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Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece Paperback – July 3, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 6.3.2007 edition (July 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306815583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306815584
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A surprisingly brisk read for a book of such ambitious scope, the author begins a full decade before the recording it chronicles. A wide range of subject matter - the evolution of jazz, Miles as an artist and creative voice, recording techniques, even the business of jazz marketing - are covered engagingly, intelligently and leave the reader with a better context in which to place this seminal recording.
Long-time fans, who know the music and the myths inside out, will marvel anew at the dedication Miles showed not only to his music, but in what can only be called his sentimentality in working with the other artists on the dates. His relationship with pianist Bill Evans is especially poignant.
The rise of modal jazz and its off-shoot from bop, along with the impact on the post-war generation of players is juxtaposed against a record label system willing to actually bid for jazz artists(!) and put real thought and resources into promoting their works. There is a tinge of nostalgia to the writing, though the author is not a contemporary of the original recording's release. This tone is far out-weighed by the realization that Kind of Blue really did mark a second (or third) Golden Age in jazz and that men the likes of Miles Davis - or Babe Ruth or Marlon Brando - seem not to walk among us much anymore.
In an age of celebrity profiles and Behind the Music "documentaries", Kahn's book shows us that every story has many stories, and he tells each with a respectful touch.
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Format: Paperback
As a jazz fan I was eager to read Ashley Kahn's book on the album "Kind of Blue", and I wasn't disappointed. The author got a rare opportunity to listen to the master tapes of the two studio sessions that created the five songs on the album. The heart of the book is the dissection of each song -- its origins, the mistakes made along the way, and an analysis of the final complete version. Also interesting was the story of Miles Davis' career up to that point. The description of the jazz scene in 1959 put the album into context. It's fascinating to be reminded that "Kind of Blue" was overshadowed at the time by Ornette Coleman's debut album, which was considerably more avant-garde (but much less accessible).
Not being musically trained myself, I didn't completely follow Kahn's explanation of "Kind of Blue"'s ground-breaking use of modal (versus chordal) scales. I was more interested in the human stories -- how Miles hooked up with Bill Evans; John Coltrane's expansion of his musical horizons while working with Davis; the impact of heroin addiction on Davis' attempts to keep his bands intact. There are a lot of personal histories embedded in the story, and the author does a good job of teasing them out and explaining how this seminal release came to be made.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I hate to be a nay-sayer when so many other critics have nothing but unqualified praise for this book. And, by and large, it's an interesting read with much fascinating information. As a compilation of facts, it offers an exciting look behind the scenes at the creation of a milestone (no pun intended) of jazz.

However, the book has deficiencies that can't be overlooked.

First of all, the book is too adulatory. Although it's much better than the completely worshipful Eric Nisenson book on the same subject, there's too much PR in proportion to journalism. When I buy a book I don't want to read an extended press release.

In addition, Kahn's excuses for the ineptitude of Columbia Records are too forgiving. More of this below.

First, I suspect that Kahn is not himself an experienced musician. When he tries to write about the music itself he makes several mistakes. I'll cite just one.

On page 70 is a picture of the chart Cannonball Adderley used for "Flamenco Sketches," with a caption by the author that refers to the scales used in the tune as "C Ionian, A-Flat Mixolydian, B-flat Major 7th, D Phrygian, and G Aeolian." The chart, however, is transposed for Eb alto saxophone, so the picture doesn't match the description. It would have been helpful if the caption had mentioned this.

Worse, however, is the apparent lack of understanding of music in the caption itself. "C Ionian" is essentially "C Major." Non-musical readers have heard of C Major but many may have no clue about what an "Ionian" is.

The "A-flat Mixolydian" scale shown here begins on Eb, so it would be more properly labeled "Eb Dorian."

"B-flat Major 7th" is a chord, not a scale. The scale is "Bb Major," period.
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Format: Paperback
I love Kind of Blue but I'm less impressed with Kahn's book on its creation. Kahn uses the session master tape to recreate the sessions effectively and successfully. The transcribed commentary between the musicians on the session and the descriptions of the evolution of the music through various takes is fascinating. Kahn also does a reasonable if superficial job of fitting Kind of Blue into the jazz continuum of the late fifties and early sixties and provides some interesting insights into the music itself. For example, Kahn points out that while Kind of Blue was meant to be entirely modal, Adderly in particular uses a lot of bop chromaticism as does Evans. Miles was really the only musician to adhere strictly to the modal guidelines.
On the down side, Kahn bungles the explanation of modes and modal improvisation. The modal system can be explained clearly and succinctly; it isn't rocket science. But Kahn devotes quite a bit of ink to the subject and still never manages to even define precisely what a mode is. The author also makes some technical errors in his musical explanations and ignores some important areas of the music that he should have pointed out and explicated. For example, he says nothing about Evans's use of quartal harmony on the album, which was groundbreaking on this album.
The biographical sketch on Miles is far too long and offers no information not already covered in his various biographies. Yes, some background info on Miles was needed but this was much too much.
Also, Kahn needn't have included the endless, breathless superlatives about the album by an endless list of musicians. We know how good the album is; we don't need this parade of people going on and on about it. It's redundant and serves no real purpose.
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