Aug 17th of 2013 marked the 54th anniversary of ‘Kind Of Blue’, one of the most influential Jazz albums ever recorded and Miles Davis, who grew up a soft-spoken, shy young man in East St Louis, Illinois, was the leading force behind this epic recording. Miles and a few of his legendary friends got together and created a masterpiece that to this day, still occupies a sentimental spot, in the hearts of many, many Jazz fans, across America and Europe. Yes we can all agree that Miles Davis was one of the most enigmatic men of our time and we probably wouldn’t want our daughters to bring him home, but what ever people may say about him, he believed in his heart of hearts, that quality has no substitute.
Miles Davis bent for no one and wasn’t afraid to let you know how he felt. He attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City, but received the most important of his musical training playing with legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at the 3 Deuces down on 52nd street, which may explain his insatiable, innovative spirit. Said Miles of the whole experience, “…in a matter of seconds I had more schooling down there, than I had in my whole life, musically.” Miles was never a passive onlooker at new music as it was created, he instead was a natural explorer, embracing a wide variety of music-all of which remained permanently in his musical palette. Though firmly rooted in blues, his remarkable oeuvre incorporates pop, flamenco, classical, rock, as well as Arab and Indian music. Like most innovators, Miles knew talent and chemistry. And even though his quintet underwent frequent personnel changes, never once was this rich music’s quality or integrity ever compromised. It remained fresh and extremely potent. Many greats such as Tony Williams, Shirley Horn, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Cobb, who all passed through the ranks and have moved on to innovations of their own, always speak most highly of this ICON and the way he elevated their performance.
I remember as a teenager reading about Miles Davis and being fascinated by the degree of influence he had on so many musicians from all genres of music and every-day people from all walks of life-young and old. I read that he admired the work of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, whose music interestingly, is known for its stylistic diversity. Miles was truly one of the greatest musicians and music innovators of the 20th century-a social mover who stood proudly at the forefront of several important musical paradigm shifts in America. Along with legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Miles helped pioneered a musical revolution known as Bebop, a style more melodically and more rhythmically complex than traditional jazz, and more obscure.
During the decade of the 1950, Miles collaborated with composer and arranger Gil Evans, creating yet another new sound-a sound representing a more breezy, subdued mood that made the big-band arrangements seem easy-even at its most complex. This came to be known today as Birth Of The Cool, (a defining, pivotal moment in jazz) which was a reaction to Bebop’s urgency. This new music was an important time for Miles, in that he was not only trying to shake the reputation of a heroin addict, but he was also beginning to create his own unique style, different from that of his own Hard-bop days and Bebop’s frantic tempo, created mostly by Charlie Parker. Miles’ compulsive need to constantly change and develop new music seemed less out of a desire to change because of boredom. It had more to do with the fact that when it came to music, he was so deeply perceptive, that the music in turn dictated to him in which direction it needed to go.
In 1959 over at Columbia’s 30th street studio in midtown Manhattan, something monumental and special took place, that forever changed the face of music in America. At the peak of their careers, Miles Davis and his sextet, made up of heavy-hitters like drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, recorded Kind Of Blue, one of the most supremely lyrical albums ever produced. I remember the first time I listened to Kind Of Blue and thinking to myself (as I still do today) that this was like nothing I had ever heard before. Each session, each note played by those five gifted musicians sent chills down my spine. From its opening note So What, you’re greeted with that divine sense of intimacy Miles injects into every song. The asthmatic whisper of his trumpet cuts sharply through the speakers with such sentiment and soul-you immediately feel why his music causes such a stir in people. No matter how often I listen to Kind Of Blue in its entirety, or even just Blue In Green, my favorite jazz song, I always feel mesmerized, invigorated, inspired-very real reactions to something very real in this masterpiece. Each tune, each medley will undoubtedly have some special meaning for every listener.
Everything it is possible to say about Miles Davis’ musical achievement has been said many times before in every language. The man was a genius in every meaning of the word, a man who sustained a burning desire to make music. Not since the great Louis Armstrong (aka Satchmo) fifty years earlier, had anyone changed the trumpet’s sound, UNTIL Miles CAME ALONG. He was abrasive at times with his friends and family, including the women in his life and was sensitive to his core-as expressed poetically through his timeless music, which was always full of risks, full of mystery and a little mystic. Miles felt misunderstood and was never afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeves. Behind the cool dark shades and calm sentimental ballads, hid a lonely boy, haunted by his demons and by the prejudice he faced at a time when the “risk of assault, verbal and physical, was a daily reality-not least from the police.” He took shit from no one, not even the young, cocky New York City detective who split his head open, all because he was standing, peacefully smoking a cigarette outside the club he was gigging. But while cynicism and what seemed to be arrogance formed the cloak of protection for his vulnerability, Miles Davis shared his musical gift with humanity in his unique manner, which never ceases to inspire human warmth and innovation.