Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kind of Blue: Revolutionary or Comfortable?

Courtesy of
My seventh wedding anniversary was on Monday. We cooked quinoa and corn, had a glass of Moscato, and watched The Office. My wife was in bed by 9:30. Lame, you say? Nah, it was just fine. Easy, comfortable, and familiar. I'll get back to that, later. Let's talk about jazz.

Jazz seems so hard to understand. Okay, lots of it is pleasant to listen to (although lots of it isn't), but what's the difference between great jazz and mediocre jazz? To someone just getting started in the world of jazz, there doesn't seem to be much. After hearing dozens of jazz recordings since starting this project, from free to bebop to New Orleans, my ears have started to pick up on the workings of a jazz song (with some thanks to the 1000 Recordings Podcast guys who walk listeners through some of the jazz recordings). Also, based on the recommendation of the 1000 Recordings Podcast I've started watching Ken Burns' Jazz on Netflix. I'm only on the first episode, but I can already tell that the story of jazz is interesting and important, even if I don't understand it, yet.

All of this brings me to what is widely considered the most influential piece of jazz (and, some would say, music) of the 20th Century, the highest selling jazz recording of all time, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Kind of Blue
Recording #220ish
Stream here or here

Revolutionary, the critics say. Influential to the nth degree. Featuring Coltrane, Bill Evans, "Cannonball" Adderly (all featured elsewhere on the 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die), this album will melt your brain, evidently.

Dinner music is what I call it.

I first arrived at this thought a few months back when my best friend, John, visited from New York. He moved there to go to culinary school, and instead got involved with a startup sandwich shop where he frequently invents sandwiches for their menu and runs one of the stores. When I lived in Texas he came to visit and destroyed my kitchen cooking us a watery coconut tofu dish, burning a piece of tofu to the bottom of my oven so bad that I'm not sure we ever got it off. He offered to cook us dinner on his most recent visit: I was, understandably, wary.

After a delicious meal of bone marrow, lemon-butter seafood pasta, and brandied pears I finally had to let go of my nearly-decade long grudge for John's previous cooking discrepancies. Letting him cook for us was more fun and easier than trying to take an eighteen-month old out to a nice dinner. Which brings me, again, back to the idea of comfortableness.

While we cooked and ate, I thought we needed a little mood music. John was a hipster music snob before the word hipster existed, my wife gladly listens to Top 40 radio, and I'm somewhere in between. Kind of Blue was something we could all agree on, which for an album with as many accolades as it has, is impressive. If you want to sit down with a pair of high quality headphones and pick this album apart, you can do that. It's incredible. I say have at it. Write a dissertation on it. But as background dinner music, it can't be beat. Modality is a word I've never written before, but if I understand it correctly, it's what makes this album so damn listenable. The subtle shifts in the songs were mindblowing at some point, but now they've become the premise behind easy listening.

This weekend I am taking my wife out for our nice anniversary dinner, to a french restaurant, white tablecloths, multiple courses and all that. I think there's a 50/50 chance my son will wake up and we'll have to abandon our high-class plans and return home early to a screaming child and a frazzled babysitter. I'm still looking forward to it, but sometimes easy and comfortable can be so much more than they seem.

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  1. I think you've hit the nail right on the head where Kind of Blue is concerned - great blog! Thanks for the shout-out - and I'm so glad I actually got someone to watch Ken Burns' Jazz!!

  2. Thanks Tony! Glad you think so considering I'm writing about a subject I am just starting to understand. Really digging the documentary, but I think it's gonna take me months to get through.