March 3, 2009 1:22 AM   Subscribe

As jazz fans know, fifty years ago on March 2, 1959, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb met at the Columbia 30th Street Studios in NYC for the first session of Miles new album, Kind of Blue. (Link goes to the 50th anniversary collector's box set edition page at amazon.) It was the touchstone for many other future recordings bearing its mighty influence and it fostered several high profile careers, and a new modal sound for jazz. Kind of Blue went on to be certified platinum, selling 4 million records, the most ever for a jazz album. Bill Evans had left the band in late 1958, but was called back by Miles for the sessions, which included his new pianist Wynton Kelly on one track only, Freddie Freeloader. The tunes they did that day, "So What", "Blue in Green" (written by Evans, though credited to Miles) and "Freeloader" all became standards as did "All Blues" from the April session. Documentaries and entire books have been written on this one album alone. The phenomenon lives on. (previously on AskMeFi, but just on Trane and Miles.)
posted by Seekerofsplendor (71 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
The link for "...books have been written" should have been included as this.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 1:26 AM on March 3, 2009


Freddie Freeloader, So What and All Blues are also very easy to play. This is helpful for beginning jazz students because they know the songs and they are more "accessible" than a lot of other jazz from that era. They've heard the songs hundreds of times and know what is expected. With those songs, once you have the basic chords and scales down, it is easy to follow the flow and concentrate on improvising and exploring the structure and see what kinds of interesting places you can discover.
posted by chillmost at 2:31 AM on March 3, 2009


One of the greatest albums ever recorded of any type of music, and certainly the gateway drug to many a jazz fan.
posted by caddis at 4:08 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Still, even after umteen-gagillion listenings, one of the most satisfying recordings I have.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 AM on March 3, 2009


Kind of Blue went on to be certified platinum, selling 4 million records, the most ever for a jazz album.

Kenny G's Breathless album sold 12 million copies.

Yes, I know it should be categorized as Shit, however conventional wisdom in the music industry is to somehow call it jazz.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:55 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aww yeah, Kind of Blue, it's like... the Bible or something. It's just there. One of the great artistic expressions of history.

Coltrane, of course, is such a larger-than-life figure, with such an immediately identifiable, personal sound, and such a Herculean hunger for expanding his musical self, that he's eclipsed many of his contemporaries, at least in the popular imagination and awareness. That includes his fellow saxophonist on Kind of Blue, Cannonball Adderley. I love Cannonball's sound and sensibility, though, and awhile back I came across some amazing footage of his band from 1962 (just 4 years after Kind of Blue). The group included Yusef Lateef (it's so cool to hear his oboe, wood flute, etc. in a jazz context) and Joe Zawinul. You gotta check out the clips on this page. The one called Primitivo, from the JAZZ SCENE USA collection is a personal fave.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:10 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


For me, Bill Evans' solo at the end of "Blue in Green" says more about doomed passion than all of Last Tango in Paris.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:25 AM on March 3, 2009


But, hey, one thing I can't let stand: links to the frontmen but no love for the bass and drums? Nuh-UH!

On bass: Paul Chambers.
On drums (and the last man standing from Kind of Blue): Jimmy Cobb.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also...

"It was just another date for us." - Bill Evans

Participants in history don't always realize it at the time.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:37 AM on March 3, 2009


Also, jazz musicians tend to be fond of cryptic understatements.

I obviously don't need to praise the album, so I'll just say: Nice post!
posted by languagehat at 5:54 AM on March 3, 2009


I don't know much about jazz, I'll freely admit. But I don't understand why people love Kind of Blue so much. I mean, yeah, Davis, Coltrane, blah blah blah...but it's so loungey and boring and saccharine. Agharta is much more interesting, and Sketches of Spain is, I think, much more impressive musically. Even Birth of the Cool is more expressive. Kind of Blue just seems like the equivalent of Weather Report--excellent musicians producing something that in the end turns out pretty damn "meh."
posted by nasreddin at 6:05 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't know, I'm one of those jerks who liked Tutu and still does. Though much of his other music feels timeless and that one is firmly rooted in the 80's.
posted by Foosnark at 6:22 AM on March 3, 2009


Kind of Blue just seems like the equivalent of Weather Report--excellent musicians producing something that in the end turns out pretty damn "meh."

