Ob­vi­ous­ly there’s noth­ing ob­scure about Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, prob­a­bly the best-selling (and one of the most-praised) jazz al­bums ev­er. But All Blues is a lit­tle more sub­dued than the rest of the songs and it’s got a spine-chilling lit­tle high­light that I’ve nev­er no­ticed any­one else point­ing out. With that, and with some notes from Miles’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, I might have some­thing new even for long-time Miles fan­s.

Kind of Blue session

That au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is quite a book and I to­tal­ly rec­om­mend it. It’s bru­tal­ly, un­flinch­ing­ly hon­est; If you al­ready sort of knew that Miles had a mean streak, you will for sure af­ter read­ing this. But it has a lot of re­al­ly in­ter­est­ing peo­ple in it, and if you care about the mu­sic, well oh my good­ness; he dives deep on ba­si­cal­ly all the in­ter­est­ing tunes, how they got put to­geth­er, what he was think­ing, what was hard, what he thinks worked and didn’t work. For ex­am­ple, on Kind of Blue, everyone’s writ­ten about the modal con­struc­tion of the songs, but Miles al­so talks about the two sounds he had in mind and was try­ing to achieve.

The first was the sound of a “finger piano” (prop­er­ly Mbi­ra) that he’d heard at a Les Bal­lets Africains show.

An Mbira

An mbi­ra.

And then, “some oth­er kind of sound that I re­mem­bered from be­ing back in Arkansas, when we were walk­ing home from church and they were play­ing these bad gospels… that feel­ing I had when I was six years old, walk­ing with my cousin along that dark Arkansas road.” (By the way, when he says “bad” he means good.)

After talk­ing about the record a bit, he goes on “When I tell peo­ple that missed what I was try­ing to do on Kind of Blue, that I missed get­ting the ex­act sound of the African fin­ger pi­ano up in that sound, they look at me like I’m crazy.” After ad­mit­ting that he loves the record, he goes on: “But that’s what I was try­ing to do on most of that al­bum, par­tic­u­lar­ly on All Blues and So What. I just missed.”

There’s noth­ing com­plex about All Blues, 12 bars, 6/8, mixoly­di­an; the rhythm sways along pleas­ant­ly and the so­los are sub­dued not flashy. Now, here’s the spe­cial thing: The song is 11:36 in length and in the last thirty-ish sec­ond­s, start­ing pret­ty well right at 11:00, Miles plays this lit­tle rhythm flour­ish over the horn vam­p, all on one note, maybe a mea­sure and a half long but not an­chored to the mea­sure at al­l, just fit­ting in be­tween the puls­es of a rhythm that you didn’t know was there un­til the trum­pet shows you. Every time I hear it I smile; and I’ve nev­er heard any­thing like it be­fore or since, by Miles or any­one else.

This is the 113th in the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, Spo­ti­fy, iTunes. This live 1964 per­for­mance from Italy has the next-gen Short­er/Han­cock­/Carter/Wil­liams band and is tak­en, in my opin­ion, way too fast and doesn’t have the clos­ing flour­ish. But stil­l, a lot of mu­si­cal daz­zle.


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From: Ryan Cousineau (Apr 23 2018, at 09:04)

Excellent choice. For a truly left-field cover of this song, Andy Baio commissioned a chiptune cover of the album, called “Kind of Bloop”. Here’s the remarkable “All Blues” in a witty and surprising 8-bit form:



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April 23, 2018
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