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Kinda Blue: An Open Question

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Posted

just reading Richard Williams' book on Kind of Blue; there's also Ashley Kahn's book and 18 generations of reissues.

the accepted wisdom is that Miles' recording of Kind of Blue was not only a personal watershed but an event which cataclysmically changed the music, all jazz musicians, and the music they played. And yet.....

what evidence do we have that Kind of Blue had a major impact outside of the critical fraternity? How much direct testimony do we have from the musicians that Kind of Blue was something they heard and responded to in life-changing ways?

maybe there's more than I think there is. If I had more time I would research this out in the real world, but I figured I'd give you guys a chance first.

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Posted

If nothing else, it was a hit record, and all that follows from that.

And fwiw, I don't know that anybody's ever claimed that it "cataclysmically" changed the music, all jazz musicians, and the music they played. Nobody that I'd take seriously, anyway.

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Posted

The whole eventually pervasive modal thing had other sources too -- "So What" on Miles "Milestones" album, the Bill Evans Trio recordings -- but "Kind of Blue" was ground zero for this, no?

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Posted

I thought its major influence was in bringing "modal improvisation" into modern jazz. Even if others had used it before, it was popular enough to be recognized and influential in that way. Kinda like Brubeck and "Take Five".

And I think Jim is right, there is no such "accepted wisdom" about cataclysmic impacts, except on the back cover of LPs and among anyone who chooses to write a book about it.

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Posted

well, that seems to be the critical drift, that the album changed the whole emphasis of the jazz world. I would be particularly interested in hearing from people who (unlike myself) were old enough at the time to be part of the musical scene that Kind of Blue entered - maybe Larry or Chuck is in the vicinity.

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Posted (edited)

I would tend to agree, Larry, that it was "ground zero." But strangely I never hear older musicians talking about it. But than, I don't get out much -

other people were thinking along similar lines - Teddy Charles, Mingus, Bley, Ornette was already around, even some of the west coast guys (there are some Shelly Manne group things that go in this direction). Maybe Miles put it all together and made it there, but I am always suspicious of history written so long after the fact, and history that cannot produce the feeling of the times in which it happened.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Posted

well, that seems to be the critical drift, that the album changed the whole emphasis of the jazz world. I would be particularly interested in hearing from people who (unlike myself) were old enough at the time to be part of the musical scene that Kind of Blue entered - maybe Larry or Chuck is in the vicinity.

"Changed the whole drift" -- I wouldn't say that, though the extent to which the language of this album has remained a part of jazz practice ever since is certainly notable.

Here's a bit of would-be context from my chapter on the avant-garde in "The Oxford Companion To Jazz" (yes -- it begins elsewhere, with Ornette and George Russell, but bear with me):

Reacting to the music of Ornette Coleman, who had arrived on the national scene less than a year before, composer George Russell explained in the course of a June 1960 dialogue with critic Martin Williams that “if there weren’t new things happening in jazz since Charlie Parker, jazz wouldn’t be ready to accept Ornette.... The way has been paved and the ear prepared by rather startling, though isolated, developments in jazz since the ’forties.” Russell knew what he was talking about, for he himself had created some of those pre-Coleman “new things.” And when he went on to say that he believed jazz was “ready to accept other innovators as convincing as [Coleman] ,’’ he knew that at least two of them, Cecil Taylor and Eric Dolphy, were already hard at work . But perhaps, in 1960, only a prophet could have foreseen the advent of a figure as iconoclastic as Albert Ayler or have anticipated all the places John Coltrane was going to take his own music in the seven years that remained before his death....

