Kind of Blue by Ashley Kahn

Mutli-versed music journalist Ashley Kahn has written a book about "the most well-known jazz record of all time", entitled KIND OF BLUE: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. The structure of this book is extremely tight, apparently, according to the preface, on purpose. Kahn writes about the times both historically and biographically before and after the making of the original 1959 recording at the now-defunct 30th Studios of Columbia Records with the transcripts of and annotations on the actual taping of the record plunked in the middle of the book.

The book is geared to those who know jazz and especially KIND OF BLUE. One has to know the music referred to in order to understand the idea behind the book which is to stress the importance of this one album. One needs to know the music of Charlie Parker, bebop, Miles' recording BIRTH OF THE COOL and what kind of improvisational explorations came after KIND OF BLUE to understand the impact of "modal" jazz, i.e. one needs to know what modes are and the contrast of what is not modal with what is.

I found Kahn's writing fairly interesting. There were some facts revealed that I had not known before. But the historical and biographical material did not seem that rare; I was familiar with a lot of it. The graphics within the text and text within the text lend visual aspects to the book that are palatable, but sometimes confuse the flow of the reading process. The photographs are good and help to support the text. But, the central focus, that is, the transcripts of the tapes, is disappointing. The transcripts become nothing more than printed versions of a handful of spoken lines quoted from the musical tapes of each cut on the record and Kahn's descriptions of what goes on musically before and after the quoted words from Miles, unknown persons and the producer of the album. While reading about each cut, I had the recording playing so I could make sense out of what Kahn was describing; I had to flip back and forth in the book and keep punching the replay buttons on the CD player remote in order to interpret Kahn's play by play.

Kahn's raison d'etre for his book is more arcane and for the expression of his point of view than valuable for the history of jazz. Although I appreciate Kahn's efforts and the work that went into the book, I instinctually want to say in response: "So What". The best conclusion for this article comes from Miles himself that in effect says that jazz musicians do what they do with no reason behind it, no label attached to it, no motive underlying it. The music just is.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ashley Kahn
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