INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut OCTOBER 2009 - by Allan Jones
THE BLUE MOMENT: MILES DAVIS' KIND OF BLUE AND THE REMAKING OF MODERN MUSIC
Elegant study of the jazz master and his enduring impact.
Richard Williams first heard Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue in the summer of 1963 - "the first Beatles summer," as he recalls it - as a fifteen-year-old schoolboy in the English Midlands. He had been introduced to the music of Miles davis the year before, by an older boy who'd brought into a meeting of the school jazz society a copy of the Milestones EP. "I remember," he writes, "seeing the cover and hearing the title track and feeling that my life had changed in some quite significant way."
Although he perhaps couldn't have said then what is was about Milestones that seemed so new, Williams instinctively recognised it as the stirring of an entirely 'modern' sound, a break from what jazz had become, the bustle of bop, for instance, and its new levels of rhythmic and harmonic complexity. The promise Williams had discerned in Milestones of something radical taking shape was fulfilled entirely when he heard Kind Of Blue, the album Miles had made at Colombia's studios in a converted Armenian Orthodox church at 207 East 30th Street, in two sessions lasting no more than a total of nine hours in March and April of 1959. The album's shift towards modality, improvisation based on scales or modes instead of repeated chord cycles, whose reflective evolution, slow dissolves rather than abrupt changes of mood or tempo, encouraged contemplation and introspection at the expense of showy extravagance. It not only changed jazz forever, but soon became an all-pervasive template for a ubiquitous modernity. For Williams, Kind Of Blue was "a window on the future" and its atmosphere - in the author's alluring evocation, "slow, rapt, dark, meditative, luminous" - has fascinated him ever since the night he heard All Blues on the Voice Of America's nightly Jazz Hour programme.
Much, of course, has since been written about Kind Of Blue, including authoritative studies by Ashley Kahn and Eric Nisenson. Its story in many senses has already been told, in terms at least of narrative history. This book's intentions, as described by Williams, are different. It's not limited to the album's origins or an analysis of its content and the context in which it appeared, although those aspects are thoroughly addressed. Williams is to an extent more interested in what happened next, what followed Kind Of Blue, how its influence has spread, reached out beyond the confines of jazz into a wider world and broader consciousness. The Blue Moment, then, "follows trails," as Williams puts it, "in order to find connections, identify direct influences, tease out correspondence and locate interesting pre-echoes and intriguing coincidences."
And so, Williams connects Miles with, first of all, post-war developments in art and philosophy, and then locates contemporary correspondences in painting, design, fashion and cinema, before pursuing the album's influence on young American composers - the so-called minimalists like La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. He then examines their influence on the young John Cale and what Cale would bring to The Velvet Underground's revolutionary music and its subsequent impact on Brian Eno, his work with Roxy Music, Robert Fripp, Bowie, Talking Heads, Jon Hassell and U2 and Eno's invention of ambient music and what it has in common with Kind Of Blue, without which it may not have existed.
Wherever Williams' enquiries take him in this elegantly written exposition - from Antonioni to James Brown and beyond - we are returned time after time to what in the first place inspired this book, the music created at those two groundbreaking sessions in New York in the spring of 1959 that "ushered a new scope of feeling into the world" and at the same time changed an entire musical landscape.