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on 25 June 2003
Faced with a customer at the jazz counter of a record shop needing a suggestion for a jazz album to buy as a present, the assistant is more than likely to start by recommending "Kind of Blue". It is generally the Miles album most people buy first. It may well be the only Miles album - or jazz album of any sort - that someone owns. In any event, it was a sensational success when it came out and it is still selling in remarkable numbers now, entirely understandably.
"Kind of Blue" must occupy the foreground of any analysis of the recorded work of Miles Davis. Ashley Kahn's book is a wonderful insight into why this is so. The detail is exhaustive without being in the least bit tedious. On the contrary, the fine detail of such things as recording dates [with illustrations of dockets for studio bookings], album numbers [which became an issue when, on one edition, two track titles were inadvertantly switched and remained incorrect for years], technical personnel and even rates of pay for the musicians[standard studio date rates to create a jazz legend!], are all presented in a way that adds to the interest and carries the narrative forward to fill out the picture of how this amazing music came to be recorded and by whom. The background to Miles's approach, the portraits of the other musicians, the record company's strategy for marketing jazz in general and Miles in particular, all this builds to a fascinating description of the making of the album itself. Of course, there is a discussion, with quotes from the protagonists [Miles and pianist Evans], on the matter of the credit due to the creator of "So What?", the record's iconic opening track, and other tracks. The technical analysis of the music is not so high-flown as to be daunting to the non-musician but detailed enough to satify readers who can follow it.
As these things tend to go, no-one knew that history was in the making, a ground-breaking masterpiece was being created. The photographs of the sessions were taken by one of the recording engineers in an almost casual manner. They are private snaps, rather than a studied record of the creation of the most revered jazz album ever made by what many regard as the greatest small group jazz has ever known. These amateur, almost homely, photographs have the intimacy of an insider that brings one face to face with this group of men in the act of making magic, in a way that a professional would very likely not succeed in doing. The photographs complement Ashley Kahn's descriptions of the interaction amongst the musicians and the events that surrounded each track on the record. There are transcripts of conversations caught on tape as the recordings were made [always at the start of takes or at the point where they broke down because each track on the album is the first complete take that was successfully played from start to finish - no overdubs or 2nd takes]. One I particularly liked was Paul Chambers apologising to Miles for making a mistake "because I thought I could close my eyes."
Miles's music as a whole is a supreme achievemnt. "K o B" is the jewel in the crown. Ashley Kahn's book is a fitting account of how this gem was created. He seems to have left nothing out, no conceivable detail. The result, like a take from the album, is a treasure from start to finish.
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on 5 March 2001
More than 40 years since its initial release, Kind of Blue remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. Both critically acclaimed and enduringly popular, this Miles Davis masterpiece (one of several) has proved for many to be the ideal introduction into modern jazz and, as such, richly deserves this enjoyable and authoritative study.
To provide appropriate context, Ashley Kahn engagingly tracks the careers of all participants to the album, leading up to those two great sessions in 1959. In the process he explains just why this music was so ground-breaking and influential at the time, whilst also offering a valuable insight into the business aspects of jazz in the late '50s, and studio recording practices of the time.
His vivid descriptions of the sessions themselves are a delight to read and will enhance further enjoyment of the album itself. Kahn also provides the last word on the enduring mysteries of the tape tracking problem that has blighted the LP and early CD releases for so long, as well as the previously inexplicable left-handed Miles cover of an early CD issue.
Beautifully designed, with many rare session photographs and other illustrations, Kahn's book has the edge over Eric Nisenson's recent volume on the same subject, although they do compliment each other quite nicely. [Nisenson focuses more on background issues, such as George Russell's influence on Miles, and covers each artist at greater length. His is a more personal account of the album, in the process of which he is, in my humble opinion, too critical of Cannonball Adderley's joyous playing.]
Kahn, however, opts for a more objective, though no less passionate approach and better succeeds in making the conception of the album really come alive. So, if you have to choose, this is the one to go for.
In any case, it certainly gets my vote for best jazz book of the year.
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on 1 June 2013
mr Kahn has done kind of what miles unwittingly did in making Kind of Blue, in writing a definitive textbook on a significant musical development. but it's written with love, not with an over-abundance of awe for his subject, but actually a fitting appreciation of all the factors and protagonists that led to the record's creation. finely-detailed on mic placements, room acoustics, tape speeds, but in a way that brings you into the music, the sound, the feel , the texture. great photos such as Canonball's music stand, cigarettes, aspirin for his migranes, brief notes on his briefest of music sheets, all telling with the aid of hindsight but which at the time barely hinted at the magnitude and majesty of the sounds they were about to produce... cultural impact and overview...check, all in all to this point in time the best work on the making of this album, if not the best work on the music contained therein...
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on 31 August 2015
Excellent analysis of an almost impossible to analyse genre. Ashley Kahn gets 'underneath', inbetween and inside of Miles Davis intricacies to such an extent that one must re-listen with the book in hand to hear the subtleties, both modally and harmonically including key signature debates. Huge amounts of commentary, including a nice foreward by the brilliant drummer Jimmy Cobb, from various musicians adds to the depth and flavour of Kahns book. It's been called a masterpiece...it is...that 'Kind of Blue' is seen as the 'definitive' jazz album...Kahns book is certainly its equal...I could go on but grab the book and be transported...
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on 17 November 2013
There are few people associated with the development of modern music who do not recognize the significance of Miles Davis's LP recorded in 1959. Despite the disc being in the genre known as 'Modern Jazz' it has found its way into TV and film backing music as well as College and University academic course material - despite being, for some 50-odd years, a top-selling jazz record. Ashley Kahn's book takes the reader deep into the craft and creative processes exhibited by the master musicians involved. Very strongly recommended.
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on 22 January 2014
The book is simply fantastic, getting to the core of the music and production. Atmospheric and beautifully written, gets my all-round vote
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on 15 March 2016
A really good read, and a really good insight into the recording of one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.
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on 3 September 2014
Interesting book that shows once again that jazz music is an art form of the highest order.
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on 5 January 2015
Our son wanted this for christmas and says it is a very good book.
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on 12 September 2016
Very enlightening and well written.
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