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Kind of Blue - My time with Miles Davis and Other Reflections on Jazz
What's Your Favorite Jazz Album?
What's your favorite Jazz album? When you're in the mood for the Jazz, what's the first album to pop into your mind? I'm going to talk about one of the greatest jazz albums of all time right now, how I found it, and why if you haven't listened to this record, you're missing out on something.
But first, how does one get hooked into Jazz? Especially when that person is only 16 years old and it's 1989!
It all started with a sound...
That haunted muted trumpet. It was in the background through out a movie I was watching called Siesta. If you asked me to tell you what it was about, I wont be able to. It was the music that seduced me. The trumpet. What is that? Who's making that beautiful noise? I bought the soundtrack. Mind you I was maybe 17 years old and just started working at a record store. I would listen to the soundtrack to go to sleep.
Meanwhile I stumbled onto to Harry Connick, Jr. from the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally and to Dave Grusin courtesy of The Fabulous Baker Boys. This was my intro to Jazz. Working at a record store afforded me the time and resources I needed to poke around this "new to me" genre.
Here's how it started. I quickly realized that every tune on the Harry Met Sally Soundtrack was a cover. Harry was good, but not that good. Who wrote this stuff? I started picking up a few old Duke Ellington records, then Ella and Louis got on board. But what really pushed me over the edge was a Benny Good Trio rendition of Moonglow off the Baker Boys soundtrack. I went out and found the Benny Goodman record that had Moonglow on it and the rest as they say is history. Jazz and Big Band was now my bag. I had to sneak it at first, like a cigarette. I'm 16 or 17 and it's 1989 - 1990 and I should be listening to that Rock-n-Roll! I do, I did, I will. Rock-n-Roll is here to say as the song goes.
Jazz however pulled at my heart strings and tied me to the past I felt so connected with. I am one of those people who feel a certain disconnect with modern living... as I blog on the Internet, ironically talking about my alleged disconnect with modern living.
Look, it goes like this: If it was 60-70 years ago, I'd be a gumshoe or private dick who played piano in a local bar for extra coin and practiced the art of physical culture on a regular basis. Typewriter instead of computer. AM instead of XM, phone with a wire, Steinbeck instead of Dan Brown, Kettlebells and Clubbells. What? Well, I use those now so that part's consistent. Get the picture?
And Along Came Miles...
My fondest memory of Miles Davis is sitting on my roof in the summer time smoking cigarettes. I would sit on the roof just over my bedroom with all the windows open and drop in either Kind of Blue or 'Round About Midnight. The sun would start to set and the music would start to rise.
Each note reaches down into your soul, stirring the imagination and calming the spirit. His notes would seamlessly float across the evening air. Mild and rhythmic. In time with life.
Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb hypnotizes the beat and the great John Coltrane sings his tenor sax all the way into and out of your very being. Cannonball Adderley carries the alto sax softly and gracefully. Pairing well like a fine meal and red wine.
Flamenco Sketches always reminds me of childhood. Evening walks in Shell Beach on the Central California coast. Don't ask me why, it just does. Part of me blames Rod Mckuen and the San Sebastien Strings, another part says it's just innocent and lovely, like those summer nights as a kid in Shell Beach.
At least that's how it went for me.
It didn't matter if I was driving home from work, sitting on the roof, or lying in bed, Kind of Blue is a ride to places only you can define and locate.
'Round About Midnight is a similar adventure. Miles and his crew take you on a journey through cool. The challenge really though is to actually find the right words to describe what is happening when you sit down and allow yourself to be carried away on that magical muted trumpet.
And then there was the great Simon Barley...
Simon Barley. Back home (Yucaipa, CA) and from the University of Redlands, Simon Barley was the host of a radio show on FM 89.1. That show was called "Stolen Moments." Simon, more than any other, guided me into Modern Jazz like a mentor from afar. Across the air waves, Simon would weave a tale of Jazz from '44 to '69. The end of the Swing era to Bitches Brew. "A quarter of a century of good cookin."
Named after the opening tune from Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth, "Stolen Moments" was a weekend class every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening. Simon really helped shape my collection in a way that would send me off to Tower Records on Sunset or Virgin Records in Huntington Beach to scour the aisles in search of rare albums that I couldn't get at my local store. Adventures in music; a quest, replaced by the Internet.
Simon's voice and tone, knowledge and wisdom, schooled me and fellow listeners in the art and science that was/is Modern Jazz.
After moving to Los Angeles, I lost touch with that show and 89.1 sold out. SImon has faded away like rising smoke from an ashtray on a piano.
And now the irony sets in as that show clearly is a Stolen Moment from my life and when I think about Simon ushering me into new musical horizons I am left Kind of Blue.
But I still got my Miles.