Jazz Transformation

My History with Kind of Blue

The album Kind of Blue, recorded March and April 1959 in New York City, is regarded as one of the finest jazz albums, ever. I first heard it in 1960, when I was fifteen. Each of the cuts was outstanding, but my favorite was “So What.” Like most teens, I certainly listened to pop songs of the time, but jazz had a much stronger hold on me. Being a reader of the newspaper I delivered each morning, I knew that jazz was being created against the background of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks’ bus ride, the sit-ins, the riots in Birmingham were soon to come.

Miles Davis and the men he chose for this recording would become legends: Julian (Cannonball) Adderly, alto sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Wynton Kelly, piano (on one track); Bill Evans, piano (on the rest of the tracks); Paul Chambers, bass; and James Cobb on drums. 

In the  album’s liner notes, Bill Evans writes about how improvising jazz musicians had much in common with “… a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible.” Evans then describes how Miles conceived for the recording dates “frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary…The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exceptions the first complete performance of each was a ‘take’ …” 

This extraordinary group of jazz musicians (African-Americans with the exception of Bill Evans) created beauty from the blues — certainly the case in the song “So What,” and that was an especially powerful experience for me at a difficult time of my life.

(Please open the audio file at the end of the poem to hear “jazz transformation” read aloud or try this link <wordsandfeathers.com> which will have this audio file along with audio files from some excellent poets.) Poetry is meant to be read aloud!)

 

jazz transformation

 

when miles’ trumpet asks

“so what?” it talks

to my blue soul.

 

when i first hear the song,

mom has just appointed me,

at fifteen,“new man of the family”

because sad man dad

has gone into out-of-job

hit-and-run drunkenness.

so in the “so” of the “so what?”

mom’s been driving

me in the car

to fetch him in bars

sitting in darkness.

 

“so what?”

miles takes that refrain,

shares the pain of jazz geniuses

hated for their blackness—

through crisp chords mixed

with rhythm that swings

into a cool guy’s

beautiful easy walk

seemingly just for me,

allowing this white kid

to say “so what?” as i stride

through my blue world.

 

Published by

sanberdooboy

I've been writing mostly poetry for many years and have gotten a number of works accepted in publications and anthologies. I'm most interested in communicating with poets for whom craft is a high priority. I enjoy finding and commenting on poetic gems in other people's work. For my own work, I welcome polite comments, whether positive or critical.

32 thoughts on “Jazz Transformation”

  1. Good post. I blogged about this album recently as well. That’s pretty cool that you heard it shortly after it came out. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this but I found a clip from that band performing on TV in 1959. Don’t know where you are but hope you can see it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a gift, Jim S.! I had not seen this video, so it’s a wonderful surprise. For those readers who would like to listen to a version of “So What” and to see and hear Miles and John Coltrane, this is a good resource. The session on the video features a band much bigger than the sextet on the album. If you’d like to hear the original recording, the album Kind of Blue that contained “So What” is still available after 57 years, which shows how great it is. Thanks, again, Jim S.!

      Like

      1. You’re welcome. I should mention, BTW, that I found out about this video through a book I read called “Kind of Blue: The Making of a Masterpiece.” The book is, in fact, not about just that but about the jazz scene of that era. So it details that period and then leads to a detailed report on the album’s recording sessions. Highly recommended.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Some how, you manage to keep the reader at just enough of a distance to provide your child-self protection, while simultaneously revealing great intimacy and vulnerability. There is conflict and latent strength in these words. Here’s to your Blue Soul and your Blue World 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carrie, a wonderful comment to read. Your first sentence surprises me. It makes me see my poem in a different way. As you probably have experienced with your own fine work, sometimes the poet is the last one to know what is being said. I appreciate your insights.

      Like

  3. So much rhythm and depth in this. You’ve captured a certain nonchalance while walking through a dangerous darkness. Snapping your fingers to another beat as rain hammers the roof of the car. Beautifully told.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i’m glad to see that reading about my childhood experiences works for you. it’s my hope that readers will be able to feel at least some connection with them. and it is reaffirming to discover that for other readers “so what” has been important in their lives. thanks for letting me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My choice for 2nd greatest album is by the man who wrote the liner notes – Bill Evans Trio – 1961 Sunday at the Village Vanguard (and companion album Waltz for Debby). Especially in light of the tragedy that befell young bass player Scott LaFaro shortly thereafter. Peace. —CC

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a beautiful poetic tribute to your beloved jazz. It is extraordinary how those of us who embrace the arts are likewise shaped by them in childhood. I got to substitute in the band hall the other day, and the high school jazz band did a great job practicing for their upcoming concert….I enjoyed it immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. your comment about how adults who enjoy the arts were often exposed to them when they were kids seems accurate from my experience. besides that argument to restore arts in the schools, i think from personal experience that art can actually help kids to survive their childhood. i appreciate your posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I hope it heartens you that I happened to pick up the ipod my younger son had in high school today (he is now in college) and whenever he last put it down (years? months?), he was playing Kind of Blue. 🙂

    ‘so in the “so” of the “so what?”’ – you play well with the many possibly meanings of each of this two words and allow them to open up your young life to us. Really nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Man your post and poem make me long for those days writing madly in the jazz houses of whatever city. Personally my favorite Davis is ‘Cellar Door.’ That track Inamorata could go on for a decade and my life would follow suit. Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. sounds like you have spent a serious amount of time with jazz. thanks for the tip on another davis song and album. will check them out. and thanks so much for taking the time to write the comment.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s