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Music: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue possess such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of “So What.”

From that moment on, the record never really changes pace — each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It’s the pinnacle of modal jazz — tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn’t quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they’ve memorized every nuance. They return because this is an exceptional band — Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb — one of the greatest in history, playing at the peak of its power.

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As Evans said in the original liner notes for the record, the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised. The end results were wondrous and still crackle with vitality. Kind of Blue works on many different levels. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable. It may be a stretch to say that if you don’t like Kind of Blue, you don’t like jazz — but it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection.

Miles Davis

For nearly six decades, Miles Davis has embodied all that is cool – in his music (and most especially jazz), in his art, fashion, romance, and in his international, if not intergalactic, presence that looms strong as ever today. 2006 – The year in which Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on March 13th – is a land¬mark year, commemorating the 80th anniversary of his birth on May 26, 1926, and the 15th anniversary of his death on September 28, 1991. In between those two markers is more than a half-century of brilliance – often exasperating, brutally honest with himself and to others, uncompromising in a way that transcended mere intuition.

In carrying out what always seemed like a mission, Miles Dewey Davis III – musician, composer, arranger, producer, and band leader – was always in the right place at the right time, another defining aspect of cool. Born in Alton, Illinois, and raised in East St. Louis, where his father was a dentist, Miles was given his first trumpet at age 13. A child prodigy, his mastery of the instrument accelerated as he came under the spell of older jazzmen Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and others who passed through. He accepted admission to the Juilliard School in 1944, but it was a ruse to get to New York and hook up with Bird and Diz. Miles was 18. Cool.

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