Russell’s focus in that dialogue was on specific musical issues, especially on the “war on the chord ” that he felt had been going on in jazz since the bop era and that Coleman had taken up in his own way, liberating himself , in Russell’s view, “from tonal centers’’ in order “to sing his own song ... without having to meet the deadline of any particular chord.... {Longish account of jazz avant-gardism prior to Ornette]

Ornette Coleman’s “daring simplifications” (the term is Max Harrison’s) seem to come from a different world from that of all the avant-garde jazz that preceded it. Coleman was a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and his early music sounds as though the techniques of Charlie Parker were being read backwards until they trailed away into the jazz, folk, and pop music pasts of the American Southwest—from the loping swing of Charlie Christian and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys to the blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Coleman made pitch a flexible, speech-like entity (you can, he famously said, play flat in tune and sharp in tune ), while the irregular length and shape of his phrases, and their relation to his no-less plastic sense of harmonic rhythm, took on a freedom that seemed to violate jazz’s norms of craft professionalism. Much has been, and should be, made of Coleman’s initial misunderstanding of a basic musical fact: When he acquired his first alto saxophone at age 14 or 15 and taught himself to play by ear, he thought that “the first seven letters of the alphabet were the first seven letters of music, ABCDEFG” (rather than what is the standard concert scale, CDEFGAB) -- which meant that Coleman thought that the C he was playing on the alto was A. One can only imagine the resulting confusion as he tried to reconcile the information he encountered over the years about standard musical terminology with all the things that his ear was telling him in unique, homemade detail. Thus, accidentally led to separate the names of pitches and their meanings, Coleman entered a homemade world of vivid harmonic relativism. And yet harmony for him would remain an area of intense potential meaning; in virtually every Coleman performance, powerful cadential events can occur. For that reason, his music should not be thought of as modal in the sense that modality was used to describe the music that Miles Davis and Bill Evans began to make in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Modality for these men, and the host of musicians they influenced , essentially was a means of protecting from disturbance a potentially fragile lyrical growth -- witness Davis’ remark that “When you go that way [radically decrease the frequency of chord changes and increase their ambiguity] you can go on forever ... [and] do more with the [melodic] line.” But Coleman’s melodic drive and his appetite for cadence were equally vigorous; there was no need for him to curtail the latter in order to bolster the former. What he and his partners wanted was to be cadential when and where they wanted.

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Posted

"So What" on Miles "Milestones" album

?

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Posted

thanks, Mark, Larry, will do a little bit of reading now.

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Posted (edited)

interesting - reading the Ashley Kahn, a few things occur to me -

1) Gary Burton: "When new jazz styles come along, the first few attempts to do it are usually kind of shaky. Early Charlie Parker records were like this. But with Kind of Blue, [the sextet] all sound like they're fully into it."

complete nonsense. Early Charlie Parker records are quite together

2) Herbie Hancock - this guy has selective amnesia, and never seems to credit Lennie Tristano, whom I would argue was his prime influence.

3) re: the attribution of Kind of Blues' effects on Mancini and other statically blue movie music: well, re: Mancini, I just do not hear this. As for movie music, I think this is also weakly supported. We need to go back to Alex North, I Want to Live, the Man with the Golden Arm, Kenyon Hopkins (Baby Doll) and a few others to see that this is very inaccurate.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Posted (edited)

interesting sidebar to this whole discussion:

"you know, in reality, Sonny (Rollins) was more into scales and Cotrane was more into chords."

-Dave Schildkraut, 1979

and thanks, Larry, just read your piece, which makes a lot of sense.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Posted

interesting - reading the Ashley Kahn, a few things occur to me -

1) Gary Burton: "When new jazz styles come along, the first few attempts to do it are usually kind of shaky. Early Charlie Parker records were like this. But with Kind of Blue, [the sextet] all sound like they're fully into it."

complete nonsense. Early Charlie Parker records are quite together

2) Herbie Hancock - this guy has selective amnesia, and never seems to credit Lennie Tristano, whom I would argue was his prime influence.

3) re: the attribution of Kind of Blues' effects on Mancini and other statically blue movie music: well, re: Mancini, I just do not hear this. As for movie music, I think this is also weakly supported. We need to go back to Alex North, I Want to Live, the Man with the Golden Arm, Kenyon Hopkins (Baby Doll) and a few others to see that this is very inaccurate.

We respect to No. 1, I think you're misreading Burton. He's refering not to Bird's playing but the sound of the entire group, and here I would agree with him. It took several years for rhythm sections to fully match the fluidity of Bird, Dizzy and Bud in the new style.

