My basic beef with Kind of Blue
February 25, 2015 11:52 AM   Subscribe

and yet it has somehow become the stand-alone representative of the form it is on the whole sardonically setting itself against: something about the way it’s been made — its constituent parts, its presentation — exactly and completely masks this subtly hostile aspect of it, to the extent that it’s instead become a kind of nice-to-hear-in-the-background chill-out classic, which in my opinion suggests a flaw in its conception or execution: that it can’t (or anyway doesn’t) draw the newbie into its darker heart
KIND OF BLEUGH, or seven better stand-alone ways into jazz in the early age of the long-playing disc (possibly).
posted by MartinWisse (104 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't know E. E. Cummings was still putting out material. Glad to see he's found ways to keep busy.
posted by belarius at 11:56 AM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I kind of sped-read the introduction, but it's a little strange to me that "Kind of Blue" is singled out as an album that you need historical context in order to appreciate. Even knowing very little about jazz, it's always sounded good to my ears. The modal stuff? Yes, you need to know the theory to play it, but it works because it sounds good, not because you need to consciously pick it apart (like 12-tone music). Furthermore, isn't every work of art like that? Try appreciating Beethoven's symphonies or even The Beatles without knowing your history; it becomes more difficult, even though the music is still objectively very good!

Anyway, you all should listen to Kind of Bloop.
posted by archagon at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


Man...Who shit in that guy's quartet?

KoB is pretty damned accessible to anyone looking to dip their toe into jazz. Maybe it's because is so overplayed that it's really hard not to have heard something from it already? And, while his alternate selections are certainly great recordings, I can't imagine dropping Mingus or MJQ on someone not already versed, to some degree, in jazz.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:03 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's a shame that Bill Evans barely rates a mention. His work on KoB is a significant reason that it is a classic, but his liner notes lent a succinct and deep insight into the creative process. I don't think it is an easy work to dismiss; it might seem like easy listening on the surface, but there is a purity to the work that makes even casual listeners know they are hearing something special.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:05 PM on February 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


KoB is pretty damned accessible to anyone looking to dip their toe into jazz.

Exactly. This is the album I recommend to anyone new to jazz or who may have heard of Miles Davis but don't know where to start. Which is something you can't do with, say, Bitches Brew. Now that album requires some historical context.
posted by tommasz at 12:11 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd probably recommend Ellington, Mingus and Roach's "Money Jungle", or Mingus' "Blues and Roots", personally, but I don't think "Kind of Blue" is a bad introduction to jazz for a non-aficionado, really; it's accessible and something people are likely to have heard before, after all (even if it's just "Starbucks background music"); the only other jazz album of the same era I think you can really say the same thing about is Brubeck's "Time Out". It's kind of like saying "people who aren't really familiar with classical music shouldn't start with Beethoven's Ninth", and insisting that you need to, I don't know, start with Scott Joplin ragtime and WC Handy blues and then work your way through Django Rinehardt and Bix Biederbecke and Louis Armstrong and Ellington and Monk and Charlie Parker and Gillespie and so on, the whole evolution from ragtime and blues to hot jazz to swing to hard bop and cool, to "really understand", seems silly and needlessly sort of elitist really. Education has to start somewhere, if that's your actual goal, but if you're just listening to music you like because you like it, then you probably don't actually need to understand the historical background.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, and this: "Besides, there isn’t an era of the jazz he lived through that Miles wasn’t at odds with as he lived through it -- which is not an uninteresting fact, but it does mean that you have to know something about what he might be at odds with in any given moment to follow where he's taking it."

I see that as "interesting historical context", not "necessary information to enjoy the music". After all, if this is true, I doubt Davis was intending to write reactionary music. Surely, he was doing jazz the way he thought it should be done — in a way that could stand alone from his peers.

(With that said, studying the historical context behind classical music made it enormously more enjoyable for me. So maybe not entirely misguided.)
posted by archagon at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This just in: jazzbo overthinks things.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2015 [10 favorites]


he short version (set out at speed) is i suppose this: that it is a sly, niggling, jittery record of odd subtle hard-to-pin-down not-very-nice emotions and evocations, which depends for its expressive intent on the listener having a pretty solid familiarity with the music of its day and what went before, for its devices and effects to come across properly (most famously the introduction of the modal approach to harmony, the details and purpose of which i’ve watched seriously learned and articulate musicians struggle to explain coherently or usefully)
and yet it has somehow become the stand-alone representative of the form it is on the whole sardonically setting itself against: something about the way it’s been made — its constituent parts, its presentation — exactly and completely masks this subtly hostile aspect of it, to the extent that it’s instead become a kind of nice-to-hear-in-the-background chill-out classic, which in my opinion suggests a flaw in its conception or execution: that it can’t (or anyway doesn’t) draw the newbie into its darker heart


It really seems to me like the guy's desire or even need to have an idiosyncratic pet theory about the record is what's dominating here.
posted by thelonius at 12:18 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think you could get away with Mingus Ah Um, but the idea of introducing somebody to jazz with Coleman's "Shape of Jazz to Come" is just absolute madness.
posted by Shepherd at 12:19 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's a pretty great list, but Out To Lunch (which I dig, and is great) would definitely not be on my short list of albums to give to someone wanting to start listening to jazz.

I wish I had a cooler answer, but my jazz gateway drug was Time Out.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:19 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


His argument is not entirely dissimilar to the beer connoisseur who insists that the only way to enjoy a beer is in the appropriate glassware, at the appropriate temperature, and with a foundational understanding of the style it represents and is perhaps playing off.

I mean, yeah. Sure, a barleywine from a snifter is going to be more enjoyable than from a pint glass, but bottom line: I can enjoy a beer as a beer from nearly any vessel, as can nearly all drinkers.

