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Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn and Jimmy Cobb

In this age of "metafication", when every work of art must be held up, turned over, upside down, jiggled, poked, prodded and made to turn its head and cough, it was only a matter of time until Miles Davis' Kind of Blue landed on the Petrie dish. In recording Kind of Blue, the Davis Sextet of 1959 - Davis, John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb û together managed a musical symbiosis that was seemingly effortless yet vital, of its time and yet supremely transcendent of it. For those of us who cherish the work, its graceful modality and biting elegance, the appearance of journalist Ashley Kahn's fan-bio is a cause for stereophile excitement.

That Kahn's book only partially delivers is not necessarily the criticism it sounds. For one, lasting music by its nature defies words, which is why all music criticism falls short of the mark. Kahn doesn't go the music critic route. He opts instead for straight reporting and in generating a "You Are There!" build-up and excitement to the March 2 and April 22, 1959 recording dates. (Yes, in todays age of two-year long recording projects it's hard to believe that one of the brilliant corners of 20th century music was recorded in just nine hours on these two days). As a result there's plenty of padding here with a framework not unlike a jazz work û with the beginning and end as sets ups for the revelation of the soloing of the sessions.

Setting the stage has been done before in any number of Davis bios or critiques. Kahn adds little but for those interested in the briefest of histories of one of jazz's true originals this isn't a bad place to start. From Miles' apprenticeship with Charlie Parker through Birth of the Cool and the construction of the quintet and sextet Kahn's first ninety pages set up the action with resolute pacing.

The next 60 pages are the book's raison d'etre. Kahn sequestered himself in the Columbia vaults listened to the master tape play-by-play on the sessions and documented every word. From producer Irving Townsend's opening historical understatement ("The machine's on") to Bill Evans' closing commentary on the difficult "All Blues" ("Boy if I didn't have coffeeà") he records for posterity the mundane but fascinating inner workings of genius. In the process he explores the derivation of the modal sketches Miles used and the controversy behind Bill Evans' possible authorship of "Blue In Green" and "Flamenco Sketches." Though Kahn isn't here to pass definitive judgment there seems to be no question that at the very least Kind of Blue was a collaborative Davis-Evans work. (Now go buy your Evans discs.)

Finally Kahn looks at the work's legacy. He researches the fuzzy numbers of music biz accounting and finds 5 million copies of the work floating about the jazz loving world. That the jazz genre as a whole only constitutes 5% of the music sold in this country000 copies per week20000 around the holidays.

Of course none of that matters as long as you own a copy (I've got three including the initial LP jacket that mistakenly flipped "Flamenco Sketches" and "All Blues" which Kahn reports is worth $$$!). Kahn's work does well to sew together loose ends esoteric factoids and collectabilia but inevitably it can't do much to explain the continued aura that the recording casts on listeners. In the end that's probably just as it should be.'In this age of "metafication", when every work of art must be held up, turned over, upside down, jiggled, poked, prodded and made to turn its head and cough, it was only a matter of time until Miles Davis' Kind of Blue landed on the Petrie dish. In recording Kind of Blue, the Davis Sextet of 1959 - Davis, John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb û together managed a musical symbiosis that was seemingly effortless yet vital, of its time and yet supremely transcendent of it.

Additional Info

  • Book Title: Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece
  • Author: Ashley Kahn and Jimmy Cobb
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Year Published: 2000
  • Book Type:: Non-Fiction
  • ISBN: 306809869
  • Rating: Five Stars
  • Number of Pages: 224
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