Yesterday afternoon, I gave a brief introductory talk to Miles Davis’ iconic 1959 album “Kind of Blue”. My friends at Edinburgh Jazz Festival were invited to introduce the record to a Sunday afternoon Classic Album session, and, unable to make it, asked if I wanted to do it.
I was naturally very curious. It sounds interesting – I never listen to an album all the way through with no other distraction – and not in such a social setting, either.
I won’t write out what I said; much of it was derived (with full credit given!) from Ashley Kahn’s excellent “biography” of the record. If you’re interested, you’ve probably already read the book.
my kind of notes…
But it was an interesting experience. I re-read Kahn’s book, and played the record through three times in the last week – on digital releases. What was played this afternoon was a vinyl reissue.
Each time I played it, I heard different things. The vinyl yielded more, too. It was played through a very good system. That’s A VERY GOOD SYSTEM. One that cost many thousands of pounds: the event was organised by an upmarket hifi shop. It is the first time I have listened to vinyl close up for many, many years.
I was surprised by the rumble of the turntable and the crackle of the vinyl. But the top end speakers (KEF, like my own – not top end, though…) had immense depth. The cymbals and the bass were both crystal clear.
The things that I noticed this afternoon which I hadn’t before – and this is a very minority sport! – were
- Jimmy Cobb moving from brushes to sticks – you could hear him actually picking the sticks up
- Paul Chambers bowing his bass at the end of one track
- Miles fluffing a couple of notes.
I noticed Miles’ bum notes because I’d been listening out for them when playing the record during the week. And I hadn’t heard any.
Miles Davis was a genius. Really. The greatest trumpet player one could hear. But his genius didn’t necessarily lie in his technical ability. If you listen to much of his output, you will hear duff notes. “Porgy and Bess” is full of them, for instance.
I reckon that the slow tempo of many of the tunes on “Kind of Blue” favoured Miles’ soloing, reducing the technical needs and eradicating bad notes. I didn’t hear any listening to my digital version of the album during the week.
I was therefore very amused to hear a couple creep in when listening to the vinyl.
I haven’t played much vinyl for fifteen years or so, and not at all for at least five years. I still have a turntable, but it is in a box upstairs, and it hasn’t left it’s box since 2007.
I can’t honestly say I noticed the difference vinyl made. The rumble of the turntable; surface noise between tracks; a scratch – yes, a scratch on virgin vinyl! – in Miles’ second solo in “Flamenco Sketches”: Sod’s law demanded it be in a quiet, contemplative passage.
Maybe the music had more depth than I get playing my iPod through my old but pretty good hifi; it maybe that was the speakers or amp…
People seemed pleased with what I said in my introduction. I think it would be possible to talk for hours about “Kind of Blue”; I probably have – though not this afternoon. As well as books being written about the record, Google suggests many people have written PhDs about it, too.
I tried to keep it to about fifteen minutes or so – just a bit of context. One of the things about “Kind of Blue” is that it is the jazz record that people that don’t like jazz like. (People that DO like jazz rave about it. As you may have noticed…) I asked the audience of forty or so people how many considered themselves jazz fans – about ten people stuck their hands up. But thirty of them had a copy of the record!
All in all, a fascinating experience. Just listening to music – and nothing else – is so rare; doing so in a social situation felt almost privileged.
And maybe I should dig out my vinyl…