Do I know fuck-all about modal jazz? Not really. Can I hear without a doubt in my mind that Bill Evans is spreading fucking roses underneath that entire album? Yes, yes I can.
posted by rocketman at 12:22 PM on February 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


jazz gateway drug

Mine? H. Johnson's radio show on Saturday nights on Atlanta's WABE ("We Are Boring Everyone" to its detractors). I guess the first jazz album I bought, more or less at random, was Miles' "E.S.P.", since I knew he was supposed to be the shit. I guess I was about 14 and I figured, I'm supposed to play in the school jazz ensemble, I'd better listen to some.
posted by thelonius at 12:22 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I also dig Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder, btw)
posted by thelonius at 12:23 PM on February 25, 2015


Does Pat Metheny count as jazz? I'm not a huge fan of jazz in general, but Still Life (Talking) blew my mind when I first heard it. (And still does!)
posted by archagon at 12:27 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, Getz/Gilberto is another one that I listen to frequently.
posted by archagon at 12:29 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was pretty hype to see Blues and the Abstract Truth on there--if I were going to make a similar list myself, and I'm not, it would probably be on there.
posted by box at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess the list of albums I'd recommend to someone if I were trying to turn them on to the types of jazz I like best (as opposed to a complete historical survey) would be something like...

Kind Of Blue
Time Out
Saxophone Colossus
Coltrane - Ballads
Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
Louis Armstrong - Hot Fives and Sevens
Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else
Duke Ellington - The Blanton-Webster Band
Monk's Music
Lonnie Liston Smith - Expansions
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


His argument is not entirely dissimilar to the beer connoisseur who insists that the only way to enjoy a beer is in the appropriate glassware, at the appropriate temperature, and with a foundational understanding of the style it represents and is perhaps playing off.


A particularly apt comparison because the beer connoisseur is blissfully ignoring that basically no beer drinker ever in the history of beer drinking has given a second thought to any of that stuff. Just as millions of people have enjoyed this album, jazz, music on the whole, without regard to the context and history. It's kinda the intent, of both music and beer, to instill happiness. Beanplating it too much reveals an inner dissatisfaction with its actual purpose.
posted by Jimbob at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think you could get away with Mingus Ah Um, but the idea of introducing somebody to jazz with Coleman's "Shape of Jazz to Come" is just absolute madness.

Well, if we're going to make jazz at once accessible and complex, my choice would be "Take Five" by good old middlebrow favorite Dave Brubeck. But if you're going to scorch the earth and see what comes out the other end, mad but enlightened, drinking deeply and thirstily from the well of jazz, Coleman's your guy.

But there are a million jazz albums in a thousand different dialects of jazz, and maybe the best approach is just to have people find their own way in, find the stuff that speaks to them. Sooner or later, you're going to come face to face with Miles and Coleman, and there's no perfect way to prepare, just as there is no way to know what an acid trip will be like.
posted by maxsparber at 12:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Does Pat Metheny count as jazz?

He's had an ecclectic career. I could see purists rejecting, say, "Offramp" as NOT REAL JAZZ, but he's been making a lot of straight-ahead records in recent years with people like Christian McBride in the band. So: yes, to me, he counts as jazz.
posted by thelonius at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2015


Well the only proper introduction to Jazz to the jazz-naive is of course Ahmad Jamal Live at the Pershing. But KoB is a VERY close second.

And archagon, the proper way to introduce Metheny (group or solo) is of course Travels.

/both pedant & didactic.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:37 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


H. Johnson's radio show on Saturday nights on Atlanta's WABE

I was absurdly and ecstatically happy to find the Father Tom Vaughn "Battle Hymn of the Republic" he always opens with on Youtube (which I ripped to MP3, of course).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


thelonious

James from Offramp is about the greatest homage cool jazz you'll find this side of 1967.

Are You Going With Me or The Bat, not so much of course.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:40 PM on February 25, 2015


I think you could get away with Mingus Ah Um, but the idea of introducing somebody to jazz with Coleman's "Shape of Jazz to Come" is just absolute madness.
If you're going to scorch the earth and see what comes out the other end, mad but enlightened, drinking deeply and thirstily from the well of jazz, Coleman's your guy.

Yeah, I typed that and then a few minutes later was wondering how I wandered into jazz and realized that it was a love for Skinny Puppy and Ministry-era industrial music that led me to the main line of Einsturzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle, and from there to the Zorn/Harris Painkiller albums, and then to Zorn's Naked City, and then I kind of reverse-jazzed my way back to liking Mingus and Ellington and etc.

So who the fuck am I to say that Coleman is a bad way to introduce jazz? There's no right way to introduce jazz. I was being dumb.
posted by Shepherd at 12:41 PM on February 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


James from Offramp is about the greatest homage cool jazz you'll find this side of 1967.

I don't recall that one; will listen when I get home
posted by thelonius at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2015


I don't know how to play any musical instruments so I think I'll make my own improvisational jazz record and I think I'll call it:

Kind of Blows
posted by I-baLL at 12:51 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


jazz gateway drug

Voice of America's Jazz Hour/Music USA in the mid-1960s... hosted by the man who was more famous on both sides of Europe's Iron Curtain than he was in the US: Willis Conover
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:51 PM on February 25, 2015


KoB is pretty damned accessible to anyone looking to dip their toe into jazz.

But it's still not a great place to start as a conscious decision. I'm a few weeks into a jazz appreciation course (on edx) and I still don't get modal. I actually quite like the way the edx/UTAustin course handled it: use hard bop as the accessible intro. Some Art Blakey (Moanin') or Miles Davis' Relaxin' (the intro to the album is Miles Davis saying "I'll play it and tell you what it is later," and if that ain't a great intro to jazz I don't know what is, gets the idea of improvisation out there right away).

