I am not a music critic. But I am a musician and a music lover, and when you love something, you want to talk about it. And because I just listened to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and loved it, I want to talk about it.
I don't know much about jazz, but I know that it's complex. It usually doesn't follow the normal rythmic or melodic rules that pop, folk, and classical (actually, pretty much all music, I guess) do. And there's probably no deeper exploration of a musician and an instrument's capabilities than jazz. Jazz, in fact, prides itself on its complexity and demand for artistic proficiency. But jazz's complexity frequently makes it somewhat less accessible and understandable, at least for me, and I find that jazz's most celebrated aspect may be its biggest hurdle to its own popularity. So when I listen to a jazz album, I frequently come away saying that I appreciated it, but didn't really enjoy it.
Kind of Blue, however, is completely different for me. While it does not necessarily trace a clearer melody than many other jazz albums from the 1950s, I am overcome by the beauty of Miles Davis' trumpet, Coltrane's sax, and Bill Evans' piano. I mean, those are basically the greats of 50s/60s jazz right there, and their synergy is really something special. Listening to the album, you feel energized and lulled, alone and surrounded, warm and cool, and a thousand other opposite emotions all at once. It's pretty crazy, but the music itself carries all of those emotions at once. Art is supposed to be moving, to be emotionally charged, and Davis' composition is brimming with a huge range of emotion, many of which are felt simultaneously. And beyond the initial reaction to the music's aesthetic, I want to listen to it over and over. I want to examine it, to analyze it, to break it down and examine its architecture. It is that good.
Now, here's where my admitted non-critic status comes in: I do not know enough knowledge about jazz and the theory behind it to dissect the music being played, and so I can't justify its greatness academically at any great length; I can only react to it based largely on my own tastes. But here's what I do know: the album was innovative for its use of modes, rather than chord progression, as the basis of his composition. The use of modes, rather than an increasingly complex riffs on a fixed chord progression, allowed Davis to improvise in ways that he heretofore had not done. In short, in this album and his 1958 Milestones, he threw out the old blueprint of his jazz and began anew. As Davis explained to his band prior to recording this, "There will be fewer chords, but infinitely more possibilities." Kind of Blue explores them in an enlivening, soothing, beautiful way. Get it.
Why Colonel Sartoris?
Allow me to explain the puzzling title. Colonel Sartoris is William Faulkner's greatest character. He exemplifies those values that his society cherishes, namely tradition, patriarchy, courtliness, and courage. Though modernity's slow march tries to strip him of these things, Sartoris continues to live as he always has, knowing that "the past is never dead. It's not even past." He seeks order in the honorable folkways and mores of his forbears. Let us not forget his example.