The birth of the cool cats club
The year 1959 is often credited as being the most creative single year in jazz history when decades of trends and slowly evolving developments were suddenly turned upside down by several independently minded jazz musicians who suddenly decided that the norm was just not cool anymore. There was of course the riveting free jazz experimentation of Ornette Coleman with his groundbreaking “The Shape Of Jazz To Come,” the cool jazz time signature explorations of The Dave Brubeck Quartet on “Take Five” as well as John Coltrane offering his reinterpretations of just how the saxophone should be played on his phenomenal “Giant Steps,” but after all the creative dust settled and the 20/20 hind sight of history slowly coalesced into some sort of consensus, it was in the end MILES DAVIS who received the greatest accolades for his groundbreaking emphasis on the full-on emergence into the world of modal jazz, which of course is the style of jazz that incorporates musical modes as harmonic framework over fixed chord progressions. In short, MILES DAVIS had spent the 50s pretty much keeping up with the trends of jazz and perfecting them, but by 1959 and with the release of KIND OF BLUE, he finally became the leader of the pack and this release precisely marks the exact time period when he proved his genius of taking the reigns and leading the musical world into his own vision which in the long run would become one of the most revered and influential albums (not just jazz) of all of music history. Oh, and the best selling jazz album ever as well. Not too shabby!
What it all boils down to is that DAVIS was growing weary of jazz becoming an Olympic marathon where every musician had to compete to outdo the other. KIND OF BLUE was in effect a return to the soul of the musical movement that began way back with Scott Joplin who set up the proto-jazz ragtime movement that created an uplifting musical development that would stir the soul as well as bedazzle the technically minded in one fell swoop. This was a statement that it was time to revert back to the art of cooperation over competition where the sum of the parts of the musical contributions would coalesce into a much stronger statement than would the bombastic meanderings of the individual performers trying to one-up his fellow player. KIND OF BLUE shouted this out in full vehemence and although he was overshadowed by the other developments of jazz that occurred in the same year of release, MILES DAVIS had the last laugh by having KIND OF BLUE stand out over the decades as one of the most influential and best selling jazz albums ever to grace the entire genre which spans more decades than any other modern musical art form. While the modal jazz thing had been done before including by DAVIS himself as recently as his 1958 “Milestones,” it was only on KIND OF BLUE that DAVIS devoted an entire album exclusively to the development of it.
Musically this is a supergroup of talented musicians before there were supergroups and before most of these guys were famous in their own right. KIND OF BLUE is in effect a spawning ground for many greats to emulate. You couldn’t ask for a better lineup with DAVIS leading on his signature trumpet. Not only does this album showcase the holy trinity brass fraternization of DAVIS in unison with Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and the great John Coltrane delivering his tenor sax but also delivers the equally riveting double bass rhythmic stabilizing effects of Paul Chambers in cahoots with the percussive adroitness of Jimmy Cobb all dressed up with the piano accompaniment of Bill Evans (with Wynton Kelly briefly taking over on “Freddie Freeloader”). In effect, what we ultimately experience of these musicians is the achemizing effect of their talents into a much greater whole which is nothing short of a musical miracle of sorts. From the very first notes on piano by Bill Evans on “So What” to the final wailing sax notes of “Flamenco Sketches” listener is presented a band in perfect unison together. DAVIS purportedly entered the studio in early 1959 and only gave the musicians the rudimentary basics of what was to come and instructed them to “feel” their way through the darkness using only their musical intuition to find their way. Many of these tracks have no set melody and are only structured by certain chord progressions using improvisation over the different modes. This semi-structure with creative spontaneity where everything went right is one of the many reasons why KIND OF BLUE ranks high in not only jazz musician’s greatest albums of all time but with a majority of music lover’s outside the realms of jazz as well. KIND OF BLUE is one of those touched-by-the-gods type of albums where despite all the obstacles and distractions that could have arisen were put aside for a brief moment of time where creative expression reigned free without impediments thus becoming a true inspiration for musicians in myriad genres.
OK, so what’s the fuss about this album? REALLY? I mean there is a major difference between understanding that a certain landmark album is a cornerstone in historical development and worthy of historical appreciation and actually enjoying it as an interesting listening experience. Well, i have to admit that being someone born after the period and not even getting to hearing this until decades later, that i was one who respected it, much preferring the venomous bite of the hard bop and Dixieland jazz that came before over the slow tempo and chilled cool jazz releases that were initiated by this release. But after many listens, all the barriers have broken down and KIND OF BLUE is sort of like a tick that subtly inserts its fangs into your neck and slowly injects its essence into your blood in a profound way and like lyme disease incubates in your DNA until one day when you throw this on for a spin just to feel a patriotic musical duty, suddenly has the ability to pry open all prejudices and simply infuse the listening capabilities with sweet sensual melodies and genuine enjoyment of its original intentional uplifting mojo. While this has mostly been a 4 star album for me for most of my acquaintance, in the end i have finally succumbed to the majesty of it all and while KIND OF BLUE will not even make my top list of MILES DAVIS favorites list, there is no doubt that this is indeed the touted masterpiece that it has been deemed for it truly does capture a unique spirit that is extremely rare where all the elements come together with a healthy dose of divine intervention to create a veritable musical transcendental phenomenon.
Basically if this isn’t gelling with your musical sensibilities, take it from a metal and prog rock lover who had to back peddle to appreciate the more sensual side of roots music to understand where such releases as KIND OF BLUE were coming from, but ultimately once properly injected with all its magic in enough doses, i can honestly say that this music clicked with me in a most profound way. Multiple listens are needed to fully understand the true intent and accomplishments of this album. Jazz is a most complex musical art form in any respect and although the cool modal jazz may sound simplistic in comparison to some of the hard bop and avant-garde jazz releases of the era, there is much to glean from the experience that does not make itself apparent upon first or even second listen. While KIND OF BLUE may never be deemed the most complex musical offering of the ages, it does reach a certain balance in taming complexity for its own sake as well as creating melodies on demand as the musicians performing felt appropriate for this fleeting moment in time. For whatever reason, the final product resulted in establishing itself as a classic of the 20th century that not only punctuated a clear delineation of jazz development in the timeline but more simply created a cavorting gambol of musical expression that has literally reverberated throughout the decades.