My complaint is that if you start someone on KoB and they want "more, just like that" it's incredibly difficult to figure out what they liked in it and what they might like next. Should we send them more modal (Giant Steps)? More Miles (maybe some Prestige period)? The laid-back flavour (maybe followup with something from the cool era)?

I'm not complaining about people stumbling upon KoB and loving it (yay! drink that beer), but using KoB as a conscious tool to teach about jazz (here's a IPA!).

Does Pat Metheny count as jazz?

I have answered the same flashcard questions about Metheny in the aforementioned jazz course literally 50 times now (IT'S "GUITAR" AND "FUSION JAZZ"). So, yes, for at least some of his work.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:54 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure most will disagee, but depending on your audience, I don't think you should start with any gentle, pleasing introduction. Especially in 2015. Jazz already has an undeserved reputation for being safe, smooth, and polite. The sooner you get into the fucked-up, mind-melting stuff, the better.
posted by naju at 12:59 PM on February 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


both pedant & didactic
er–

more to the point. I like Kind of Blue despite not having any musicological understanding of it, but I can empathise (I think) with someone who can appreciate it in context and is frustrated by the place it has in mainstream/middlebrow culture, but in the end it's good music and maybe that's reason enough to listen to it even without understanding exactly how it came to be or how it relates to what came before (idk)

I appreciate the linked article’s pointers to other records and will look them up though
posted by ormon nekas at 1:06 PM on February 25, 2015


When I was a teenager, jazz seemed to be either boring elevator music like Kind of Blue or crazy abstract stuff I couldn't understand like The Shape of Jazz to Come. It wasn't until I heard Mingus Ah Um that I understood that jazz could be catchy, exciting, fun and interesting.

Now as an adult, I like all sorts of jazz but I agree that Kind of Blue isn't a great introduction to jazz.
posted by saul wright at 1:15 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think if you don't deliberately listen to jazz, you'll probably hear it first as soundtrack music. So maybe you'll want something that's a bit like a soundtrack, evocative and well orchestrated, but not too cheesy or constrained. That's why Mingus sounds like a great suggestion-- great arrangements, exciting and sometimes emotional songs, with lots of space for improvisation. Plus, you can go straight from Mingus to Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, or you can go back to Jazz at Massey Hall and explore bebop.

On preview: yeah, mostly I like that Mingus is really catchy.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:19 PM on February 25, 2015


My favorite albums to give to people who think they don't like jazz are Mingus Mingus Mingus and Steve Reid's Nova. Sonny Criss' Sonny's Dream is another. I've converted many a customer with those titles.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:20 PM on February 25, 2015


Glad to know I did it all wrong.

KoB was my entry point---a rummage sale find of a CD when I was a student. I prefer Sketches of Spain a little more now, but KoB still has a fond spot in my heart, for being that doorway.
posted by bonehead at 1:22 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


how to get into jazz? - swing era 78s, even stuff like glenn miller and tommy dorsey and benny goodman - my dad had a lot of that stuff and that's how i became aware of it

it's also how a lot of american listeners of the 30s and 40s got into it

from that music it's a lot easier to branch out
posted by pyramid termite at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2015


Tell the novice to listen to some easy Armstrong and Miles and Brubeck and Monk and Mingus a lot, because they will probably like them without even trying, and then come back for further recommendations when they have thoroughly absorbed those records and can tell you what they like and what they don't like. Don't ask them for why. Why doesn't matter. Just "What do you like? What don't you like? Which one makes you feel like a god?"
posted by pracowity at 1:24 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I know at least one person who's first novel, chapter book, was one of the Brontes. Mine was one of Tolkein's (can't remember which one, to tell the truth). Not everyone needs a slow introduction.
posted by bonehead at 1:28 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you could get away with Mingus Ah Um, but the idea of introducing somebody to jazz with Coleman's "Shape of Jazz to Come" is just absolute madness

What really? When it starts with the completely lovely "Lonely Woman" (basically a standard by now)?
posted by kenko at 1:34 PM on February 25, 2015


Ooo, I like this conversation. Technically, my introduction to jazz was taking history of jazz classes at the local community college in high school, or perhaps listening to Meshuggah's Destroy Erase Improve or Ephel Duath's The Painter's Palette. But for actual, real jazz records that got me into the genre, I'd list:

Bohren und der Club of Gore: Sunset Mission
Herbie Mann: At the Village Gate
Esbjorn Svensson Trio: Seven Days of Falling
posted by Existential Dread at 1:48 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting topic, though I found writing in the linked article really disjointed and hard to follow in places.

As for what album might be a better intro to jazz than Kind of Blue, how about Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers? It has a great cast of musicians, and some catchy tunes, including "The Preacher" and "Doodlin," two of Silver's most memorable pieces.

It also swings hard pretty much from start to finish, the songs aren't too long, and none of them get too abstract, yet it's not "watered down," either. Other subsequent releases by Silver or Art Blakey share many of the same qualities and might be equally or almost as good, depending on your preferences in tunes and/or specific players.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2015


"Dave Liebman expressed a profound personal realization when he said, while reflecting on his own journey with Miles: "A-ha, I get it. Coltrane's fast, Miles is slow. Wayne fast, Miles slow. I play fast, and Miles is slow." And so, the realization becomes that by playing differently, this is what Miles chooses to make himself sound so great, simply by his playing less. That quote captures what being a great bandleader is about: How you pick the people with whom you surround yourself. If you are the voice of the music, it is like putting the jewel, your own voice, on a beautiful satin red pillow, and that is exactly what Miles was so great at doing!"

