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The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music by Richard Williams

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In Richard Williams’ The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music, Williams accomplishes two very difficulty things. First, he proves that despite books and other writings about the Miles Davis classic, there is still so much more to say about that album. Second, Williams, unlike many, has produced a book that is jazz in a certain sense. His writing rambles like Jelly Roll Morton on keyboard, and he is often long winded like John Coltrane, which proves to be mostly good (who wants to read another blow by blow account of “Kind of Blue?”). Is he in the middle register like Miles holding the project together? Most of the time. But usually, Williams knows what he wants to say and not say, and he says it well from the beginning:

The album’s story has been told before,” he writes. “This book’s intentions are quite different.” Williams admits he is concerned with “what happened next,” he wants to “follow trails in order to find connections, identify direct influences…”

Some of what happened next is captivating such as his account of the “disintegration” of the famous sextet (Davis, Trane, Cobb, Adderly, Evans, and Chambers) who produced a musical moment many call perfect. Evans never recorded again with Davis or Trane or Adderley. Coltrane embarked upon his solo career, and Davis met personal conflict when he was jacked up by New York City’s finest outside Birdland, beaten bloody, arrested, and then had his cabaret card revoked. Nat Adderley, Cannonball’s trumpet blowing brother, became Miles on the post-“Kind of Blue” tour for a spell, a fact not well known to many Davis fanatics.

Appropriately, Williams links Kind of Blue with Coltrane’s first solo release, Giant Steps. This sequence is a very careful analysis of how the modal period reaches its apex at least for Coltrane. Williams calls it “the end of the line” for Coltrane and strongly suggests that it was evident that Kind of Blue was going to lead elsewhere for many of the top players because of the possibilities it created such as the “new thing” and “free jazz.”

Other links here are not so obvious such as when Williams attempts to link the album with the work of legendary producer, Brian Eno. Eno, famous for atmospheric production work, may or may not have absorbed Kind of Blue’s aesthetics but Williams probably has not yet unraveled that mystery. Yet, the fact that there are many such moments is the beauty of this tome. Williams is doing what jazz musicians do: he is venturing off the stock sheets and creating his own statement.

And The Blue Moment is less about fact than it is theory. Williams wants to know why even people who hardly listen to jazz adore this album. This is why he writes for pages and pages at times and the album and Davis is not mentioned. Williams is in search of deeper meaning in (and of) the recording and is sure there is an answer even though for this “perfect” moment achieved by six jazz musicians more than 50 years ago, it hardly matters.

All that really matters is Williams is sure of the reach of this album and he makes a great case that one day, centuries from now, it will have as much influence and power as “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi or some other timeless musical statement.

Originally Published