Well, it's possible you've seen through the mask, the emperor has no clothes, and a half-century's worth of jazz musicians and fans are either ludicrously mistaken or engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to mislead posterity (on the order of the Shakespeare Industry that's been propping up a third-rate Jacobean hack for centuries now). On the other hand, it's possible that you are not listening in the right way. I'll let you be the judge of the likelihoods there. In the event that you opt for Door Number Two, let me recommend Barry Kernfeld's What to Listen For in Jazz. (Make sure your copy has the accompanying CD, and be prepared to listen carefully.)
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Davis, Coltrane, blah blah blah...

As examples of "Your favorite band sucks" go, this one is unusually bold.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have to agree with nasreddin. I can't help thinking it's because of two things: my over-familiarity with the album, and having heard strong echoes of it in just about any genre of music. It's massively influential. It's overexposed. Fantastic album, wonderful nuanced playing, take it off please, I can't listen to it any more.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:01 AM on March 3, 2009


You're not agreeing with nasreddin, as far as I can tell. You're saying it's great but overexposed (which I can dig—I feel the same way about a lot of classical music). He's saying it's crap (excuse me: "pretty damn 'meh'").
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on March 3, 2009


It's one of the few (maybe the only) instrumental jazz albums from that era you can play for non-jazz fans that they'll probably like. Overexposed, yes, but only because it has so little competition.
posted by tommasz at 7:27 AM on March 3, 2009


To be honest, I prefer Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew. But I know most people would consider that madness.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:30 AM on March 3, 2009


If you like Kind of Blue, Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth (featuring some of the same personnel) is also very good.
posted by kersplunk at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once several years ago I was at a house party whose host had his CD collection on display, with all of his discs neatly shelved in alphabetical order. He saw me looking over it and said, "I'm into all kinds of stuff. I'm really eclectic."

"I see you've got Kind of Blue," I said, just making conversation, leaving out that he had no other Miles Davis albums, and indeed, no other jazz albums.

"Well, that's the only jazz album you need," my host said, nodding sagely. I'm sure he didn't intend that to come out quite the way it did.

As for the album itself, I haven't sat down to listen to it in years, partly because at this point I can practically close my eyes and play it back in my head. Somehow, when I want to listen to Miles, it's never that--these days it'll probably be one of the [Gerund] with the Miles Davis Quintet albums, or Davis/Shorter/Hancock/Carter/Williams--but someday I hope to be able to return to Kind of Blue with fresh ears.
posted by Prospero at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2009


I understand people thinking it's overplayed, but there is no better Sunday morning album than Kind of Blue, it's so layered, it's light and airy and groovy and at the same time dark and heavy and somber, it all depends on how you listen to it and what mood you're in. It's a classic for a reason, I have heard it more times than I can count and I still hear something new in it every time, it's both a snapshot of its time, and fresh-sounding. Good post.
posted by biscotti at 7:46 AM on March 3, 2009



Davis, Coltrane, blah blah blah...

As examples of "Your favorite band sucks" go, this one is unusually bold.


If you notice, I named three other Miles Davis albums I love. Hardly "your favorite band sucks."

Well, it's possible you've seen through the mask, the emperor has no clothes, and a half-century's worth of jazz musicians and fans are either ludicrously mistaken or engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to mislead posterity (on the order of the Shakespeare Industry that's been propping up a third-rate Jacobean hack for centuries now). On the other hand, it's possible that you are not listening in the right way. I'll let you be the judge of the likelihoods there. In the event that you opt for Door Number Two, let me recommend Barry Kernfeld's What to Listen For in Jazz. (Make sure your copy has the accompanying CD, and be prepared to listen carefully.)

There's no need to condescend to me. I'm not saying everyone else is wrong, or that I have some kind of special insight. Maybe it's what fleetmouse says: since it's so familiar and overexposed at this point, I just can't hear what's so unique about it. It still sounds like it's making jazz safe for Aunt Betty in Levittown.
posted by nasreddin at 7:48 AM on March 3, 2009


Sketches of Spain is, I think, more impressive in a vacuum than Kind of Blue. Take anyone who has heard neither, and knows nothing of jazz, and I'm pretty sure they'd put the former above the latter. That said, more than half of what makes Sketches so impressive is due to Joaquín Rodrigo, who composed the original Concierto de Aranjuez. Most of the remainder of the credit should go to Gil Evans, who did all of the arranging for the album. (And I certainly don't mean to minimize his role. The metric and thematic shifts he introduced are nothing short of revolutionary in jazz.) Miles had influence in getting the album made and could still play crazy-good trumpet solos.

Thing is, outside of a vacuum, Kind of Blue is pretty much untouchable by any other jazz album. It shaped what jazz became and still is to an extent unmatched by pretty much any contribution to any style of music in history. Hyperbole, perhaps, but not too far off the mark, I'd argue.

