Kind of Blue

The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (Da Capo Press)

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue occupies a lofty place in the eyes and ears of most jazz lizards. Many believe -- make that know-- it to be the greatest record of all time. But the 1959 album's exalted status reaches far beyond goatee-sporting, cappuccino-sipping, finger-popping white hipsters.

The famous record set a number of musical watermarks that have only added to its prestige: It introduced modal jazz to a wide audience and, in so doing, changed the direction of the genre. It marked the fusing of a once-in-a-lifetime talent pool and a wide array of musical styles that has never been duplicated. It has set sales records that remain firmly entrenched. In fact, only last year, a small-scale media celebration marking the album's 40th anniversary triggered another spike in sales. The result: Kind of Blue once again dominated the charts.

And it is also quite possibly -- and deservedly so -- the most written-about jazz record of all time. So, what is there left to say about the celebrated album? Music critic and VH1 executive Ashley Kahn proves plenty. He spent hours poring over the original master tapes and has collected reams of remembrances, anecdotes, facts and gossip surrounding the famed sessions. The result is a 200-page anatomy lesson examining the record and its impact.

Kahn documents in rich detail how Kind of Blue came to be. He walks the reader through the world of record producing, circa 1960, and introduces the numerous musicians that Davis hired, fired and, in some cases, rehired as he crafted his legendary band that included John Coltrane, "Cannonball" Adderley, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers.

Kahn also explores some of the low-level controversies that have surrounded Kind of Bluesince the beginning. He confirms, for instance, that Bill Evans helped author the chord progressions that became the blueprint for the record, something Davis -- who took full credit -- generally denied. He also looks at the sloppy sonic problems that have dogged the album for nearly four decades, tracing most of them back to indifferent engineers and apathetic corporate executives.

And where most jazz writing is as brittle and dry as mathematical theorems, Kahn, thankfully, avoids that rut. He wisely dodges in-depth technical explanations, such as the differences in Ionian, Mixolydian and Phrygian chord changes -- knowing full well that such information would only induce sleep in all but a handful of readers. Instead, Kahn probes the impact the record had on other musicians at the time. And not just technically. Kahn even explores the album's renowned aphrodisiacal qualities.

Four decades old, Kind of Blue is still a lush listening experience. After hundreds of spins, it creates a hypnotic swirl that even non-jazzniks find intoxicating. It's one of those rare records that doesn't complement a mood -- it creates one. If ever a recording deserved book-length praise, Kind of Blue is it, and Kahn celebrates the famed album with a big, wet kiss.

 
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