Stuff of Legends: Miles and Co. and Kind of Blue
The new system confused many musicians at first, even ’Trane, who was profoundly influenced by it. (Without a “map” of chords, Coltrane was at first confused on when to stop his solo, one anecdote has it. “Tell him to take the horn out of his mouth,” Miles said dryly, in his distinct manner of cutting to the chase).
Kahn debunks some of the myth about the music. He notes there is evidence that Miles may have written “All Blues” months ahead and his bands may have played it in some form. Legend has it the music was sketched out quickly, handed to the musicians just hours beforehand, and all done in one take. Some of the music was new to the players at the recording session, but, in fact, there were many stops and starts during the recording. (Kahn was allowed to listen to the Columbia master studio tapes...nirvana!). However, the music was completely fresh and the incredible solos invented in the moment. There was only one complete take of each song and that take became the music on the record, except for “Flamenco Sketches,” which went through only two takes. (The second is added on the latest CD release of “Kind of Blue”).
Both authors explain how Evans was probably responsible for writing “Blue In Green,” at least co-wrote some others, and was rankled about the lack of credit he received.
In his description of the two sessions, Kahn does a nice job of taking the reader into the studio. He quotes some of the conversations gives a nice feel for what went on — things like how Kelly was upset when he showed up and another pianist, Evans, was there. (Miles had developed the album concept with Evans in mind, even though he was no longer in the working band, that seat having been occupied by the Kelly, a brilliant pianist in his own right).
The Kahn book also carries a lot of minutia that may be interesting to fans: where the engineers were located, what kind of tape was used, the number of microphones and how musicians at that time self-regulated themselves in the mix by standing in certain positions or playing louder or softer. He even notes how the first albums had the songs listed incorrectly, and how Adderley’s name misspelling (it came out as Adderly) was never corrected until CDs came out.
The book is supremely packaged, filled with photos from the second session (at the first, Kahn explains from his research, no one had a camera. Two people, including one of the engineers, photographed the second). It also has pictures of Columbia memos, including a list of what the sidemen were paid for one session ($64.67 for all except Cobb and Chambers, who received $66.67, including “cartage”). The inside of the front and back cover is classic, coated with the hand-written notes about the music penned by Bill Evans.
Like Nisenson, Kahn explains how the music affected people in that time and how it continues to be not only hugely influential, but still a huge seller.
Nisenson’s approach is different. He begins to equate Miles and the music with the societal fabric of the time and draws a parallel with blacks beginning to stand up more against racism.
Nisenson was a personal friend of Miles, long after the “Kind of Blue” era, and some of the observations come from that. One particularly interesting story unveils an admission late one night the author heard Miles make to friends. Davis was notorious about refusing to look back at his music, always moving ahead to new, fresh ideas. But pressed this occasion about what music was most special to him, “Kind of Blue,” jumped quickly out of Miles’ mouth, Nisenson says. One can almost hear the gravel voice giving the curt admission.
Nisenson gives a short bio of each musician and relates their significance to the project and to music in general. His inclusion of a chapter on Russell is fitting. While most people know about the likes of Coltrane, Adderley and Evans, it is nice to see he calls Cobb an under appreciated musician whose work should place him in the pantheon of great drummers. He also calls Kelly (who played only on “Freddie Freeloader”) “one of the greatest of all modern jazz pianists,” an opinion that unfortunately, is not repeated enough. (When people say “Wynton,” he, and not a certain trumpeter, should be the one that springs to mind).
Nisenson, too, has good anecdotes about the musicians and a sound feel for how and why the music was made. He doesn’t quote people on how the music is perceived by others as much as Kahn. Instead, he offers more of his own personal feelings and observations. His chapter on the sessions themselves is less compelling and his research not as wide-reaching as Kahn’s. He doesn’t give the full flavor of the recording sessions, though his thoughts are certainly not without value.