Great post.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:51 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, jazz musicians tend to be fond of cryptic understatements. -languagehat

Yeah, well...
posted by lothar at 7:55 AM on March 3, 2009


It's hard for me to say which I like better, Kind of Blue or Bitches' Brew or Birth of the Cool if you had to choose only between those three records. They all do different things - like medicine does.

I will totally cop to the gateway drug aspect of Kind of Blue, though. The first time I heard that record was back in 1985 when I was still in high school. A friend put it on and as trite as it sounds, a door opened up in my head about what sound could do.

It's like Kind of Blue sounds like the coolest person you'll ever meet on the street.

Birth of the Cool is the sound of what makes that person the coolest person.

And Bitches' Brew is what that cool person is thinking all the time to get him to that place.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't worry, Nasreddin, I got the iconoclast in me too.

I was just watching a PBS broadcast of, essentially, Kind of Blue (plus a handful of other orchestral tunes) last night ("The Sound of Miles Davis", recorded between KoB sessions). I do think that "So What" holds up, or that performance held up, though it's weird to listen to it knowing what would come. Coltrane and Miles were both obviously putting some effort in pushing the boundaries (with Coltrane starting to blister a little bit at the edge, letting just a bit of reediness and crackling through his tone, and Davis pushing and pulling the swing), but a lot of the strain seemed to be in keeping things just this side of exploding, and both of them really did become a lot more interesting when they later let go and counted on the listener to find their own way back.

The orchestral bits, well, it's just not a kind of jazz that I connect with. I recognized a lot of the quotes they were dropping in the solos, but the rhythms were so staid and melodies so sweet that I couldn't keep listening. If I had more of an interest in the historicity of jazz, sure, yeah, but most of the jazz I listen to has a palpable thrill about it, something that the horn stabs of "So What" delivers, but "The Duke" and "Orchestral Sketches" just don't deliver.

Kind of Blue is the only jazz album you need if you never listen to jazz.
posted by klangklangston at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2009


"Thing is, outside of a vacuum, Kind of Blue is pretty much untouchable by any other jazz album. It shaped what jazz became and still is to an extent unmatched by pretty much any contribution to any style of music in history. Hyperbole, perhaps, but not too far off the mark, I'd argue."

Untouchable by any other jazz album? Sure, if you want to argue that influence precedes all. But that's like arguing that Revolver is untouchable by any other pop album—you can argue it, but you make plain some pretty big assumptions about what music should be and how genres should function, and leave yourself open to a lot of legitimate criticism from people outside of the privileged demographic. Might as well say that Marilyn Monroe is the ultimate sex symbol while you're at it.

Oh, and Bitches Brew, no question. Jeez.
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Klangklangston - just curious here, by your comment - do you not like Duke Ellington, then?

I'm totally the opposite. I like hard bop music and some outside stuff, but jazz has to swing first and foremost.

If I could give any jazz newbie one record, I'd give them the remastered version of Duke Ellngtons' Blanton-Webster Band CD's.

Now that shit's awesome.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2009


I like Duke Ellington for what he was, sort of the way that I like HG Wells for what he was. But given my limited time on earth, I think both have been superseded by folks I find a lot more resonant.
posted by klangklangston at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2009


I tried listening to "Kind of Blue" a few times and it didn't really do anything for me. I'll certainly give it a few more plays, but it might just be one of those things that I'm not into. Of course, since these things acquire a semi-religious sort of reverence, it's close to obscenity for me to say so. Clearly, there's something wrong with my taste or I'm "not listening in the right way".

> half-century's worth of jazz musicians and fans are either ludicrously mistaken or engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to mislead posterity

Maybe not so much a conspiracy as the tendency for people to assign so-called Great Artists an untouchable place in history. It sucks because it dissuades people from even trying creative pursuits, much less on a serious level.
posted by archagon at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Untouchable by any other jazz album? Sure, if you want to argue that influence precedes all. But that's like arguing that Revolver is untouchable by any other pop album—you can argue it, but you make plain some pretty big assumptions about what music should be and how genres should function, and leave yourself open to a lot of legitimate criticism from people outside of the privileged demographic. Might as well say that Marilyn Monroe is the ultimate sex symbol while you're at it.

