Kind of Blue – a Cosmic Jazz view

What is there to say about this record on its 50th anniversary that hasn’t already been said?  Here at Cosmic Jazz, we’ve thought long and hard about what we could add – and the problem is that most of what we might contribute to the millions of words written on this most influential of records has already been written.

You can find out all about Kind of Blue on any number of websites and in print. Ashley Khan has written about the making of the music in his excellent Kind of Blue: the making of a modern masterpiece and Richard Williams has just added to the discussion with his recently released The Blue Moment – more on this book later.

Kind of Blue is one of those albums that all kinds of music lovers own.  Some of them will even listen to it.  It has been the best selling jazz album for over 30 years and it still casts it net very wide.  Rapper and producer Q Tip has said – It’s like the Bible – you just have to have one in your house.  That’s not just an empty style statement either – Q Tip’s breadth of musical awareness and understanding is impressive and he knows his jazz.  So what is it that makes this singular jazz album so special and why is music that is so ubiquitous also seen as so important?

One of the reasons is the paradox at the heart of the music.  What Kind of Blue does is simultaneously both revolutionary and easy to understand.  This is not true of most great art of the last century that has gone on to define a style or movement or ism – think Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Frank Gehry’s titanium architecture or Picasso’s Guernica.  That’s one very important way in which Kind of Blue is such a remarkable piece of music: it is innovative in execution – using modal structures to challenge the jazz hegemony- but ubiqiutous in its outcome – being played in wine bars all over the world.  Complex and simple.

So how can Cosmic Jazz add to our understanding of what is special about Kind of Blue?  These quotes come from Richard Williams’ new book The Blue Moment (Faber 2009) which tries – and in part succeeds – to show how Kind of Blue has influenced contemporary music.  Readers can make up their own mind – but we’d always bring you back to pianist Bill Evans’ wise words which form the liner notes to the original album.

Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.

Johan Wolfgang von Goethe on the colour blue

That melody…is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.

Miles Davis

In almost all cultures except the classical one, the real meaning of the music is between the notes.

John Adams

There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous.  He must paint on a thin, stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment.  Erasures or changes are impossible … The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see will find something captured that escapes explanation.

Liner notes to Kind of Blue written by Bill Evans

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