Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue

cover artWell. This is a bit daunting. Where to start. Erm … Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is not only the most popular jazz album in history (recorded and released in 1959, it’s still selling some 5,000 copies every week. In the U.S. alone. It’s probaby the most written-about jazz album in history. With the possible but not very likely exception of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, or maybe Miles’ own Bitches Brew, both similarly trend-setting albums. Just Google its title and see how many results you get! But, here I go with my two bits.

There’s a good reason that Kind of Blue is the biggest-selling jazz album in history. Now, I’m hardly a jazz historian, or even much of a jazz writer; American roots music is more my game. But this is one album that, even if you don’t much like jazz, you just might enjoy. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that it’s the only jazz album in many collections (if you don’t count those old Tijuana Brass or 1960s lounge recordings, that is).

And I would venture that its popularity comes from its accessibility. Even if you know nothing about jazz, it just reaches out its loving arms and welcomes you in, from the very first notes of Bill Evans’ piano and Paul Chambers’ double bass in the introduction to “So What.” Unlike the Miles’ and Coltranes’ and Bird’s (among others) be-bop excursions, or the acid-jazz-rock fusion of Bitches Brew and its successors, Kind of Blue isn’t daunting and forbidding jazz, understandable only to the cognoscenti. It’s deep, yes, but it’s also melodic and friendly. And supremely romantic.

If you are one of the five or six people in the record-buying world who doesn’t own at least one copy of Kind of Blue, or if you own a copy but would like to learn a little bit more about what makes it so special, so popular, so accessible, this DualDisc edition may be for you. The DualDisc presents the music CD on one side and a DVD on the other — one disc, two programs. The CD side contains the newly remastered edition from the late ’90s, with clear warm sound, and at the correct pitch; all previous editions had been a bit sharp, because they were taken from a reel that recorded slightly slow. It also contains an alternate take of the final track, “Flamenco Sketches,” as did the previous remaster.

The DVD side also has a complete version of the album with bonus track, in 5.1 multichannel Surround Sound that is fabulous. It sounds great even on my cheap Costco DVD player through my TV’s little speakers. If you have a newer CD player that’ll play music from DVD, this’ll be a real treat.

Plus it has a 25-minute documentary on the album’s creation and its impact. The film isn’t as interesting as it could have been; it’s mostly talking heads of musicians old (Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn) and young (MeShell NdegeOcello, Q-Tip) and some celebrities, Bill Cosby and Ed Bradley, who were young jazz fans when Kind of Blue was new. The best is Jimmy Cobb, drummer on the sessions and the only surviving member of the sextet that created the music. He’s still sharp, and interesting, and funny. There are some still photos from the sessions, and some brief audio clips of Miles talking in the studio between takes, and of a Bill Evans interview from some years back, and some good bits with Hancock demonstrating at the keyboard and rhapsodizing about how and why this music is so wonderful. And of course the soundtrack is superb. It’s still mostly heads talking about jazz, but it’ll help you understand a little bit about what makes the album tick and its place in jazz history. That and the DVD version of the album tracks, and Robert Palmer’s essay in the booklet, make it valuable to neophyte and connoisseur alike.

(Columbia, 1959; Columbia/Legacy DualDisc edition, 2004)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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