Yeah, this is spot on. I think that people who try to construct an equivalence between influence/historical significance and quality are really just trying to keep the cultural current from getting away from them. Because the end result of claiming that Kind of Blue or Revolver or London Calling is the One True Jazz/Rock/Punk Album is that your generation gets to call the shots, music-wise, and you can be secure in your cultural authority as someone who has listened to that album and is familiar with it. So when something new comes along that people are excited about, but you're no longer in the loop, you can just wave your hand and go "Feh, none of that crap would exist without the music I already know, so I don't need to bother with it."
posted by nasreddin at 9:14 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


cobb's crash cymbal when davis kicks off his solo on 'so what.' that was all i needed. its status as a jazz hallmark, etc. is irrelevant to the fact that it transcends all distinctions of genre, form, cultural context, and the rest. it is flawless. it is sublime. one of the few convincing arguments for 'art-with-a-capital-a.'
posted by barrett caulk at 9:33 AM on March 3, 2009


digging it, flapjax at midnite. but there are moments on 'kind of blue' (as on '58's 'milestones') where i think cannonball almost cuts coltrane! that still sounds strange to say, but adderly just flat out blows on those albums.
posted by barrett caulk at 9:37 AM on March 3, 2009


Kind of blue is in a class of its own. So are the albums produced with the new quintet (hancock, shorter, carter, williams) - my personal favorite is E.S.P. - and also the stuff that miles created with Al Foster in the 70's - Agharta, as nasreddin said, but also Pangea - or what miles did with Gil Evans, especially Birth of the Cool. Oh, and wait, Tutu was the first Miles's record I've listened to. It was really great too. In a silent way is so good, and it demonstrates how editing was integrated in Miles's conception of producing music out of sessions which let processes unfold. Even small stuff, like the tunes collected on Circle in the round, are great. Thank you, thank you, thank you ! Still diggin' it.
posted by nicolin at 9:42 AM on March 3, 2009


Untouchable by any other jazz album? Sure, if you want to argue that influence precedes all.

Yep, my bad, should have clarified. King of Blue is untouchable in exactly all of the ways you describe Revolver and Marilyn Monroe to be. It is an influential zenith for sure, but creatively, there's plenty that happened before it and after it that can compete.

For what it's worth, if I was forced, at gunpoint, to choose a single Miles Davis album, and that would be the only one I could ever listen to again, I would narrow it down to Birth of the Cool and Bitches Brew, grab the two tightly, and tell my assailant to pull the trigger.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:51 AM on March 3, 2009


There's no need to condescend to me. I'm not saying everyone else is wrong

Except you are. You didn't say "I don't get why it's so great, please explain it to me," you said it was pretty damn "meh." Sorry, but if you condescend to great music, you risk getting condescended to. And you're still talking about "people who try to construct an equivalence between influence/historical significance and quality," which is primo bullshit in this context, exactly the kind of Shakespeare Industry conspiracy crap I was talking about. "I don't get it, and I'm infallible, so everyone else is constructing an equivalence!" Yeah, sure.

one of the [Gerund] with the Miles Davis Quintet albums

God, I love those. There's a single note Red Garland plays in "If I Were a Bell" that takes the top of my head off every time (I almost got a gig writing liner notes on the basis of an enthusiastic letter I wrote to a wonderful pianist comparing her playing to Red's).
posted by languagehat at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2009


It was a very good year...

Other albums recorded within six months of Kind of Blue:

Giant Steps (Coltrane)
The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (Ella Fitzgerald)
Town Hall Concert (Monk)
Mingus Ah-Um
The Shape of Jazz to Come (Ornette Coleman)
Time Out (Dave Brubeck)

Dayum!!
posted by ericbop at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kind Of Blue on the blue...I would hope its iconic status would be analyzed a little deeper here than elsewhere...and that seems to be the case...thanks!
posted by bonefish at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2009


""I don't get it, and I'm infallible, so everyone else is constructing an equivalence!" Yeah, sure."

Oh, c'mon, you replied with telling him that if he doesn't get why it's so great, he must be listening wrong. Talk about begging the question.

And it's perfectly possible to understand why KoB is considered "great" without it evoking those feelings in you, so stop being a sniffy didact set on edifying.
posted by klangklangston at 10:21 AM on March 3, 2009


Except you are. You didn't say "I don't get why it's so great, please explain it to me," you said it was pretty damn "meh." Sorry, but if you condescend to great music, you risk getting condescended to. And you're still talking about "people who try to construct an equivalence between influence/historical significance and quality," which is primo bullshit in this context, exactly the kind of Shakespeare Industry conspiracy crap I was talking about. "I don't get it, and I'm infallible, so everyone else is constructing an equivalence!" Yeah, sure.

