I’m back from yet another research trip to the New Jersey Shore, and while I’m still months from compiling all the data I collected, I think it’s fair to conclude that yes, I will have another Margarita.
My return coincides perfectly with the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue, the seminal Miles Davis album that was released on August 17, 1959. According to Fred Kaplan at Slate, the reason Kind of Blue stands out among all the other great jazz albums of the 1950s is that Davis (and his collaborators) were breaking new ground by freeing the musicians from the chords that dominated bebop improvisation:
One night in 1958, Russell sat down with Davis at a piano and laid out his theory’s possibilities—how to link chords, scales, and melodies in almost unlimited combinations. Miles realized this was a way out of bebop’s cul-de-sac. “Man,” he told Russell, “if Bird was alive, this would kill him.”
In an interview that year with critic Nat Hentoff, Miles explained the new approach. “When you go this way,” he said, “you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes, and you can do more with time. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically inventive you are. … I think a movement in jazz is beginning, away from the conventional string of chords and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variations. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.”
Most of us are familiar with Kind of Blue because it’s the one jazz album every white person owns. This is because many of us believe that professing our love of jazz will either endear us to cool black people or get us laid (preferably both). I once gave a ride home to a blond waitress with fake boobs. I had left the radio tuned to NPR earlier in the day, but after midnight the station only played jazz. When I started the car, she said “Oh you like jazz? That’s soooo cool.”
“Yes I do,” I said. “Have you ever heard of Miles Davis?”