Kind of Blue

#9: Miles Davis - "Kind of Blue" (1959)

Jazz has always been a bit intimidating to me, partly because some people get into it so heavily, and partly because it’s completely unhummable. Putting it out there now, that seems like a silly reason to avoid a genre – what I mean is that jazz always has that air of needing a high level of a) concentration and b) background knowledge to get the whole effect. And now that I’m here, it’s difficult to know exactly how to put my reaction to it. It’s harder to describe instrumental music than lyrical, and yet somehow this is the second entirely instrumental album in a row that I’ve listened to for this blog. I tell you, it’s not got easier. Still, shall we have a go?

Before 2017, I can tell you the last time I sat down, stuck a pair of headphones in, and listened to an entire album from start to finish in one go. It was 2013, and it was Dark Side of the Moon, because of course it was. But one of the things I’m noticing this year, and this is my fifth album for 52A/52W, is that some things are meant to be got engrossed in. I don’t mean there is any way to listen to music wrong, per se. What I mean is that hanging out with Miles Davis for forty-five minutes at a time is an experience.

Davis himself is – was – a brilliant trumpeter, and I’m very much using the term in the sense of “genius”. This is widely considered his best album, leading a band that really knew what it was doing, and it’s very obvious that every single musician here is both bloody good, and having a great time. It is somehow very easy to be in their company, and in an odd kind of way that I can’t quite put my finger on it does feel like company.There is really only one way to make something that feels so very intuitive, and that’s to have a ridiculous quantity of technical expertise. I don’t know a lot about jazz, but even I can tell that something special is going on here. The hook at the beginning of “So What” pulls you in and matches with your heartbeat, and from there onwards it’s like sinking into a warm bath. I don’t understand how something can sound like scribbling – so complicated, so full of what I guess must be syncopation but I don’t suppose anyone would like to try and write down – and yet still follow a beat so closely. I don’t understand how something I can’t mentally reproduce the tune of afterwards can feel, in the middle of it, so in tune with the inside of my head. This is gentle music. It’s music for thinking to. It’s music for listening to home alone in a mostly darkened room. It’s worth making the time.