That is totally uncalled-for. No one is allowed to disagree with your evaluations of music, unless they do it in an appropriately reverent tone? Bullshit. You did the same thing when people were talking about how they didn't like Malcolm Gladwell: you dismissed them in a patronizing tone, then, when asked for some kind of more substantive justification of your opinion, you said (paraphrasing) "it's my opinion, deal with it."

You know I have all kinds of admiration and respect for you, Hat, but this is ridiculous. You can't expect people to treat your opinion with respect unless you accord theirs the same. The fact that something is canonical does not mean that people who disagree are outside the pale of civil conversation.
posted by nasreddin at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2009


yes. fucking a. those immaculate first quintet albums. the whole lot recorded in two sessions, all the rough edges left intact. yummy. jazz for goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold. juuuuust right. that rhythm section.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:27 AM on March 3, 2009


I have to agree with barrett caulk, Cannonball Adderley cuts Coltrane on these sessions. I've thought so for many years but I'm usually dismissed out of hand when voicing this opinion. I suppose its too blasphemous to be uttered.

Personally, I think Coltrane is the weakest soloist on the record. That's not to say his playing here is bad, but only that Davis, Evans and Adderley outperform him.
posted by chinstrap at 10:38 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


right on, chinstrap. coltrane sounds a little . . . um . . . discursive. like he's still working through his more analytic playing before the transformation to the terrifying archangel of 'a love supreme.' but adderly is just going for it. it's modal all right, it's on the front edge of jazz, but it's still gutbucket somehow. dee-fucking-lish.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:56 AM on March 3, 2009


I think Kind of Blue, because it's such an infamous album, has had a lot of cultural baggage attached to it after the fact. Couple the fact that it's maybe the most famous jazz album ever with the fact that we, in general, are conditioned now to hear the sounds of straight-ahead jazz as schmaltzy and sentimental, and you get kind of a lackluster listening experience.

On that note, It's distressing to read suggestions from you, languagehat, that there is a "right" way to listen to anything. I'm amazed that you, a well-versed scholar who argues so forcefully for nuance of understanding in the way we assess human use of language, don't seem to believe that the majority of one's reaction to any piece of art is informed by highly contextual factors external to the piece itself (and that no context of that sort has primacy). It seems like you're letting your emotions get in the way, which I understand: this is one of my favorite albums of all time.

I hear Kind of Blue in the same way I hear Ravel or Debussy. It's absolutely lighter, simpler fare than a lot of jazz before and after it, and that's exactly its charm. I don't hear it as saccharine, because I don't think it engages in any emotional over-simplification. It just doesn't operate on the notion that jazz has to be heavy and difficult. If you're a child of Adorno and think that art can't be both honest and light-hearted, I don't think I'll be able to convince you that Kind of Blue is worthwhile, but that's why I love it. On a technical level, there's a lot to appreciate: what happened when these guys freed themselves from chord progressions (in all the tunes but Freddie Freeloader and Blue in Green) was that they were able to move a step closer to denying the dominance of time over musical expression; they got to explore the beauty of the static, and they got to luxuriate in the sound of a scale and its mood. It's a wonderfully meditative album.
posted by invitapriore at 11:49 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


What makes "Kind Of Blue" special to me is "So What". The utterly crystaline sound of Evans. The breath. And that astounding lead-in from Chambers. It's certainly one of the most beautifully recorded albums I've ever encountered, and that's before getting into its musical influence.
posted by scrump at 11:54 AM on March 3, 2009


It still sounds like it's making jazz safe for Aunt Betty in Levittown.


well, if aunt betty in levittown is getting down to 'kind of blue,' then she is hip. and i'm heading to her house with a bottle of wine and some grass and we are going to do it on the living room floor with this album playing as loud as her ancient hi-fi can handle.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:12 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


a new modal sound for jazz

Can someone explain this to me? As technically as you like. I'm musically literate and play a little jazz, but I've never really understood the alternatives to soloing in one mode or another.
posted by Greenie at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2009


greenie, i'd love to, but i'm not sure i'm up to the task. so try this.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:43 PM on March 3, 2009


Thanks, barrett.
posted by Greenie at 1:03 PM on March 3, 2009


The fact that something is canonical does not mean that people who disagree are outside the pale of civil conversation.