As for for No. 2, what evidence is there that Herbie studied Lennie Tristano and that he was his prime influence?

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Posted

Early Herbie was essentially a combination of Bill Evans (so get your Tristano there), Wynton Kelly, Debussy, and Herbie(sic).

Oh yeah - tow other influences that Herbie has copped to - Robert Farnon & Nelson Riddle.

For real.

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Posted

"So What" on Miles "Milestones" album

?

Sorry -- I was thinking of the modal-ness of the title track on "Milestones," which of course is a different piece from the "Milestones" Davis recorded with Charlie Parker in 1947. In any case, I can assure you that at the time a host of young musicians where I lived (in the Chicago area) were virtually hypnotized by the latter-day "Milestones" (indeed, by that whole gripping album) and did their best to follow its lead as best they could. The sheer prestige of Miles and Coltrane among many musicians and fans of a certain age at that time (if "prestige" is the way to put it) was quite something. Also significant here in the run-up to "Kind of Blue" (though perhaps not so much in terms of influence as the title track of "Milestones") was Miles' modal-ish recasting of "Autumn Leaves" on Cannonball Adderley's "Somethin' Else" (recorded March 9, 1958, a month before "Milestones" and a year before the first tracks on "Kind of Blue").

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Posted (edited)

"As for for No. 2, what evidence is there that Herbie studied Lennie Tristano and that he was his prime influence?"

everything Herbie played, in my opinion, with those 1960s Miles groups - I remember a personal 'Eureka' moment, watching Herbie with Miles' group in some live 1960s footage - I can hear it in the particular density of his line. I couldn't prove it in a court of law, but I feel very certain. He's just in denial, as it would not be politically (read: racially, given Tristano's own weirdness on such issues) correct to say so. And Tristano, who was a genuinely nasty guy, burned so many bridges in his later years (and these were weak bridges to begin with) that musicians just disliked him too much to admit the ties.

just my intuition on steroids. And drawn what I heard "around," in NYC in the 1970s. And my own personal experience with Tristano.

as for Bird's early groups - I think they were plenty together, whether it was Max or Sid Catlett.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Posted

And leave us not forget Ahmad Jamal. In the liner notes to "Somethin' Else," Davis says to Leonard Feather: "I got the idea for this treatment of 'Autumn Leaves' from him."

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Posted

Yeah, Jamal is much more important as a "conceptualist" than as a "player", although in his case I don't knw if you' want to draw that line.

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Posted

"As for for No. 2, what evidence is there that Herbie studied Lennie Tristano and that he was his prime influence?"

everything Herbie played, in my opinion, with those 1960s Miles groups - I remember a personal 'Eureka' moment, watching Herbie with Miles' group in some live 1960s footage - I can hear it in the particular density of his line. I couldn't prove it in a court of law, but I feel very certain. He's just in denial, as it would not be politically (read: racially, given Tristano's own weirdness on such issues) correct to say so. And Tristano, who was a genuinely nasty guy, burned so many bridges in his later years (and these were weak bridges to begin with) that musicians just disliked him too much to admit the ties.

just my intuition on steroids. And drawn what I heard "around," in NYC in the 1970s. And my own personal experience with Tristano.

as for Bird's early groups - I think they were plenty together, whether it was Max or Sid Catlett.

Sorry, but to call Tristano Herbie's "prime" influence based on a certain similarity that perhaps only you happen to hear -- in the absence of literally one shred of hard evidence that Herbie seriously checked out Tristano -- is silly. I'm not saying there might not actually be some rhyme in the conception, but that's not at all the same as influence, let alone prime influence. Also, the racial thing doesn't make any sense given that Herbie has from day 1 acknowledged Bill Evans as both an influence and hero, and for what it's worth, also said he was later influenced by Chick Corea. Herbie has been interviewed a zillion times and people he's worked with, friends and enemies, have been interviewed a zillion times about him and not once can I ever recall anyone linking him to Tristano to the degree you suggest. Again, I'm not saying drawing parallels is out of line; I'm saying influence is another matter.

