So What – Miles Davis – 1959

So What MP3

Instrumental jazz has played a huge part in my life, but I have had a hard time finding a way to start writing about it in this blog.  So far I have written about what I as rock/pop music, mostly with lyrics.  There is something sort of sacreligious in writing about Miles Davis in the same blog that I have written about Coldplay.  But this is my blog and it’s sort of unconventional anyway.

I bought Kind of Blue in 1988.  I owned other jazz records, and they were part of the soundtrack of my life.  But Kind of Blue stayed in the cassette player in my car for a couple months.  So one day on my way to work, So What started and I actually heard what was going on with my tiny ears.  And suddenly my place in the musical world was defined in a way that I had never considered before.  Here was musical genius to which I could only aspire.  I was never really going to be this type of musician.  Not in the sense of being a jazz musician, but in the sense that I was never going to change the world with my revolutionary guitar tonality and style.

My contemplation of So What, which involved my rewinding the cassette over and over in my car ended with me realizing that I was sitting in the parking lot at work.  I was probably going to be late to work anyway, but I had been sitting in my car for a while.  Now I was going to be very late.

Although I knew that I was never going to attain this level of mastery, I knew from that moment that I wanted to study music.  I started the wheels in motion that winter to get myself to Boston to go to school at Berklee.  My interest in going to a music school had everything to do with knowing that I would never master it.  Not that I wasn’t a decent songwriter and guitar player.  There are a lot of things that I am good at.  And there are a lot of things that I have a natural talent for.  Music is not one of those things.  I was really just too damn stubborn to accept that I wasn’t any good.  So I kept getting better.  But further than that, I knew that I would never master everything about music.  The levels of complexity are enormous even if you only consider the 12 tone scale.

And really I don’t know what it is for this particular song that makes it so significant.  Some part of the attitude and delivery from these guys says that they had no sense of who they were yet.  They were all strong musicians.  They knew that.  The jazz world knew that.  But after there is Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly and rest of them before Kind of Blue.  And then there is all of these guys after Kind of Blue.  And it seems very much like after they did this record, they all became very comfortable with their place in the world of musical giants.  Like, “Hey I don’t know if this is a good idea or not.  Wait a minute.  I’m Miles Davis.  Of course it’s a good idea.”

So there’s this crossroads represented by Kind of Blue.  At least in my understanding of jazz history.  But sitting in a car in 1988 and realizing that there was a mountain of musical expression to climb was a humbling revelation.  And coming to terms with the idea that this was a moment that sort of lives beyond time is a lifelong battle.  Here is a single person hearing the tip of the iceberg for the first time when the song is a part of the American sountrack.  Most people can go their whole lives and never hear the significance.  But for all time, this particular moment in time is frozen for anyone to experience.  And I guess that is the staggering part of the story for me.  I could have gone my entire life and missed it.

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