So what: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

milesThe first jazz album I ever heard start to finish was Kind of Blue.  Considered to be Miles Davis‘ masterpiece and the jazz album that non-jazz type folks have either heard or own it seemed like the perfect place to start.  As an introduction to jazz it’s both perfect and, well, less than ideal.  Why less than ideal?  Well, it sets the benchmark so high that it’s difficult to sift through the other great albums out there to find something that is instantly and equally as appealing, engaging, and brilliant (I’m still searching – though I have enjoyed much of what I’ve heard over the years from Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane).

Prior to Kind of Blue my opinion of jazz wasn’t kind.  I thought it was all a bit claustrophobic and full of whimsical show-offy noodling and chord progressions.  But Kind of Blue is different.  The opener, So What, gets you onside right away with it’s slow burning bass and piano.  It’s hard to think that there would be anyone who wouldn’t be lured in by this gentle flow.  The album continues in the same vein – all cool and such like.  Coloured by melancholia and visions of croissants, pain au chocolats, and coffee by candlelight.

DSCN5592The real wonder here are the melodies provided by Bill Evans, “Cannonball” Adderley, John Coltrane and, of course, Miles.  It’s vibrant.  Often channelling the blues, rather than just being all about some cluttered variation.  The music moving.  Flowing.  It’s alive!  The life a result of the songs being, largely, improvised.  This is an album that’s more about atmosphere than it is Davis and his genius (or the band and theirs!).

The more I’ve listened to, and learned about, Miles Davis it’s hard to ignore that the man was an out-and-out genius.  His playing, arrangements and tone.  That only makes me appreciate Kind of Blue more.  The understated nature of every single minute … whittled down to every note … every hook that’s sunk into the listener.  That’s the real appeal.

So yeah, that’s Kind of Blue.  It’s an album I just keep turning to.  I’m still processing it and hearing it new.  Sometimes it’s background music while my wife and I have coffee and other times it’s the centre piece of an evening of focussed music listening.  But it always fits.  And that’s why it’s such a great album (an all timer); because regardless of the setting, Kind of Blue is perfect.  Every single minute of it is exceptional.

And, of course, it’s undeniably cool.

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24 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more, I really like LPs that work as background music or close listening.

    If you haven’t already, I’d really recommend his autobiography, the imaginatively titled, Miles.

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    1. I’ve actually not long started making my way through the autobiography. Picked it up for a mere £3. It’s a splendid read. I had been reading Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace. You have absolutely no idea how delighted I was to put that down …

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      1. Yeah, I’m with you on that one, it sorta reminded me why I got bored with him after Weld (looks out for snipers), shhh!

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  2. This was my first jazz album as well (or maybe Love Supreme) and I have several of Mile’s albums and all of them are interesting. I don’t have a very good ear for Jazz but I keep trying to pick up on it and Miles’ work is so wide ranging that it always keeps me off balance because who knows what twist and turns he has coming next. The Jack Johnson album is one of my favorites probably because it sounds almost like a rock album and Sketches of Spain is one I keep coming back to since it always seems to lift my mood. Miles is endlessly fascinating and even with about 20 of his albums in my collection I feel like I’ve barely discovered his work.

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    1. I’m still just scratching the surface of not just jazz, but Miles Davis’ catalogue. Each of his albums throw something else at you – complete with emotional pull and intrigue. Each album keeps giving something new on every listen.

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  3. Cannonball’s albums of that period keep the feel, to some extent, of Kind of Blue. His later albums have more of an R&B/funk flavor–also great. Another one I recommend for non-jazz listeners is Horace Silver’s Song for My Father.

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    1. Yeah – this was my introduction, then went for Sketches of Spain and Bitches Brew. Got listening to some of the earlier stuff while reading Miles and still getting to know that. Recently a friend has suggested Dark Magus … so that’s my next one.

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      1. I’d rec A Tribute to Jack Johnson if you want loud rock music or In a Silent Way if you want something quieter after you’re done that one.

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  4. Good on you for diving into jazz James. Don’t quite know how I missed this post!
    While having more Miles than any other artist in the VC collection, I’m not sure his genius was in composition or even playing, but in collecting the right musicians for the time and reading the winds of change. Anyway, my tuppence worth for further jazz explorations would be Mingus Ah Um, Bill Evans Portrait in Jazz and this one…
    http://vinylconnection.com.au/2013/11/08/transcendental-new-music/

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    1. Thanks, Bruce. I think I would agree with you about his knack of assembling a stellar cast – I hadn’t considered that at the time.

      Appreciate the suggested further listening, too. Portrait on Jazz wasn’t on the radar at all, but Mingus is most definitely all over it!

      And great post about In A Silent Way. That one is high on my list (so many Miles albums I want, but unfortunately I don’t come across too many during my record stops!)

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      1. Bill Evans is the pianist on Kind of Blue. Delicate, melodic, exquisite touch.
        With Miles, if you can allow CDs, the multi-disc sets are really good value (secondhand). Today I bought the complete Gil Evans 6CD set for less than 20 quid.
        Having said that, I am desperate to acquire a vinyl copy of ‘Jack Johnson’!

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      2. I can certainly allow CDs, but there are some that you just need to have on vinyl, isn’t there? Jack Johnson being one I’d like also …

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  5. Late to the party, but Kind of Blue is a masterpiece. Funnily enough, this was one of the albums I got into later on. The first Davis album I bought was Nefertiti. I went straight for the headier stuff and I’m glad I did. I went straight for heroin and worked my way back to beer.

    My heart and head are more with Davis’ later 60s then early 70s stuff. I love the denseness of Bitches Brew, On The Corner, Agharta, and Pangea, as well as the late 60s Filles de Kilimanjaro and Miles In The Sky. Even the leftovers compilation Big Fun feels like a journey. If you like the bluesier stuff, Jack Johnson is amazing(and some of the loosest playing by John McLaughlin you’ll ever hear.)

    Kind of Blue is a different Miles Davis. They call it cool for a reason. “So What”, “Freddie Freeloader”, and “All Blues” are just amazing tracks. ‘Round About Midnight is another killer record from that era.

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    1. Those 60s and 70s albums are really quite off the map. I dare say Bitches Brew is the most accessible of them!

      I haven’t heard Agharta, Pangea, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Miles In The Sky, or ‘Round About Midnight so I’ll have to add them to the list (thanks!).

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      1. Pangea is my favorite of the latter 70s records, if you ever get a chance to check it out. Simply stunning album. The newly remastered Live at the Fillmore is great, too.

        I can’t recommend Filles, Miles in the Sky, and ‘Round About Midnight enough.

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