Miles Davis – ‘Kind Of Blue’ (Columbia, 1959)
This record celebrates its’ fiftieth anniversary this year. It won’t even be the oldest record in the list (which is great fun to compile, by the way, and absolutely no apologies whatsoever to anyone who thought it was all going to be scottish boys and girls wi’ jangly guitars). It remains the biggest selling jazz album of all time, and one of those albums that seems to crop up in the homes of people who don’t seem to buy many albums.
So is it jazz? Sure, it’s jazz. The Fast Show made liking jazz almost something to feel self-conscious about, though its’ spoofing of those who listened to it in a particular way was spot on. Davis clearly had a real feel, understanding and love for the trumpet, and that’s infectious.
I’ve had a chequered relationship with jazz. Like rock, those who don’t understand it see only what they want to lampoon, either being tuneless or too over the top to take seriously. Someone gave my brother a copy of Courtney Pine’s seminal British jazz debut Journey To the Urge Within about ’86 or ’87, and as a pre-teen I found it too hard to get into. I generally, and genuinely preferred rock and classical to jazz. ‘Three chords good, four chords jazz’ was a maxim for a my late teens and early twenties, and a suspicion of much music pre-1976. (Unless it was Bowie, obviously.)
But just as I started to realise that punk might actually be more exciting as a catalyst for what came after than in itself – and see just how Jazz influenced much of post-punk and no-wave – I took the plunge about 1999. I’d just bought a portable Minidisc player off a friend and this was one of the first MDs I bought.
This is the dividing line between trad jazz (which had quite a revival in Britain in the early ’60s; see the Temperance Seven and Aker Bilk) and what came after – ‘cool jazz.’ This was the music of the hipsters, that influenced so much of what would shape music, created by blacks and whites in years to come. Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Sade, The Pop Group, Mos Def, Public Enemy and huge swathes of Hip-Hop, Radiohead, the aforementioned post-punk and new wave…it’s telling that in 2000 when the NME did their list of the top 20 most influential artists of all time; ahead of Kraftwerk and The Sex Pistols.
‘Easy Listening’ is often used as an insult – rightly so, and no less an authority than my parents would use that as an insult – but if you find jazz hard to listen to, too self-indulgent, no song to speak of, start with Kind Of Blue. Don’t forget also to check out Sketches Of Spain, Porgy and Bess and In A Silent Way too. Then check out the likes of Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane.
If It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back opened me up to Hip-Hop and the sonic possibilities of music, then Kind Of Blue showed me just how beautiful it could be, and how a catalyst could be causing echoes fifty years down the line.