Kind of Blue
A single jazz album seldom justifies an entire book, but Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, one of the best-selling and most influential jazz albums in history, certainly does. With Kind of Blue, music journalist Ashley Kahn performs a public service by detailing the facts and figures about the album's recording sessions, sales, and influence, in the process revealing truths and dispelling long-held myths.
The book's half-history, half-biography format works not only to explain how the album was made and what it means to so many listeners, but also to tell the story of Miles Davis at his peak. Most Davis biographies (including his' autobiography) are overly sensational, but Kahn sticks mostly to the trumpeter's music writing and performance and as a result comes up with an exceptionally insightful account of his career.
Kahn places the album Kind of Blue and its six performers in context and perspective in terms of their individual careers and the jazz being played in 1959, when Kind of Blue came out. That year Columbia also released several other seminal albums, including Dave Brubeck's Time Out and Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um, and Kahn points out that Kind of Blue wasn't considered terribly important at the time. Because it was sandwiched between other popular Davis albums (Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain were released around the same time), it didn't get any special marketing push. Kind of Blue was a commercial success upon release but a greater one in retrospect, selling more copies in the past 10 years than in its first 10 years, and Kahn cogently shows how the record's reputation has become as important as the music.
Just about all of those present for the two days of sessions are dead (the only surviving player, drummer Jimmy Cobb, penned the book's forward), but Kahn does his best to reconstruct the dates with detail and style. Using interviews with those familiar with the sessions as well as a rare opportunity to listen to actual master reels from the recordings, Kahn makes astute observations from the studio discussions captured on tape. For a definitive text, the book is surprisingly slender, but Kind of Blue is a focused, in-depth compendium of just about all there is to know about one of the most important albums ever made.