Kind of Blue: Why It’s So Great

milesdaviskindofblue

Kind of Blue

Why the best-selling jazz album of all time is so great.

By Fred Kaplan

Take it away Fred….

When Miles Davis came to New York in 1945, at the age of 19, he replaced Gillespie as Parker’s trumpeter for a few years and played very much in their style. A decade later, he, too, was wondering what to do next.

The answer came from a friend of his named George Russell (who died just last month at the age of 86). A brilliant composer and scholar in his own right, Russell spent the better part of the ’50s devising a new theory of jazz improvisation based not on chord changes but on scales or “modes.” The kind of music that resulted was often called “modal” jazz. (A scale consists of the 12 notes from one octave to the next. A chord consists of three or four specific notes in that scale, played together or in sequence: For instance, a C chord is C-E-G.)

This distinction may seem slight, but its implications were enormous.

Click here to read the full story.

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1 thought on “Kind of Blue: Why It’s So Great”

  1. August 17, 2009 marks exactly fifty years from the day Columbia Records released the Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue”. “So What?” one might ask. Well, there are many great albums from the Age of Vinyl, but “All Blues” are not the same. Some music has the horsepower to affect and alter it’s listeners, to move them mentally and emotionally, and to transform them.
    One afternoon on the sidelines of the soccer pitch, at least fifteen years ago, I was talking to the son of a friend of mine. Though this young fellow was in college at the time, I had known him since he was in grade school. Beside refereeing youth soccer games, he had been in a garage rock band since high school. “My Dad told me you listened to jazz a lot,” he says, “but I don’t know much about it. People say it’s pretty deep. What should I listen to so I can get into it?” “Get a copy of the CD “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis,” I told him. “It’s easy to find. They probably have it at Wal-Mart. Drink two glasses of wine and sit in the dark with headphones on, at one o’clock in the morning. Listen to Miles talk on trumpet, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, and Bill Evans on piano. Do this three times. You will be turned on to the music.”
    I knew this because that’s how I got hooked on jazz. (Well…I didn’t have the wine.) The Columbia Record Club sent me a copy of the “Kind of Blue” album when I was thirteen years old. As I lay in bed listening to it in 1960, the music transported my mind from suburban New Jersey to a smokey jazz club in Greenwich Village, where I could hang out with Maynard G. Krebs, and talk to girls with blonde ponytails, wearing black turtleneck sweaters. From that point on, I began to construct an aura, a shell, of iconoclastic coolness, or so I imagined.
    Anyway, about six months after my conversation with this young guy, I ran into his father, Claude, who tells me a tale of woe about how their oldest son is driving both his wife and him nuts. (I knew this to be a very short ride.) “That crazy kid,” he told me, “changed his major at the University, from Business Administration to Music. He says he wants to become a jazz musician!” Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, Claude went on to ask, “Do they still have those?? I thought they were all dead by now!! Where does he get these crazy ideas???
    What could I say? I didn’t tell him. Two years later I heard Claude Jr. was playing bass on weekends in a piano trio, in a bar just off the expressway. It wasn’t me, or what I had said to him. It was Miles. Like the Pied Piper in the fairy tale, his recorded sound (particularly in his golden period from 1955 to 1965) kidnaps the listener’s ear. Looking back from a fifty year view, the “Kind of Blue” album remains a masterpiece of the twentieth century.

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