From a Steve Khan interview posted on his website.
posted by nicolin at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2015


Play them a taste of Borbetomagus, Brötzmann or AMM first. Ornette Coleman should go down like a smoothy after that (if they're still in the same county.)
posted by metagnathous at 1:54 PM on February 25, 2015


I'd say you should start at the beginning. Buddy Bolden (who never released anything, but still), Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong... go the Ken Burn's route. Then slowly and methodically work your way up to present day. Savor every fork in the road, explore every high and every low. That's the only way to be sure. :)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:57 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, good idea soundofsuburbia. Actually, Ry Cooder's Jazz album would be a pretty decent introduction as well. It covers a lot of that same ground in a pretty accessible way.
posted by metagnathous at 2:01 PM on February 25, 2015


The reason KoB is so fucking good is because if you don't know jack shit about music or history it still sounds really good. People who don't even like jazz still tend to groove a little bit when those opening bars to So What start to play.

But then - the more you know about theory, about the emergence of Miles Davis' way of playing jazz, about modal music, about Miles' rejection of the bebop-technique-circlejerk, about how Miles used his limitations as a player to come up with a really interesting style of playing and harmonic landscape, about why Coltrane and Davis sound so ridiculously different on the record, about the space in Miles' soloing, you start to appreciate it even more - without ever losing that basic appreciation for the sheer pleasure of the tunes themselves.

Very hip these days to write some screedy take down of a canonical work of art, and sometimes it's right, but I reject this. KoB is a fucking masterpiece and it's for a good reason it's the best selling jazz record ever.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:01 PM on February 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


> how to get into jazz? - swing era 78s, even stuff like glenn miller and tommy dorsey and benny goodman - my dad had a lot of that stuff and that's how i became aware of it

I have you beat—I got into jazz via Jelly Roll Morton (and I highly, highly recommend his Complete Library of Congress Recordings to anyone even mildly interested in early jazz; of course he's telling the story from his point of view and including various amounts of bullshit, but who cares, you can get the cold facts elsewhere and you'll never get a better sense of what it felt like to be in New Orleans and helping create a new music, it's like listening to your favorite uncle tell stories for hours on end, interspersed with great piano playing). Took me a while to warm to anything after hard bop, but once I fell for Ornette and AACM/Art Ensemble of Chicago, I fell hard.

The idea that there's One Right Way to introduce someone to jazz is ludicrous. Jazz is a huge and endlessly various country; different people will embrace different parts of it more easily. Remember, if it sounds good, it is good!
posted by languagehat at 2:03 PM on February 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


KOB was my intro to jazz, and I still think it's a great album. From my reading of this guy, it sounds like he's blaming the album for not fitting into his idea of it's predefined roll as some kind of intro jazz. Fuck that, it's Miles, just shut up and listen.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:04 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I got into jazz via Kind of Blue, which was the album that basically started the move of a lot of artists away from hard bop, and what kind of jazz do I actually listen to, for the most part? Hard bop. I mean, I'm listening now to Moanin' by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. But I mean, where you start isn't where you end up. Jazz is this funky genre where the same artists pursued three or four different styles over their careers, and right now Spotify is absolutely packed with quality jazz albums, and it's a wonderland that the new jazz aficionado can explore at their leisure.

And I mean, the track switched and now it's Cousin Mary from Giant Steps by Coltrane, but not the Coltrane of a few years later when he did something in a totally different idiom with A Love Supreme. (Which was an album that helped me get a lot further into jazz.)

But the whole idea that jazz has to be looked at as meta-commentary or something is entirely wrong. Instrumental jazz from the 1950s and 60s was one of the greatest endeavors of American popular music, and it has enduring popularity because it stands on the sheer quality of the composition and performance alone. Mountains of great music were created, and you can listen to any of it you like. If Kind of Blue is where you start, well, you've got to begin somewhere.
posted by graymouser at 2:08 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


My first was Heavy Weather (yeah, Fusion, but still,) but that led me back to Miles and Wayne Shorter and on back into Coltrane, following a long thread of associated players and influences that just spiraled around and around, and is still going on to this day.
posted by metagnathous at 2:11 PM on February 25, 2015


Loved rock and blues but I was only aware of Miles Davis as a celebrity personality. I remember pulling Kind of Blue from the record bin and figuring, "ok". Sat in my rented room that night and immediately felt a NEW SENSATION . A guy at work was a semi-pro jazz guitarist, so I asked him for some info on it. For a couple of minutes he didn't know what I was talking about because I kept calling it Kind a' Blue (emphasizing Kind).

So fuck this guy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:22 PM on February 25, 2015


I think the best way to introduce jazz is to understand what the person you're introducing to has listened to before. Prog rock? Try some Weather Report. Industrial? Maybe John Zorn is the right answer. Folk ballads? Billie Holiday's your girl. So on, so forth.
posted by solarion at 2:48 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's an into for ya.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2015


Reminds me of the conversation I used to have with a friend who was a classics scholar--that I wasn't truly getting it because I was only reading in translation. To which I would respond that he wasn't truly getting it because he was reading it by electric light and without lead poisoning.
posted by ssr_of_V at 3:20 PM on February 25, 2015


I was going to say something similar, solarian. For a lot of the folks I know these days I'd point to the Verve and Blue Note remix albums and mention of course, that the source material is what the DJ's where listening to. And then Thievery Corporation has a very nice comp for people interested enough to put on. From there they can start digging deeper.

As to my intro to jazz, it was a christmas record.
posted by evilDoug at 3:22 PM on February 25, 2015


I guess the list of albums I'd recommend to someone if I were trying to turn them on to the types of jazz I like best (as opposed to a complete historical survey) would be something like...

