Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis (Album of the Week)

Listening to Kind of Blue is like swimming in a river. The waves, the current, the sense of movement and subtle change, even the two-shored boundlessness of a river carry me into the music. Where a pop song has the dependable rectangularity of verse, chorus, verse chorus and the 3-4 minute end is always in sight, you don’t know what’s around the next bend, but it will be the same river with the same currents and rhythm.

I greatly enjoyed this album, but I need to acknowledge that I do so from a position of near-complete ignorance. I had to resort to a fairly elaborate metaphor in my first paragraph because I don’t have the technical expertise to describe the thing itself. If you look elsewhere, you can read about how this album represents a break from be-bop and a move toward modal jazz. It somehow freed jazz from restrictions placed on it by scales, or something like that. I don’t know or understand how experts chose this as one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

So, this puts me in the “I don’t know art, but I know what I like” camp, I suppose – a place populated by defenders of Kenny G with Thomas Kincaid paintings on their walls. I’m not proud of that, or even, really, accepting of that. Ignorance is not okay. My lack of jazz or even musical knowledge is a failing, not a naive strength.

Kind of Blue is melodic, and it’s accessible for enjoyment. But I realize that I do not appreciate Kind of Blue in the way that a real musician might. Enjoyment without real appreciation is the best I can do.

One of the quirks of instrumental music is that it works on my imagination or thought process, such that I really struggle to focus entirely on the music itself. The problem, if it is a problem, is heightened when I am listening to a CD instead of witnessing live music. With live music, I can watch the performers and really focus on the music, but a CD offers a solely aural experience, and I find myself distracted. Even great jazz like this becomes background music – great background music – when I listen on CD. Lyrics in pop songs keep me anchored in the music a little better, but Kind of Blue allows my thoughts and imagination to wander along. Not a bad thing, at all, but more evidence that I am not getting as much out of this music as a better listener might.

If you’re not particularly well-informed about modal jazz or musical theory, I imagine that you will find this album extremely enjoyable. If you are a musician or a student of music, everything I read says that you will recognize this album as a work of genius. Either way, Kind of Blue is an album that you ought to have in your rotation.

The Deliberate Obfuscator also enjoyed this album, though she brings slightly more sophistication to her appreciation as a former (current, occasionally?) trumpet player.

Next up: Jake Bugg, by Jake Bugg

2 Responses to “Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis (Album of the Week)”

  1. [...] I am glad that Dan picked this one, because I would not have come to it on my own. This is part of my soundtrack now. Dan and I struggled similarly with our jazz naivete. Here is what he has to say about it. [...]

  2. [...] that an interviewer asked St. Vincent why she named her album eponymously, and she explained that MIles Davis wrote in his biography that the hardest thing in music is to sound like yourself. She feels like [...]

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