The 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.
The 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.