+ Hank Mobley - Soul Station
posted by Elmore at 3:43 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are many worse introductions to jazz for the absolutely uninitiated than KOB. Personally, I'd nominate "A Love Supreme" for this spot.

solarian's suggestion above seems totally sensible to me (what metalhead couldn't be swayed by a dab of "Naked City"-era John Zorn?), though my own intro was through Bill Evans (on the nearly perfect "Everybody Digs Bill Evans"). Failing that, the default gateway still feels to me like hard bop. If you can't get behind Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, and Art Blakey, kind of hard to see what else is going to grab you. That's the pivot point; from there, everything just spreads out backwards and forward in time.
posted by informavore at 3:59 PM on February 25, 2015


If some people listen to it in the background, and enjoy it that way, so what?
posted by sutt at 3:59 PM on February 25, 2015


The selection of Kind of Blue as the album is kind of a weird compromise - the reasoning seems to be that it's extremely significant, perceptibly fairly deep and "artsy," but still pretty accessible. And I think a lot of people do immediately like it. But I also completely agree that a lot of the time - for any given person even, there's probably a better "first jazz album." I know it seemed a little tame to me to start. Really the first jazz I got into was Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan," being big into other varieties of psychedelia at the time.
posted by atoxyl at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


And archagon, the proper way to introduce Metheny (group or solo) is of course Travels.

Oh, absolutely!
posted by sutt at 4:02 PM on February 25, 2015


There are many worse introductions to jazz for the absolutely uninitiated than KOB. Personally, I'd nominate "A Love Supreme" for this spot.

You mean A Love Supreme is a better intro or a worse one? I think it's a pretty good one, especially since it's only 30 minutes long.
posted by atoxyl at 4:02 PM on February 25, 2015


So, uh, I don't mean to be some big "jazzbo" ha ha but now that you mention it, did you listen...? No, okay. That's fine. I know it'll take time to really dig into those albums and give me the kind of detailed solo-by-solo feedback I'm expecting. Looking forward to hearing from you about it!
posted by No-sword at 4:07 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The kind of person who just sits and listens to recorded music is a rare breed; I'm picturing audiophiles with dedicated sound rooms. This article seems targeted at that consumer (and they are kinda insufferable).

Also I would recommend "Live at Montreaux" for newbies to Jazz or Miles Davis.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:19 PM on February 25, 2015


I don't agree with home, but I enjoyed the article. What's would be the best way to introduce someone to jazz? Good question! Here's one way to answer it! I guess I didn't find him quite as definitive as some.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 4:55 PM on February 25, 2015


Ah, Metafilter. You never disappoint for defensive middle-brow responses to music criticism. Some of the comments here are like Republicans defending "Born in the U.S.A." at Reagan rallies, and there's plenty of "Pumpkin Peach Ale" sneering.
posted by klangklangston at 4:56 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


i haven't gotten through this article yet, but I've agreed with its thesis for a long time. "Kind of Blue" might be an okay entry point - and don't get me wrong, it's Bill Evans' masterpiece and something I dearly love, even if I'm not a rabid fan of the trumpet player whose name is on the cover - but it promotes what I consider a serious misconception about jazz. These days, people think of jazz as being strictly a 1960s (or maybe a 1960s and 1970s) thing. And that's unfortunate, because many of the greatest musicians known to jazz did their best work in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

I'll probably have more to say about this later, but it really is a shame that everybody seems to think that all there is to jazz is the Blue Note back catalog.
posted by koeselitz at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Ah, Metafilter. You never disappoint for defensive middle-brow responses to music criticism.

And don't forget the snooty meta-criticism!
posted by archagon at 5:15 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Putting aside the snark, I think people here are reacting to the fact that the author didn't argue his point very well.
posted by archagon at 5:15 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


And some of them, including Murray, Threadgill, the Chi cats of whom Vandermark might be the most famous, and my beloved Shipp/Parker cohort, did their best work in the '80s, '90s and 2000s. I agree--while I love a lot of Blue Note stuff, it does the rest of the genre a disservice that it (and, to a much lesser degree, Impulse!) casts such a large shadow.
posted by box at 5:17 PM on February 25, 2015


koeselitz: Kind of Blue was a 1959 album, although I guess the work influenced by it was in the '60s. Or are you referring to it like when Rolling Stone made the 1979 album London Calling the #1 album of the '80s?
posted by graymouser at 5:20 PM on February 25, 2015


Putting aside the snark, I think people here are reacting to the fact that the author didn't argue his point very well.

Well, that's true, but it's also not a very good point. The idea that Kind of Blue is a work with a very particular relationship to other jazz albums doesn't change the common perception that it's a good record with an aesthetic that is very approachable for people who aren't diehard fans of instrumental jazz.
posted by graymouser at 5:24 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tried for at least a decade to get into jazz but the problem was I kept trying through the guitar players. As someone who cut their teeth on 70s hard rock and proto-metal, jazz guitar had absolutely no tone, nothing to bite into. The entry point turned out to be lower on the scale. I once watched a video of some Greek audiophiles. Some truly beautiful music in that peace, everything from Jackie du Pre to the Who. There was a jazz piece on there that was a tribute to Mingus from Pierre Dorge. I couldn't track that song down to I figured I might as well try this Mingus dude. First thing I got was Ah Um. Jebus, I hadn't got that much of a jolt from anything new in at least a decade. The melodies, the bass notes, the open spaces and furious dynamics. I got into KoB months later and it's still a favorite to listen to in the dark, with a dram in my fist if my wife drops off early. But Mingus man, there's just an entire world of its own to explore right there.
posted by Ber at 5:34 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've gotten some guitar players into jazz with Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. And Sonny Sharrock.
posted by box at 5:41 PM on February 25, 2015


I dunno, I'm not in love with the author's point, but I think it's certainly interesting to think about how an incredibly ubiquitous jazz record that often gets relegated to chill-out background duty was, at the time of release, a cantankerous (and from a theory viewpoint, rather technical) middle finger to most of what was happening in its field at the time. It's ironic to think that something like that, a rather frustrated and dismissive statement-of-purpose, is now thought of as an approachable entry point for neophytes, a soothing and welcoming introduction.

