Book Review: Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Summertime Blues

The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's 'Kind of Blue' and the Remaking of Modern Music

by Richard Williams
W.W. Norton & Co., 309 pp., $25.95

It's the bestselling jazz album of all time, never having been out of print since its 1959 debut. It's also the LP most recommended to novices looking for their first jazz fix. In the wake of Ashley Kahn's outstanding 'Kind of Blue': The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece from 2000 comes Englishman Richard Williams' take on this landmark release, largely exploring the music's ripple effects over time. He builds the foundational lead up to the sessions by examining the musical precursors, Davis' influential Birth of the Cool dates a decade earlier, and the trumpeter's series of discs with arranger/composer Gil Evans. Most interesting is his discussion of the cultural ambience stemming from post-World War II existentialism and how Davis was able to capture that era's feeling of remove in the music. After Williams' assessment of Kind of Blue itself and how it opened the floodgates to modal improvisation, he follows the ripples outward starting with the album's other principals, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. From there he examines such modernists as George Russell, La Monte Young, and Terry Riley. The chapter on the Velvet Underground is enlightening, and you'll never guess which James Brown classic has roots in Kind of Blue. Brian Eno and the ECM label also reveal peripheral relationships. Perhaps the connections get too tangential, but it certainly makes for some thought-provoking reading ... and relistening.

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Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Bill Evans, John Coltrane

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