I'm with Jim: if there's any Tristano at all in Herbie, it comes via Evans. And I would amend Jim's list of Herbie's early influences to also include Ahmad Jamal, Horace Silver, Bud Powell and Ravel -- Herbie's great accomplishment was to take all of those previous strands and weave them into a new template.

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Posted

I mean, you can hear a lot of Warne in Wayne w/Miles, so I've no doubt that those guys were familiar with the whole Tristano thing, but that was just one of many different things going on in that band at that time. It was a very volatile and fertile collection of minds and spirits, and pretty much anything went sooner or later from what I can hear.

If anything was their "prime influence", I'd think it would be being who they were where and when they were.

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Posted

I can also hear in early Herbie a Horace Silver influence, primarily in the funk but harmonically more daring and inventive. As for Miles, what were critics/musicians thoughts at the time when they heard "In Your Own Sweet Way" or, "On Green Dolphin Street" with the modal leanings more explicit in the A section?

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Posted (edited)

"Also, the racial thing doesn't make any sense given that Herbie has from day 1 acknowledged Bill Evans as both an influence and hero, and for what it's worth, also said he was later influenced by Chick Corea"

Racially speaking, Tristano was different in this respect - I kid you not that he offended everybody in his day, to the extent that musicians would deny his influence rather than admit to a connection with The Witch Doctor. My sense of this is based on more than interviews, but on the whole aura surrounding Lennie's post-retirement remarks in their own time, and on his post-retirement relationship with the jazz scene and the more-than-one musician who commented during that time with anger about the hostility and anger Lennie scattered in his philosophical wake.

"this is why nobody mentions him anymore. He's just too mean and nasty" - remark of a well-known jazz record producer, circa 1975. And this is commentary on how things get distorted in the historical picture.

And geez, the things Herbie plays on those '60s Miles things scream out for the connection to Tristano. Forget Bill Evans.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Posted

Musicians (ones with "modern" ears, anyway) would have heard the "modality" better/more accurately than most critics, I'd think, given that most critics tend to "hear" in general terms. For most of them, until they would have "modality" explained to them in general technical terms, they'd just hear something "different". I'm reminded of Joe Goldberg's description of Trane's quartet early-ish on as a montuno where the son never comes, which is not at all a bad "impression", but not really informed as to waht was really going on musically.

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Posted

internet post:

"Lennie Tristano is an important figure whose influence, unfortunately, often goes uncredited.

For example, listen to Herbie Hancock's solo on the Tony Williams tune "Hand Jive," from this mid-1960s Miles Davis album, "Nefertiti." This kind of free, linear improvisation in the treble clef without chordal accompaniment, is, in my opinion, classic Tristano.

Herbie's solo begins at 5:39 of the video, which takes a few minutes to load (unless you want to listen to the whole tune).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS5bTqrfbJE

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Posted

"...free, linear improvisation in the treble clef without chordal accompaniment, is, in my opinion, classic Tristano"

If only it were that simple... that's an conclusion based on how things "sound" than what's really being played. For one thing, Lennie never really played "free" (exceptions noted, but that's a totally different concept of "free" that what we're looking at with the Herbie solo under consideration). There was always some kind of standard harmonic underpinning. Herbie's so not coming form that place on that solo. Break it down, get the lines, look at the structures, etc. "sounds like" and "is" is only a sometimes thing at best... Hell, if you really want to look at where a lot of this Herbie/Wayne stuff is coming from, look to Bartok and see what comes up as far as scalar extrapolations and that sort of thing.

I surely think it would be wrong to claim that they hadn't heard or even checked out some Tristano things, but "prime influence" kind of implies something like locking yourself in a room with a big bunch of records and not coming out until you've internalized every one of them, or putting What Would Lennie Do? in your mind at some point, and...that's a bit of a stretch. Lennie was certainly a visionary in a lot of ways (but Warne was God), and a lot of his stuff needed a generation or two's space to really "resonate" in the collective ear, but if we're going to play Lennie Tristano Invented Herbie Hancock, then....no. It's just not that easy a connection to make, no if full-dimensional reality comes into play.

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