Not an earth-shattering revelation, but, to be fair, it's pretty clear it was a casual forum discussion that was collected into sorta-an-article.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that happens to all music over time. I mean, they play Beethoven as shopping music!
posted by archagon at 5:51 PM on February 25, 2015


The first Miles Davis album that really grabbed me was the still-often-maligned On the Corner. Nobody got that album in 1972 because it was about 20 years ahead of its time. But I was born in the late 80s, so it sounds fantastic in my time!
posted by atoxyl at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


atoxyl, sorry if that wasn't clear; I think "A Love Supreme" is a worse intro than "Kind of Blue". It's not that it's an inherently unfriendly album, but it seems to me that there are more paths from KOB to other parts of jazz than from ALS. Depends on what one wants out of an intro.
posted by informavore at 5:58 PM on February 25, 2015


middle finger to most of what was happening in its field at the time

See, I think that's the wrong way to look at what happened. I mean, it's not like Davis was ever the outsider; he made Birth of the Cool which gave the name to "cool" jazz, he made Walkin' which was seminal for hard bop, his much later Bitches Brew is fusion. It's hard to recognize all three as being from the same bandleader. Kind of Blue is a "middle finger" to Walkin', which in a similar sense had been a "middle finger" to the kind of jazz that had been influenced by Birth of the Cool. (The OP hardly touches on the main genres, but Davis was a big part of several.)

A more accurate, but less attention-grabbing, estimate would've been that Kind of Blue was Davis looking for alternatives to the rather rigid conventions of the music that had come to dominate. The "alternative" record suggestions are tilted heavily toward more experimental material like Ah Um and The Shape of Jazz to Come. It's the kind of viewpoint that sees the rivalry and interplay of musicians as more important than the fundamental work itself.
posted by graymouser at 6:47 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


He seems to know his stuff, does Mr. Cunct0r. In my opinion this is one of the things that can make instrumental jazz difficult to appreciate for the new listener, this kind of bean plating.

I was introduced to jazz through a late night radio show. It was on a rock station and I taped a Jimmy Garrison solo. Bought a bunch of Coltrane cds from Columbia soon after.
posted by Alex Voyd at 7:15 PM on February 25, 2015


I am a huge fan of KoB, but I agree that it probably isn't a great entry point for someone new to jazz. When I play jazz for my middle school music students, they usually tell me that it reminds them of Starbucks (or Mariano's, the Chicago semi-upscale grocery chain that has a live pianist playing hotel-lobby covers of Beatles tunes).

I would encourage would-be jazz fans to check out some Horace Silver or Lee Morgan. Or, hell, Dave Holland.
posted by rossination at 7:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just listen to it for fuck's sake. 'Kind of Blue" is transcendent.
The other 7 albums he lists - also excellent.
posted by bowenson at 7:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, you all should listen to Kind of Bloop.

I was kind of disdainful of this project, which seemed to me like a gimmick when I heard of it, but I was wrong. It's really good, great fun, and the 8 bit guys who contributed are real masters of their medium.
posted by thelonius at 8:32 PM on February 25, 2015


I find it interesting that nobody on this thread or in the article seems to have made any mention of Columbia (then Sony, then Sony BMG, then Sony, then Legacy)'s continued marketing of KoB as "The only jazz album you really need in order to say you've heard real jazz" throughout the years, through assorted reissues, box sets, anniversary campaigns and such.

This article was very thorough and as pedantic as most die-hard jazz fans seem to be. Considering all that, I felt like his list was pretty 101 and not all that adventurous. These would be in the top 20 "jazz milestones" (pun intended) albums for most people knowledgable on the subject.

My personal list would also have Take Five on it. And Bill Evans Portrait in Jazz. And on and on...but thats the great thing about a genre that uses performers, groups, songwriters and songs themselves as pivot points to put new creations is that you can basically jump in almost anywhere and find SOMETHING you like about it that springboards you toward whatever your groove is.
posted by softlord at 9:29 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


As far as i could tell, his point is that the album fails to communicate its essential aesthetic of revolt (?) to listeners because the surface (both the actual very pretty music, and the album's position in culture as some middlebrow rite of passage) obscures it?
posted by thelonius at 9:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


KoB is pretty damned accessible to anyone looking to dip their toe into jazz.
...
Exactly. This is the album I recommend to anyone new to jazz or who may have heard of Miles Davis but don't know where to start. Which is something you can't do with, say, Bitches Brew. Now that album requires some historical context.

Ha, Bitches Brew was the thing that launched my life long love of jazz. Specifically, the Spanish Key track. I heard it in college in 1972, where it was in heavy play along with Pink Floyd and the Allman Brothers. It fit right in.
posted by jjj606 at 9:57 PM on February 25, 2015


A few thoughts on the author's sketch of the history of jazz:

As might be gleaned from what I said above, I object in the most strenuous terms to his "prisonhouse of harmony" thing. "A bit technical," he calls it – not nearly technical enough, despite his pretensions. And this is a misunderstanding he stretches back into history, applying it to Bach and making the unfortunately common mistake of turning him into the founder of "harmony" who overturned counterpoint (which he doesn't name, but I guess he could have).

Here's the thing: "counterpoint," "harmony," and "modalism" are all just ways of looking at the structure of music. There is some extent to which the movement of what we could call the classical period of western music – like, 1750 to 1900 – is a movement from what was seen as the "rules" of harmony to a "freer" sort of understanding. But we could just as easily argue that those "rules" were just being refined – or that they weren't intended to be strict rules in the first place.

