At Newport 1958 – Miles Davis
Kind of Blue is the most important human contribution of the 20th century. Since our discourse has been donkey punched to death by hyperbole, this truth, which is not an obvious and intentional exaggeration, but a factual statement, cannot resonate. I will attempt nonetheless. Kind of Blue defines the twentieth century. The great progress of the American Century was not the atomic bomb. It was not the technological swoop from the Industrial Revolution, which reaches way back into the 19th, and forward to the Microprocessor Revolution, which will continue on past our lifetime. It was not the fall of Communism. It was not even ascendancy of the rights of the individual. The upshot, the mark, the lasting effect of the 20th century was this: human possibility is infinite. Kind of Blue is proof.
Kind of Blue exemplifies the great idea of America: a collection of men from different backgrounds can come together intellectually, emotionally, and artistically to produce a recording that is original, beautiful, and stunning. But the key to understanding it is not thinking of it as a jazz album or a recording of music at all, but a thing. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Julian Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and Wynton Kelly could have been making anything. If they had built a house, it would be a museum now, and a constant referent in architecture and construction textbooks. If they had built a water park, all water parks would have a classic Evans slide. If they had a made a sandwich, all restaurants, from crab shacks to McDonalds to French Bistros would have it on their menu. If they were a basketball team, we would study them as we do the Chicago Bulls of the 90s.
Those men, with Davis as their leader, showed the world that impossible was no longer a relevant concept. And while this idea has been hijacked by hack writers and advertisers, that does not diminish the accomplishment that Kind of Blue is. Kind of Blue is the best album ever made. The thoughts, twists, and execution of it revolutionized the way music was heard and played. Like all great works of art, Kind of Blue is both universal and timeless and of its time and place. It sounds just as fresh streaming out of an iPod and into the ears of a teenager taking the L home from school as it did blasting from vinyl in in a rathskellar somewhere in the Village in 1960.
The re-release of At Newport 1958 marks an important event in the creation of Kind of Blue. This was the first gig where this band became a great band. Though Davis had only recently acquired Bill Evans (piano) and Jimmy Cobb (drums), they are loose and relaxed as soon as they come on stage. Willis Conover introduces them: In the Ellington conception, it isnt the instrument that is being played that makes the difference, but the man who plays it. The leader of our next group has found himself in the same situation which Mr. Ellington has known. That of establishing a very distinctive, original, personal sound, and then hearing it coming back from all his admirers and being forced to extend his own creative boundaries once again to find something that isagaindistinctively his own.
Davis receives the largest round of applause, and once onstage jokes on Conover, referring to him as Edward R. Murrow. The band dives right into Charlie Parkers Ah-Leu-Cha, outracing every performance of punk music. Bill Evans harmonies push Coltrane and Adderley in new directions. Evans and bassist Paul Chambers mesh to form a euphonic bed that allows the soloists to reach for new, fluid melodies still being mimicked today.
Every time Coltrane enters you wonder Perhaps this should be called the John Coltrane Sextet. Since we have the benefit of hindsight, we know Coltranes playing was just starting to gain ferocity in 1958, but I imagine if you were sitting there in Rhode Island or listening to the performance on your hi fi via the Voice of America radio program, you would have thought this young man is at his peak. Cannonball Adderley, who after and during his stint with Davis personified soul jazz, never sounded better than he did with this band. His playing is sometimes derided by jazz snobs, but the fact that he can follow Coltrane and Davis is a solid testament to his greatness.
By the time the band gets to Fran Dance, it is clear who is in charge: Miles Davis. His playing on this track recalls his infamous Cookin, Relaxin, Workin, and Steamin albums, which he recorded in 1956 in order to get out of a contract. Listen to those albums; then listen to Kind of Blue. How is it possible that one man can be so creative and so novel in the span of two years? Miles Davis showed us human endeavor is limitless. The greatest novel has yet to be written. The answer to life, the universe, everything has yet to be theorized. The best fuck is still to be had. Id imagine theres probably even still a way to design a better golf cart. The best album, however, has already been recorded.
If Kind of Blue is the crowning achievement of the 20th century, then At Newport 1958 is a re-telling of the first half of the American Century, and a prophesying of its second half. Every track serves as a soundtrack to the important events and periods of the 1900s, from the fast and furious beginning to the cool middle to the hyper end. At Newport 1958 falls into a category far beyond must have. Its closer to buy it or Ill shoot your face off. This is 40 minutes of history that cannot be missed.