By Marty Finley
The word classic is thrown around haphazardly nowadays, as it can be used to describe a YouTube video or a clever pun. But, in a world of Ritalin-fueled ADD kids and life-siphoning technology that makes us all just a little bit lazier, it’s easy to miss out on the classics.
And there may not be a better word in the English language to describe Miles Davis’ 1959 opus, Kind of Blue, than classic. From its breezy atmosphere to its virtuosic composition, the album reeks of brilliance.
True, it is bare bones compared to earlier jazz that used multiple instruments to build a raging, full sound. However, Kind of Blue created a new era for jazz music that made room for more melody and less bombast. In a sense, it was thinking man’s music.
The album also pairs two heavyweights together in Davis and Coltrane. Both men had immense success on their own, but Coltrane’s frenetic playing offered a pleasing contrast to Davis’ slinky and slower trumpet tones.
Kind of Blue begins with a few simple, eloquent bars from a piano to introduce the tiny melody on the lead-in song So What. Davis then breathes life into the small sound with his majestic trumpet while the piano picks up the pace to accompany him. The song’s laidback feel encompasses the mood as Davis instructs the rhythm section to play a slow and easy rhythm while Davis and Coltrane do the heavy lifting to progress the melody along throughout the album.
One of the distinct elements of this album is that it can be played as one solid piece of music, but each song has its own personality and can stand unto itself.
The piano functions as a more-than-capable rhythm builder as well, filling in moments of silence where the trumpet and saxophone take respite, building to the next salvo. While much of the album is an exhibition for the immense talents of Coltrane and Davis, the groove laid down by the piano, bass and drums cannot be ignored. Without them, the desired song structure would be heavily lacking.
The albums ends with the gorgeous Flamenco Sketches, a song that encapsulates loneliness that many Mississippi Delta blues guitarists would have cut the tips of their fingers off to emulate.
Unfortunately, Davis’ hot temper would cause a rift to form between him and Coltrane. As a result, Coltrane spent much of the early 60s playing with Thelonious Monk and his quartet. He later moved on and record his own solo records, including the amazing A Love Supreme.
Davis would continue to be successful, but his foray into different forms of jazz-several of which he created-would separate him from the greatness of this album and sound slightly lacking in comparison-though Bitches Brew will always be awesome.
Modern music’s disposable rap singles and sugary pop ditties leave no tolerance for virtuosos, though. Davis would be panhandling on a street corner in New Orleans while playing a rusted trumpet if he began his career today. It really is a shame.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Davis has left this world, but his music is still available to us-and in high sound quality no less.
So, in other words, there’s no reason for you not to hear Kind of Blue and find out what classic really means.