Modalism marked the popularization of a new way for students of jazz, young musicians, to begin thinking about the act of improvisation. But that avenue was just a way to get into the frame of mind, and it wasn't really new at all. There are hints of this all over the entire history of jazz. From the late 1940s on, Thelonious Monk (for instance) would refuse to give his bands any chords, giving them only the lead melody and telling them that if they learned the melody and all its harmonizations and accidentals then they'd know how to improvise on a tune. This is nothing but modalism without the fancy name. Even Miles himself all but admitted that modalism strictly speaking was not an entirely new thing: "You can't play nothing on modern trumpet that doesn't come from [Louis Armstrong], not even modern shit." He used it because it was interesting, it was a different way to think about it, to theorize the things that Monk and Bechet and others had already done independently.

In short: what modalism offered, and still offers, is a different angle on the same thing. It does not offer an "escape route out of the... prisonhouse of harmony." Jazz started with the realization that harmony was no prison.

But then – I think this was what people really thought in the 1960s, even many jazz musicians. They often really believed that they were blazing new paths, traversing new horizons. And their understanding of their music suffered for it. Bill Evans – a personal hero of mine, someone I regard as responsible for creating from bare cloth whole swaths of what I consider my world – said some very stupid and disappointing things about Thelonious Monk because, unlike Monk, Evans wasn't an initiate into the multi-faceted historical community of jazz in the same way that Monk was. He didn't see that all these eras weren't one thing overcoming another; they were emanations of the same thing. So instead of rightly seeing Monk as a guy who knew thoroughly the theory and practice of what Evans called "modalism" decades before anybody called it that, Evans saw Monk as a noble savage, an amazing savant with preternatural abilities innocent of theory.

Seeing jazz as development is a bit like seeing history in general as development – it does great violence to our understanding of and acquaintance with the people actually involved in it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:39 PM on February 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


As far as alternative entry points to jazz go –

I'd choose Study in Brown. The musicians are tighter, having played together for months and knowing each other intimately; the trumpet player is much more accomplished and skilled than Miles Davis would ever be; the songs are instantly catchy, though they're not songs a new listener is likely to have heard before; and it proved the template for jazz for years. It's the high water mark for a certain kind of jazz that is instantly recognizeable and listenable.

I also found a foothold myself in Sonny Rollins' Live at the Village Vanguard album, which is amazing and crazy and wonderful in a lot of the ways jazz should be.

Or – I might just say that this is the preferable gateway to jazz. It's a damned good one, at any rate. (In addition to being the way I discovered Metafilter lo those many years ago.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 PM on February 25, 2015


koselitz: yeah, Brownie was amazing. I like him all the more for influencing my fav trumpeter ever, Lee Morgan.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:19 AM on February 26, 2015


Like maxsparber says, best just to find your own way in: I started at the end of the 1960's (& it's still a work in progress!).
posted by On the Corner at 12:42 AM on February 26, 2015


As others above have said, the best gateway into anything is the one that generously opens the door onto a new universe that was previously unknown and compels that person to stick around and start exploring. For the sake of adding to the noise, this gateway is not a fixed and concrete thing and is based upon an innumerable set of variables - an attempt to find the universal gateway into the jazz universe is a worthwhile exercise in futility.

I guess since Kind of Blue is an oft used portal into the jazz universe it is ripe for criticism. It happens to be the album that got me hooked back in high-school, although listening to Gang Starr, and Tribe, and Do You Want More ?!!!??!, and all that 90's and later 80's hip-hop truly sealed the deal.

Can't wait to check out some of the artists/albums mentioned above that are new to me.
posted by nikoniko at 12:49 AM on February 26, 2015


oh, and holy shit koeselitz(!) this is an amazing gateway to jazz, and Metafilter...
posted by nikoniko at 1:08 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jeremy Taylor's A Reggae Interpretation of 'Kind of Blue' is also pretty good.
posted by box at 4:44 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I dig the list. Also dig Kinda Blue. I threw Out to Lunch at a friend a few years ago, he'd never listened to jazz, and a month later he was over borrowing jazz in a dozen directions. Truth is anything can be anyone's introduction to anything, no problem.

If I had someone to mold, I would give them Sammy Price. Start with his Decca sideman days, catch him playing piano on some great sung blues songs, then some boogie woogie and jump blues records, then push on into his later collaborations with Doc Cheathem. It's fairly low wattage stuff, I dunno if you'd even call it Cool, but you can listen to a musician develop as the music develops , and hear the genres lift, swell, break, and lift again.

Then I'd give them some of those heavy hitter collaborations, Ellington/Coltrane, Monk/Coltrane, Milt Jackson/Ray Charles. They're somewhat subdued, like the guys are all playing inside themselves in order to pair up a little better. On the Ellington/Coltrane there's some definite generational respect, Coltrane plays to Duke's tune and Duke lets it loose. But it's all pretty accessible. Also, I mean I am not a vibe fan but Milt Jackson is King.

Pops had a lot of the stuff where you say, hold on, is Ornette just jiving us or what? So I grew up listening to some serious honks and shrieks, but like a lot of people I didn't dig it as a kid. And like many I backed into my appreciation of free jazz and hard bop. I was living in Tokyo and I went to a weird record store (the kind that sells weird records, the place was normal enough) and picked up on a whim a CD called Revolutionary Pekinese Opera Ver. 1.28 by Otomo Yoshihide's noise/jazz collaborative, Ground Zero. Then came all that sine wave stuff with Sachiko M and of course the hojok record, wild Korean alpenhorn blasts underlaid with furious drumming and electronic shouts, anyway I'm getting way past myself.

The point is that I kind of learned to appreciate the stuff that used to bug me by getting into Japanese noise music, of all things. Then my ears were sufficiently screwed with for me to really catch what Ornette et al were laying down. But I think like any entre into less-accessible music, it's deeply personal and not really repeatable with someone else's equipment.

