Milestones Play The Music Of Miles Davis
Saturday 17th August
By Andrew Myers
Well, this is embarrassing. I had every intention of reviewing the Milestones: Kind of Blue 60th anniversary show at the Kino. I went so far as to remind my jazz buddy M about a month ago – quite sternly, he reminds me – to make sure he got a ticket. But events overwhelmed me, and I didn’t get round to buying a ticket for myself.
Miles Davis (right) and John Coltrane (left), composition by J.A. Rollins
Outcome: I am writing this review in the lobby of the Kino while M enjoys some top notch jazz. Far from ideal, but deadlines are deadlines.
Gone are the days when the mere mention of Hastings Independent Press would open doors and cause red carpets to unfurl. Simply can’t be done, they tell me. There was a list for returns, and I wasn’t on it. This was the hottest ticket in town, and I was left out in the cold.
Glass half full – I suppose it’s heartening that there’s such interest in jazz. The group are doing the same show in London at Ronnie Scott’s pop-up jazz club The Old Place (we are now in the era of pop-up jazz clubs) but don’t get your hopes up, because that’s sold out as well. You just can’t be spontaneous any more.
There’s an argument that in these situations you should have to prove your fan credentials before being allowed a ticket. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people in the audience at the Kino were only there because they had heard it was the cool thing to do. Whereas I – I! – had a moral right to be there. I even own a book about the album – (Ashley Kahn’s Kind of Blue – The Making of a Masterpiece) which I took along to the ticket office, hoping it might grant me access all areas. It didn’t.
Left to right: Coltrane, Adderley, Davis, Evans
Deep breath. It’s six decades since Miles Davis’s legendary album Kind of Blue was recorded in two sessions in March and April 1959, and a group of jazz musicians – Martin Shaw, Tony Kofi, Andy Panayi, Paul Whitten, Spike Wells and Terry Seabrook – are recreating the album in live performance. (This is the bit I prepared earlier.)
Scarily, it doesn’t seem like ten minutes since we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the album. This kind of thing happens a lot as you get older.
Even more terrifying is the fact that when I first heard the album aged fifteen, it was the thirtieth anniversary! Miles Davis was still alive. As I handed over my tenner in Our Price Records, I remember rather naively wondering what Mr Davis would spend the money on.
So yes, I’ve had a thirty year relationship with this music. I literally wore out my first copy of the album. It’s been a fascinating experience revisiting it. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of hearing music that was influential when we were younger and feeling like we’ve outgrown it. For me, it’s Pink Floyd – I just can’t listen to them anymore.
True – I don’t listen to Kind of Blue every day; I’ve practically committed it to memory. I save it for special occasions. But the appeal of Kind of Blue remains undiminished – it really is timeless, still making lists of top 50 albums ever.
I must admit I do get weary of being told it’s the BEST JAZZ ALBUM EVER by people with little interest in the genre. And it might have been a more interesting project to recreate another of Miles’s albums with an anniversary this year – his first electric masterpiece In a Silent Way from 1969.
There’s a case for saying that Kind of Blue is not actually the best jazz album to start with, as there really is nothing else like it. If you listen to other albums expecting ‘more of the same,’ you might end up disappointed. And for many, it remains the only jazz album on their shelves (or indeed on their devices…).
However, for me and many others, it was a portal to a lifetime of appreciating jazz. If you listen to an album by each of the musicians on Kind of Blue, you will pretty much have a history of modern jazz. It’s staggering that all these guys were in the same band at the same time.
And it was a fragile moment. The three main sidemen in the group – John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans – were all on the verge of leaving the group to pursue their own stellar careers, and by 1960 Miles was effectively leading a different band.
I do wonder what Miles – famous for looking forwards, never back – would have made of the idea of recreating an album live. It’s interesting to reflect that even just five years after it was recorded, it would have been impossible to recreate the album with the original musicians. They had all moved on in their own unique directions. And of course, by 1967 Coltrane had died.
In a rock or pop tribute act, the aim is to replicate the original recordings note for note as closely as possible. Kind of Blue is all about the creativity and inventiveness of the individual improvisers, something that can’t be reproduced unless you go down the path of playing transcriptions of the solos – the absolute antithesis of what jazz is all about. Given the quality of the musicians, I have no doubt that Milestones will have done a terrific job of using the album as a springboard for their own improvisations.
And indeed, in the bar after the show, M takes great delight in telling me I have missed out on a fantastic evening’s music making. Well, there’s always the 70th anniversary to look forward to. I’d better book tickets now!
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