Saturday, February 7, 2009
Miles Beyond My Dreams
February is Black History Month, which feels like a good time for a tribute to Miles Davis. It is because of his music that I'm a fan of jazz today. I've always loved music in various forms but jazz had always proved elusive. Until about five years ago, when I went to my local library in Sunnyside, Queens and checked out the CD "Kind of Blue," pictured above.
Little did I know that listening to it would be the most moving experience of my life that didn't involve religion or falling in love. From the opening notes of "So What," the first song on the album, all I could think was: where had I been all my life?
And a passionate love affair was born. I listened to it obsessively for months on the subway to work and again on the way home. I guess that's why "Blue in Green" (my personal favorite on the album) always reminds me of a subdued and quiet Manhattan at about 2 a.m.
So what is it about Miles' music? Keats once wrote: Beauty is truth, truth beauty. Even if you're not a jazz scholar, you can't help but notice and appreciate the inherent truth and beauty in his music. As a result, it's also the kind of high art that challenges you to listen and explore, and the payoff is rewarding.
And I also love how when you look at his entire body of work (40-plus years), there is a restless quality to it that you find in the work of any genius. In other words, he was never content to do only one style of jazz. He basically reinvented the genre three or four different times, even when the critics howled. That took a certain amount of courage, but most of all, it was a sign of genius.
So here's to you, Miles. And thank you for turning me on to jazz.
If you're interested in exploring the music, here's some albums worth checking out. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a starting point:
1. Kind of Blue -- If you only listen to one jazz album before you die, make sure it's this one. And yes, I've long given up on trying to discuss this album rationally.
2. Sketches of Spain -- How do you follow up "Kind of Blue"? By playing Spanish-flavored music with an orchestra. See what I mean by a restless quality?
3. Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall -- This recording of a 1961 concert has plenty of strong moments. His opening solo on "Teo" still gives me goosebumps.
4. Miles Smiles -- From 1966, this album is a good example of what a great leader Davis was. Not only did he know how to pick talented players, he also got the most out of them.