Of course not, and I'm conversing with you quite civilly. You know perfectly well that I respect the hell out of you, too, which is why I find it so distressing that you allow yourself these cheap dismissals of anything that 1) you perceive as "canon" and 2) you don't happen to care for all that much by saying "meh, it's just hegemony at work" (if I may paraphrase). I have no problem with your not caring all that much for Kind of Blue; I myself don't care for Bitches Brew. The difference between us is that I don't claim that Bitches Brew is being imposed on people by a cabal of imperialist culturemongers, I just say it doesn't float my boat. Tastes differ.

For what it's worth, the first time I heard Kind of Blue I didn't know anything about the jazz canon, and damn little about jazz—I loved Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and was getting into Basie and Duke, and Bird still seemed too weird for me to appreciate. But I listened to the jazz station in New Haven (which has probably long since become all-talk) and I still remember the joyful shock of hearing "So What" (and Mingus's "Meditation for a Pair of Wire-Cutters" and, well, I won't bore you with the saga of my discovery of modern jazz). I didn't know it was Recommended Listening, just that I wanted to hear it again. You can call that sublimated hegemonic imperialism if you want; I call it great music.

On that note, It's distressing to read suggestions from you, languagehat, that there is a "right" way to listen to anything. I'm amazed that you, a well-versed scholar who argues so forcefully for nuance of understanding in the way we assess human use of language, don't seem to believe that the majority of one's reaction to any piece of art is informed by highly contextual factors external to the piece itself (and that no context of that sort has primacy).

Huh? Where did I suggest that "there is a 'right' way to listen to anything"? Are you referring to the book I recommended? If you don't like the title, that's too bad, but it's a great book—I learned a tremendous amount from it. People should listen to music however they want. But if your way of listening to music causes you to miss out on some great music, then, well, you're missing out. But don't blame the music. As for "contextual factors external to the piece itself," of course they're there, but no, I don't believe that the majority of one's reaction is based on them. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

I hear Kind of Blue in the same way I hear Ravel or Debussy. It's absolutely lighter, simpler fare than a lot of jazz before and after it, and that's exactly its charm.

Light? Because it doesn't have loud drum solos? Simple? If it were simple, I don't think it would be able to hold the attention and stand up to repetition the way it does. (And that goes for Ravel and Debussy too.) But I'm glad you like it.
posted by languagehat at 1:12 PM on March 3, 2009


"So What". The utterly crystaline sound of Evans. The breath. And that astounding lead-in from Chambers.

This is like the third time I've wanted to bring this up, but as I'm unable to find the source, I haven't bothered. Here we go:

In 2003, I sat in on the Hope College/Kenyon College Jazz Research Symposium. One of the presenters gave a really awesome talk where he pretty convincingly argued that Chambers makes a glaring modal error in the intro, but recovers in an amazingly intricate way that makes it imperceptible to the listener. I've always wanted to review this on my own time, but I've lost my notes, and I can't find any information about the 2003 symposium. (It was the first one, and sparsely attended. The 2004 one has plenty of info available.) If anyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd love to have the blanks filled in for me.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:14 PM on March 3, 2009


Miles Davis explaining modal jazz in a 1958 interview with Nat Hentoff said:

"No chords ... gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever. You don't have to worry about changes and you can do more with the [melody] line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically innovative you can be."

I think Coltrane is the least 'melodically innovative' on this record.

All the technique and theory in the world will not help you sniff out the bits and pieces of melody hidden within the mode. Only a good ear will. In this regard, I think Adderley is superior to Coltrane.
posted by chinstrap at 1:15 PM on March 3, 2009


Of course not, and I'm conversing with you quite civilly. You know perfectly well that I respect the hell out of you, too, which is why I find it so distressing that you allow yourself these cheap dismissals of anything that 1) you perceive as "canon" and 2) you don't happen to care for all that much by saying "meh, it's just hegemony at work" (if I may paraphrase). I have no problem with your not caring all that much for Kind of Blue; I myself don't care for Bitches Brew. The difference between us is that I don't claim that Bitches Brew is being imposed on people by a cabal of imperialist culturemongers, I just say it doesn't float my boat. Tastes differ.

You've successfully defeated a scary strawman--the Shakespeare Industry argument, which I didn't make, despite your insistence that I did. I made two claims:

1) I personally don't like Kind of Blue very much because it's too domesticated for my taste. I prefer these other Miles Davis albums.

2) People often make albums into The Best Album primarily on the basis of their historical influence. Kind of Blue is one of those albums to which this happens very often. To the extent that these people do so, it is because they want to allay their insecurity about engaging with contemporary music which no longer "belongs to them."

Neither of those claims implies the following:

a) The only reason you like Kind of Blue is because you've been brainwashed, man!
b) You should be using x, y, and z as criteria by which to judge music!
c) Kind of Blue is a worthless album whose historical influence is undeserved!

