So what does Kind of Blue sound like to an admitted jazz novice?

Categories: Music History

A lifetime of music fandom and a voracious appetite for new things has given me a wide-ranging (if sometimes shallow) knowledge of musical styles, forms and history. Despite that, there are holes. Big holes. And some of those holes are, well, embarrassing. I've decided the time has come to fill those holes, with the help and guidance of some of my colleagues. Missing Links is a chronicle of those experiences.

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Somehow, I missed out on jazz. Looking back, it's not all that surprising. The teenaged me had no time for something so dad-friendly, and after that, I was way too busy trying to explore the outer reaches of music, and then there was my years-long obsession with dance music, another half a dozen years or so years spent wandering in the indie rock wilderness, plus extended forays into everything from metal to Japanese pop and ... well, here we are. I have is one jazz album, and it's a weird one (Miles Davis's On the Corner, which sounds more like krautrock than jazz to my ears, which is why I love it).

Now, I am not completely ignorant of the form. I took a music appreciation course in college, and there was some jazz in that. I watch a lot of movies, and sometimes those have jazz soundtracks, or utilize famous songs on the soundtracks. I've had numerous jazz-fan friends play plenty of it in my presence, and even enjoyed a good bit of it. But I've never sat down and engaged with it. I've never immersed myself in an album and lived with it for a few weeks, or months, like I have with so many other things.

When it came time to rectify this imbalance, I went to the best jazz resource at hand: Backbeat's own Jon Solomon. When I asked him where to start, without hesitation he snapped off an answer: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. That worked for me. By all accounts, it's one of the most important jazz albums in history, and I even already had some limited experience with the artist (On the Corner, remember?). I picked it up, prioritized it in my musical rotation and thus started my Kind of Blue period.

My first reaction, minutes after putting it on for the first time, was "Hey, I kind of already know this," because, well, it's impossible for a person with ears and a tendency to pay attention to music to not hear snatches of the most influential jazz album in history here and there. I don't know where precisely I heard those snippets of Kind of Blue in the past -- coffee shops? Hold music? Coming out of someone's apartment window on a hot summer night? All of those and more, probably.

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It was fun reading your take on this album, but you don't mention the deeper intellectual side of this work. Miles is making a jazz statement about blues music. I'm not well-enough equipped to explain it in written language, but that's what is happening on "Kind of Blue."   


Excellent article.  Loved the "Kind of Blue period" line.  Definitely makes me want to drop the needle on this record.

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