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Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue: Blues Clues

An excerpt from the definitive book on Miles' masterpiece

Miles Davis' music stand, featuring the chart for "Flamenco Sketches"

Miles Davis had little use for jazz recordings, least of all his own. At home he might have a Rachmaninoff concerto on his stereo or a score of Tosca on his piano, as bandmates and intimates have reported. Davis’ dismissive take on Kind of Blue allowed him to concentrate fully on the next gig, the next studio session, and the next career turn. But like other works of art, Kind of Blue proved to have a destiny independent of its creator. In terms of its modal impact on the jazz world, of the popularity of its sound and compositions with other musicians, and of the apparently unstoppable trajectory of its success with music consumers, the album casts a long and wide shadow.

The ovation now so universally bestowed on Kind of Blue can give the impression that the album was the fuse to a stylistic tinderbox that exploded into the musical community, causing schisms of devotion and derision, creating diehard converts who carried the torch of modal expression bravely into the future. Yet the album arrived far more quietly than its reputation today would suggest—it worked its magic on the music through evolution, not revolution.

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Originally Published

Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.