If you can find some way to make 1 or 2 entail a, b, or c, I'd like to see it.
posted by nasreddin at 1:26 PM on March 3, 2009



posted by toastchee at 1:28 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, I have no problem with your 1 and 2, so I will refrain from throwing any further dead cows over your crenellations.
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2009


All right, I'll put the molten lead away then.
posted by nasreddin at 2:01 PM on March 3, 2009


languagehat: well, what I'm contending is that I (this hypothetical 'I' whose life and tendencies are such that Kind of Blue does nothing for me) am probably not missing out if I don't like the album, because there are likely a whole range of revelatory experiences available to me that you might find uninspiring because of how you're wired. "Great" is a loaded concept, especially if you're assuming something "great" remains so to someone unfamiliar with what context a thing is great in.

Ever read Sartor Resartus? Art wears clothes, just like people do, and once you take them off there's not much there except some sounds arranged in time that are related to each other in some abstract way. The genius comes in when the creator is a skilled manipulator of the emotional and intellectual contexts that, for you, are attached to those notes. In my opinion, those values are culturally mediated, and so is your reaction.

When I say that Kind of Blue is "light" and "simple," I mean in contrast to the high-modern: it doesn't strive towards incomprehensibility; the forms are easily followed and easily described; the scales are (again, but for the two non-modal tunes) modes of the major scale. There is finesse and complexity in their rhythmic feel, their note choice, their devotion to the "mood," but it's nonetheless easy on the ears and on the soul. Surely you have a sense that this is the case, no?
posted by invitapriore at 2:08 PM on March 3, 2009


"The difference between us is that I don't claim that Bitches Brew is being imposed on people by a cabal of imperialist culturemongers, I just say it doesn't float my boat. "

Well, except Bitches Brew has never been the choice of imperialist culturemongers. Kind of Blue has.
posted by klangklangston at 2:25 PM on March 3, 2009


Other albums recorded within six months of Kind of Blue:

Giant Steps (Coltrane)
The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (Ella Fitzgerald)
Town Hall Concert (Monk)
Mingus Ah-Um
The Shape of Jazz to Come (Ornette Coleman)
Time Out (Dave Brubeck)


Wow!

Ah-Um is such an eye opener.

1) I personally don't like Kind of Blue


fair enough, to each his own. lots of people don't like Mozart, Beethoven, Bird, Springsteen or Nirvana, but that does not mean there is something wrong with them.

very much because it's too domesticated for my taste.
now you are back to confusing opinion with fact. Facts are nearly impossible to establish in this area, at best its opion or weight of opinion or even weight of expert opinion, but it remains essentially opinion, and there you go stating your opinion as fact.
posted by caddis at 2:26 PM on March 3, 2009


now you are back to confusing opinion with fact. Facts are nearly impossible to establish in this area, at best its opion or weight of opinion or even weight of expert opinion, but it remains essentially opinion, and there you go stating your opinion as fact.

Yeah, no. I don't think there's an absolute, objective quality called "being domesticated" that an album possesses to a greater or lesser extent. My judgment as to how domesticated Kind of Blue is is just as much an opinion as my like or dislike of it, and I never claimed otherwise.
posted by nasreddin at 2:36 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm not sure I understand what the term "domesticated" refers to in reference to music; does that mean music that was performed in a house? If I had to guess, I think "domesticated" is meant in this context to mean "overly polished" or some such thing. If that's an accurate translation, then the implication is that jazz (or whatever) is better "raw" and "undiluted." But that tends to suggest a whole lot of really misleading and unnecessarily romantic things about the musical tradition commonly called jazz. Jazz was never made by undomesticated primitives; it was always wrapped up in popular song and the entertainment industry. By the time Kind of Blue was recorded, jazz had already been through a lot of changes. Talking about a classic jazz album from that era, such as KoB or Saxophone Colossus or Monk's Dream or Giant Steps or Night Dreamer, in isolation, removed from the vitality and abundance of all the rest of the great post-bop jazz records from that time, can be misleading. If you don't get why KoB is considered by so many to be a masterpiece, it may help to go back and listen to the other recording sessions from that era. What distinguishes KoB is the seamless, immediately recognizable sound the group gets as a unit; it does not sound like a random collection of tunes, like a lot of records from that era; the choice of tunes is really catching--each tune builds an atmospheric, almost Japanese simplicity, and flows from one to the other; if it sounds too familiar, that can't be helped. And if it's not your cup of tea, that's ok too. But as someone who has probably listened to literally hundreds of thousands of jazz records of all styles, I can say without equivocation that KoB deserves all the attention it gets. Now another thing I think should be said: Miles mad a lot of amazing records. The stuff with Gil Evans is, to me, incredible. I would single out Miles Ahead as one of the greatest records ever made. He made so many great records in the 50s and 60s it's hard to know where to begin.

