2024iii8, Friday: Kind of perfect.

2024iii8, Friday: Kind of perfect.
Photo by Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

For years, I've looked without success for a downloadable or streamable copy of a BBC Radio 4 show called The Tingle Factor. Not the whole thing; just one episode, which I must have caught on the radio entirely by accident while driving years, and years, and years ago. (Back in the mists of time, when that was the only way you could catch a radio show.)

It was about the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. No: it was about one tiny snippet of it. The moment in So What, about 90 seconds in, just as the intro ensemble section finishes and in the beat - literally, a single beat - before Miles swings into one of the most well-known solos in the whole of jazz history. The moment when Jimmy Cobb switches from brush to stick on the cymbal and suddenly... everything changes.

I must have listened to that fragment of music a thousand times. Literally. Like so many people, and not just lovers of jazz, Kind of Blue has been with me my whole life. So What is probably the best-known track on the album, although All Blues is the one which most makes my soul sing and my abiding adoration of Wynton Kelly's piano-playing always makes Freddie Freeloader a treat. (So What is also one of the first tunes I played piano on, with a band, in public. I suspect I mangled the crap out of it. But that doesn't stop it being special.) I can hear Miles's solo (and John Coltrane's, and Cannonball Adderley's, and Bill Evans') any time I close my eyes and let my mind open.

Why do I mention this now? Partly because I'm getting back into playing. Partly because of a cup of coffee I had with an instructing solicitor when we discovered this was the music that really gave our hearts space to fly.

But also because I've just read something I want to share. Out of the blue, as I was reading something else on The Atlantic, pops up a short and lovely recollection (65 years on from its creation) of just what Kind of Blue is, and was, and - God willing - will ever be so long as recorded music can be played: the kind of miracle that can sometimes emerge when a bunch of truly talented people get together on what seems like just another day. Until it isn't.

(The link is free for 14 days. The Atlantic has a gated paywall, so even after 21 March it should be accessible some of the time.)

I can't do better than how the piece ends:

The majestic tranquility of Kind of Blue marks a kind of fermata in jazz. America’s great indigenous art had evolved from the exuberant transgressions of the 1920s to the danceable rhythms of the swing era to the prickly cubism of bebop. The cool (and warmth) that followed would then accelerate into the ’60s ever freer of melody and harmony before being smacked head-on by rock and roll—a collision it wouldn’t quite survive.

That charmed moment in the spring of 1959 was brief: Of the seven musicians present on that long-ago afternoon, only Miles Davis and Jimmy Cobb would live past their early 50s. Yet 65 years on, the music they all made, as eager as Davis was to put it behind him, stays with us. The album’s powerful and abiding mystique has made it widely beloved among musicians and music lovers of every category: jazz, rock, classical, rap. For those who don’t know it, it awaits you patiently; for those who do, it welcomes you back, again and again.

I wouldn't say Kind of Blue is necessarily, as an album, my all-time favourite. I used to give Coltrane's A Love Supreme to friends on their 25th birthday, for instance (that hasn't happened for a long time...) because I didn't think anyone should get past their first quarter-century without having heard at least Acknowledgement, its first track. Ahmad Jamal's The Awakening is a thing of beauty from start to finish. Wynton Kelly: Piano is another I can listen to all the way through, over and over. And I'm there for literally anything by Monk (although Underground is a personal favourite) or Tyner.

But just because I personally listen to other things more, that doesn't stop Kind of Blue from having a very special place. I can't imagine a universe in which it doesn't exist. I don't want to.

And for me, who started out as a trumpet player before I switched to piano: it was one of the albums which showed me what music could be. What it could do. And the infinite, glorious spaces into which it could take me. For that, I say to Miles, to Cannonball, to Trane, to Evans, to Chambers, to Wynton and to Cobb: blessings eternal be upon your souls. Blessings.