Kind of Blue (1959, Columbia Records)
Freshman year in college I auditioned and was cast in (I didn’t have any lines, though) a student written and directed play called “A Summer in Delaware” that was very cool and totally weird. It was eighteen minutes and thirteen seconds long, timed to be exactly the length of John Coltrane’s “Ole.” I dug the music. Had never really heard jazz before. Decided to get into it.
“Where should I start?” I asked the director, and without even hesitating, he said “Kind of Blue.”
How could I have known what had just happened to me? That he might as well have responded, “heroin.”
Based upon modal “sketches” prepared mostly by Miles Davis, but also by pianist Bill Evans, who plays on four of the five tracks, the album is largely derived from what would amount to rehearsal for most bands. Coltrane? Cannonball? Jimmy Cobb? They’d never really seen the music before that day. Once settled into Columbia’s 30th St. Studio, they had some false starts while warming up, but for four of the five songs (“Flamenco Sketches” being the exception), only one complete take was ever recorded. Stop and imagine that for a second. Imagine George and Ringo showing up to a Sgt. Pepper’s session and Paul saying, “right, boys, here’s what’s on for today then.” And then recording the album’s flawless final version an hour later. That is the primary difference between jazz and everything else.
How to describe Kind of Blue?
Cool. Bluesy. Achingly beautiful.
You learn even note, yet it starts all over again every time. I’ve played it over breakfast, making dinner, with kids dive bombing off the sofa, reading, cleaning, with company over, making funeral arrangements over the phone. The regenerative power of this music is otherworldly. Too good to be true.
And yet, it was made by six guys in a room over a couple of days in 1959. Guys that knew each other well. Guys that traveled together and shared toast and coffee and lousy scrambled eggs. Guys that did drugs together.
It’s music that wants to be listened to; that wants you to like it. Made by very gifted makers.
If I could only save one album, this would be it.