Opening the Door to new Things

There are hundreds of books and thousands of articles written on Miles Davis that focus on his land mark recording titled Kind of Blue. His friends said that he rarely listened to jazz recordings; he was more inclined to have a Stravinsky concerto on his stereo or a score of Tchaikovsky on his piano. After creating the recording, Miles did not talk much about Kind of Blue (discussing what he had accomplished in the past); he was more focused on the next gig or the next recording event. The album adapted a life independent of Miles. It became a practical demonstration of an emerging style of minimalist music that would be called Modal Jazz.

It is useful to note the specific chord arrangements and ideas on this album were conceived only a few hours before they were recorded, they were documented with a few hand written notes just before the session by Miles. The analysis that lead to the musical ideas were the result of numerous informal conversations between Miles, George Russell, and others over the course of 2-3 years on the use of modes to create solo’s rather than building melodies constrained by the individual chords in play.  Few can deny the impact of this album on the Jazz world, the popularity of its minimalist sound, and the extreme lasting power of this album. Clearly a new form of Jazz was defined.

I recall the first time this album came to my attention and how it affected my understanding of the Jazz idiom. Shopping in a music store, looking for some new music to listen to, my eyes wandered through the jazz section examining the albums. Picking up Kind of Blue, I only knew two of the musicians on the album (Miles and Coltrane); that connection was enough to purchase the CD. My passive introduction to the album occurred while raking my back yard later that day. After about three or four songs, my interest in the CD increased exponentially. I went back to the beginning of the CD, sat down, and listened actively to every nuance. Listening to the album numerous times all the way through revealed the clarity of each song and how the message seemed connected from song to song. I could not recall any album that felt so cohesive and engaging. It was a watershed event for me.

The album was a turning point for my appreciation of Jazz as a viable form of music. First listening to this album in the mid 80’s; the album opened the door for instrumental music to me. At the time, being fully immersed in church worship music, my inner thoughts responded to the uncluttered arrangements of chords and melody, but I did not act on this inspiration. The full personal impact this album occurred 25 years later when my own form of contemporary modal jazz immerged.

I recall reading an article in an early 60’s Jazz Review a few years ago. The article suggested there was a new idea emerging in the jazz scene that used ‘modal’ scales to define the music. The article talked specifically about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans as proponents of this emerging idea. These musicians were the key players on Kind of Blue. Often, when people comment to me that they do not understand jazz, I usually suggest they listen to Kind of Blue.

I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them. Classical composers … have been writing this way for years, but jazz musicians seldom have.   – Miles Davis