Which is probably what's behind this guy's rant. I think he's just tired of people getting their toes wet with the undeniable classic and stopping there, or claiming Earth is the best without even dreaming of leaving her gravity well.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


> then push on into his later collaborations with Doc Cheathem.

Doc Cheatham! Now that you mention it, he would be an excellent starting point. I can't imagine listening to Eighty Seven Years of Doc Cheatham (the first record of his I happened to buy) and not falling in love with his gravelly voice and unique, friendly trumpet sound.
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on February 26, 2015


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Duke of the Rotten Underfelting of All Culture, Marquis of the Mothed Marches, gorgeous as the fifth moon and terrible as a tummy with hammers...

What is it that makes me suspect that this person is not the best candidate to comprehend and explain the subtleties of Kind of Blue?
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2015


He's actually a fairly well known and 'famous' music journalist who's been working in the British music press since the late eighties, if I got my Freakytrigger bloggers right.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the late 1940s on, Thelonious Monk (for instance) would refuse to give his bands any chords, giving them only the lead melody and telling them that if they learned the melody and all its harmonizations and accidentals then they'd know how to improvise on a tune. This is nothing but modalism without the fancy name.

Actually, they're quite different, and I'm sure that the harmonies that resulted from this practice were essentially tonal (as opposed to modal) in nature. The distinction is not nearly as trivial as you make it out to be, since tonal harmony relies on the dominant-tonic progression to articulate structure on many levels (from brief tonicization, to phrasal articulation, to large-scale structure) whereas modal harmony carries no such restriction, and moreover offers an entire scale as pitch resource rather than a particular stacked set of thirds at a particular time. As a purely abstract organizational principle, it certainly wasn't a novel idea -- harmonists like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans were pretty explicit about having been influenced by the modal harmony + expanded dissonance treatment pioneered by Ravel and Debussy, which was in turn an expansion of the modal harmonies of pre-Baroque music -- but context is everything, and the affordances of modal harmony made a particular sort of sense in the context of jazz at the time that I think you're downplaying incorrectly.
posted by invitapriore at 7:09 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


There ought by this point to be at least a reference to George Russell and his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation, so there it is. I leave it to the better educated to explain it, but it did have an enormous influence on modal playing (I think it also influenced the way scale/chord relationships are taught in jazz education, though they tend to confuse issues by giving all the different generated scales distinct names, which tends to make it look much more difficult than it actually is. But that's the dead hand of the academy for you.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:53 AM on February 27, 2015


Well, if we're going there, I'm going to mention Anthony Braxton and his Tri-Axium Writings. I don't pretend to even begin to understand his system, but I love his music, which doesn't sound like anyone else's, so he must be doing somethng right.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on February 27, 2015


Speaking of jazz I totally don't understand and totally enjoy: Lowell Davidson (see also Joe Morris' tribute/interpretation, MVP LSD).
posted by box at 7:33 AM on February 27, 2015


There ought by this point to be at least a reference to George Russell and his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation, so there it is. I leave it to the better educated to explain it

It's very simple:

The Seven Principal Scales--for scales of Lydian derivation and three auxiliary scales--are the Principal Chord-Producing Scales of the LYDIAN CHROMATIC SCALE They exist as the PRIMARY PARENT SCALES for all traditionally definable chords of Western harmony. The example below shows the ingoing-to-outgoing sequence of the Seven Principal Scales to parallel the five tonal orders of the Lydian Chromatic Scale itself. These two aspects of the Lydian Chromatic Scale exist in complete conformity. It may be said that the Seven Principal Scales are the unified products of their respective tonal orders within a Lydian Chromatic Scale, naturally inheriting the fundamental tonal color of their particular order....n showing the Lydian Scale's ladder of fifths structure to incorporate the first seven tones of the Lydian Chromatic Scale, the above example clearly indicates the reason for the Lydian Scale's designation as the SEVEN TONE ORDER/INGOING TONAL LEVEL of the Lydian Chromatic Scale. As a UNIFIED TONAL GRAVITY FIELD, the Lydian Scale serves not only as the genesis of Tonal Gravity and the foundation of the Lydian Chromatic Scale, but also as the seminal source of chord/scale unity
posted by thelonius at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


seriously, I can only get as far as the idea that, if you keep stacking up fifths, you get:

C G D A E B F#

which is a C lydian scale (4th mode of G major)

and this played at once makes a nicer chord than you get from using the major scale, probably because you don't have the E clashing with F natural. How that becomes the basis for all music is over my head.

Did you ever notice that the C major scale is just all the notes of the I, IV, and V chords?
I: C E G
IV: F A C
V: G B D

so what happens to the IV chord in George Russell theory land?
posted by thelonius at 10:19 AM on February 27, 2015


Just imagine every II# chord as a chromatic mediant substitution for IV!
posted by invitapriore at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


my doubt about the lydian chromatic concept is that, as i understand it, (and i've read the book), the effect of this scale and all the permutations of it is to introduce a music that does not have the traditional tension between dominant and tonic, where one note is not necessarily going to lead to another, because that's what it wants to do in common practice - this gives the composer and the musicians more freedom, supposedly

but is tension such a bad thing to have in music? - yes, the overtones of the lydian chromatic scale are in harmony much more than the traditional major scale is - but i think dissonance can be valuable, too

also, there's a lot of modal jazz where the musicians often go "outside", which is a good thing

(VII7#5 or VII7-5) is an altered tritone sub for IV and can be an interesting choice that's harmonious with the lydian scale)

as for myself, when i'm playing "out there", i don't even know what the hell i'm playing at the time, although i could analyze it later, i guess - but i don't care ...
posted by pyramid termite at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


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