By the way, and along those lines, if anyone's interested in hearing an insider's perspective on the records of that era, I would recommend the series (on YT) of interviews w/legendary producer Orrin Keepnews about some of the classic LPs he produced: here's one on Monk's Brilliant Corners LP. Enjoy.
posted by ornate insect at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand what the term "domesticated" refers to in reference to music

Miles doesn't come back from the dead and pee on your carpet.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:56 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand what the term "domesticated" refers to in reference to music

flapjax: Miles doesn't come back from the dead and pee on your carpet.


That's classic, flapjax. Miles would have loved it. But perhaps he would have liked that wordless post by toastchee even more. I'm just glad my original post has generated such discourse and passion here about KoB, pro and con. It's good for honest intellectual give-and-take, it's good for jazz (and any good music really) and I think it's good for MeFi.

After reading all thismoften fiery yet worthwhile repartee, I'd only add now the observation that Miles made in his autobiography "Miles" (written with Quincy Troupe), that the album was built around Bill Evans. That's crucial in any context and it's historical, and it needs to be mentioned here.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 5:55 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm listening to this right now on vinyl through a pair of 30 year old Advents. Thanks MeFi for reminding me to give one of my first favorite jazz records yet another spin.
posted by trbrts at 7:56 PM on March 3, 2009


All the technique and theory in the world will not help you sniff out the bits and pieces of melody hidden within the mode. Only a good ear will. In this regard, I think Adderley is superior to Coltrane.

To be fair, Adderley sticks to the modes the least of all the players on the album. I think that Adderley didn't really "get" what Miles was aiming for, and couldn't resist throwing in non-modal chromatic notes here and there. (Examples are all over the album, but it's especially evident on "Flamenco Sketches"). So, if Adderley comes off as being more melodically inventive, it's because he simply decided to choose from more notes, a luxury Coltrane didn't allow himself.

None of this is said to talk shit about his playing on Kind Of Blue mind you, or to denigrate his melodic genius. His solo on the third mode in "Flamenco Sketches" (the Bb Ionian one), even if not totally modal, is just amazing... it makes me want to run out and hug old people.

I played alto sax for a month because of Cannonball's work on this album when I was 19 or so. Rented an instrument from the local music store, took two lessons to make sure I was playing it more or less correctly, spent a couple of weeks learning Adderley's (goddamned fucking incredible) solo from "All Blues" note-for-note, and once I could kind of honk my way through it I returned the instrument and resumed my voice studies; that was all I ever wanted to be able to do with the sax.
posted by the_bone at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


Kind of Blue sounded to my 13 or 14 year old ears exactly what jazz was "supposed to sound like," evoking all the imagery and feeling that I had vaguely associated with it before then. I had been wanting to get into jazz, but really didn't know where to start -- KoB was exactly what I'd been looking for.

I'm a little surprised by people saying they no longer find it appealing, fresh, or whatever. I don't often go to put on KoB, but when I do, it remains one of the most utterly immersive albums I own, capable of stirring up certain feelings and moods like nothing else.
posted by decoherence at 10:43 PM on March 3, 2009


Miles doesn't come back from the dead and pee on your carpet.

If Miles peeing on your carpet is cool, consider him Miles Davis.

Wait...
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:48 AM on March 4, 2009


Speaking of how to listen, and cultural clothing -- Evans's liner notes always struck me as a gift of secret knowledge about jazz and art in general. Pointing towards how to understand it, how to evaluate it, what to hear in it.

And check out the film The Universal Mind of Bill Evans (youtube) with his brother Harry Evans to see how deep Bill Evans was into philosophizing about the production of jazz and art generally. Today some of his ideas seem very influenced by intellectual trends of the 50s/60s (zen for one thing).

I can't think of any musicians today that reveal this much nerditude.
posted by grooveologist at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2009


Woops - Evans's liner notes
posted by grooveologist at 11:02 AM on March 4, 2009


Metafilter: doesn't come back from the dead and pee on your carpet.
posted by toastchee at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2009


Free Jazz, by Ekkehard Jost, begins with a section devoted to KOB.
posted by nicolin at 4:04 AM on March 5, 2009


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