The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music

The Blue Moment: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music

by Richard Williams
     
 

A brilliant, wide-ranging book on how the seminal album revolutionized music and culture in the twentieth century.
“It is the most singular of sounds, yet among the most ubiquitous. It is the sound of isolation that has sold itself to millions.” Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is the best-selling piece of music in jazz history and, for many

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Overview

A brilliant, wide-ranging book on how the seminal album revolutionized music and culture in the twentieth century.
“It is the most singular of sounds, yet among the most ubiquitous. It is the sound of isolation that has sold itself to millions.” Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is the best-selling piece of music in jazz history and, for many listeners, among the most haunting works of the twentieth century. It is also, notoriously, the only jazz album many people own. Recorded in 1959 (in nine miraculous hours), there has been nothing like it since. Richard Williams’s “richly informative” (The Guardian) history considers the album within its wider cultural context, showing how the record influenced such diverse artists as Steve Reich and the Velvet Underground.
In the tradition of Alex Ross and Greil Marcus, the “effortlessly versatile” Williams (The Times) “connects these seemingly disparate phenomena with purpose, finesse and journalistic flair” (Financial Times), making masterly connections to painting, literature, philosophy, and poetry while identifying the qualities that make the album so uniquely appealing and surprisingly universal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Over 50 years ago, Miles Davis and his sextet walked into a church basement in midtown Manhattan that had been converted into a music studio. The album that emerged just nine hours later, Kind of Blue, not only changed jazz in a dramatic way, but it also changed popular music forever. As music critic Williams points out in this often exceptional, though sometimes pedantic, reflection, Davis introduced listeners in the Western world to a music suffused with a kind of mild exoticism that had its roots in Eastern philosophies. Many contemporary critics weren't exactly sure what to make of the album, but others recognized the powerful tremors that Davis's album sent through the music world. While the story of the making of the album has been well told before (as in Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue), Williams traces the deep influence that the album had on a wide range of musicians, from John Cale and the Velvet Underground to Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Duane Allman. Williams's inspired reflections demonstrate the ways that luminous music can pervade other cultural forms and usher in momentous changes throughout all parts of culture. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Williams, a writer for the Guardian, acknowledges the definitive books on Kind of Blue—Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue and Eric Nisenson's The Making of Kind of Blue—for those interested in the details of the creation of Miles Davis's classic album. He instead offers a personal musing on the impact the album had and continues to have on music of all kinds. Starting with a discussion of blue as a color and as a description of music and mood, Williams then offers a brief account of the creation of the recording. The rest of the book is given to following the wide ripples resulting from this event. Not everyone will agree with the connections being made, and, at times, the thread to Davis seems to have been lost altogether. Ultimately, however, the idea that none of the music Williams discusses would have been possible without the modal revolution begun with Kind of Blue is compelling. VERDICT An enjoyable, readable ramble through a varied sampling of modern music. Suitable for anyone with an interest in jazz, popular music, or popular culture.—Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393076639
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/12/2010
Pages:
309
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Williams writes for The Guardian on music and sports and has written books on subjects such as Phil Spector and Ayrton Senna. A former editor of Melody Maker and head of A&R at Island Records, Williams lives in London.

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