I don't understand Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue"

I'm new to Jazz. While I enjoy Amstrong and Fitzgerald duo and some of Amstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven pieces, I fail to appreciate "Kind of Blue" which is praised by many as cornerstone CD in jazz. What I hear from the CD is background music that is repetitous throughout the song and seemingly random saxo, or similar instrument - pardon my ignorance of instruments, in the front. The background music bothers me because it's simple and repetitive. Perhaps this is not my type of music. Or should I listen to other CDs before appreciate this one?

Can someone educate me what is great about this CD?
The reason this CD is a "mile"stone is that virtually all music after 1955 was influenced by this album. The "background" music, as you call it, is accompaniment for the soloist, and yes, it is repetitious because jazz, by nature, cycles through a set pattern of chord changes during soloing.

The "random" saxophone lines from Cannonball Adderly and Coltrane are all impromtu, and their style is the reason this album is so groundbreaking. They use scales never before experimented with in jazz, called modes (if you are familiar with music, you'll know what these are). Imagine improvising music for nearly an hour, using a musical foundation that had never been heard before! It would be like you driving your car backwards one day, but doing it so perfectly and charismatically that everyone else decided "Wow, that looks amazing and works fantastically. We should all do that." That's how innovative this stuff is. Modal jazz, created by "Kind of Blue," serves as the foundation for virtually every genre of music since then. Modes had been used before: a variant of the dorian mode is the basis for the blues. Davis took this a step further. Even Korn and Limp Bizkit wouldn't have the harmoniously dissonant sounds they create without modal scales.

To appreciate this album, try to slip in their shoes. Listen to the track "Blue in Green," close your eyes, and imagine these guys, 20 years ahead of their time, playing in a smokey club, trying to convey their emotions through a language that nobody has yet heard. There is some of the most poignant musical inflections in these improvisations.
The audience couldn't understand what they were saying, but they could FEEL what Davis was expressing. Pretty powerful stuff. Hope this helps in your journey through jazz. Cheers!

I'm not a music expert, so I can only give you my subjective answer: The build-up of the rhythms and the timing really caught my imagination -- I would characterize it as an inspired and creative musical construction (as opposed to analytical). Maybe you just need to be in the right mood to let the music carry you from beginning to end. Maybe it's just not your cup of tea. I wouldn't sweat it. Over time, you might like to revisit it and see if it moves you then. The good news is that there are enough musical styles for everyone!

I'm sorry if my I didn't really answer your question about "what is great about it?", but I don't believe I should or could. In my mind, music should either catch you or not. If it doesn't now, it might later. If it never does, so be it. But music is a thing of the heart and soul, not the mind. When my wife and I first heard it, we stopped dead in our tracks and fell in love with it because it moved us. By the way, as much as I love the CD, I don't play it for visitors because I really do think you need to focus on the listening and the journey with this one. Only after many sessions is it a background piece (IMO). Sorry for a bit of rambling there ... happy listening!
Well J I think you raise a rather interesting question in general.
That is does a deeper understanding of anything make you like it better,it can but I do wonder,depends also if you like to challenge yourself,explore new things but surely at the end of the day you got to like something for what it is and enjoy it.
I remember on another mailing list I got involved in a big debate about later Stanley Kubrik movies-someone there went on to explain in great length about his genius,it was all worthy stuff and I could see his analysis had great depth but from point of view despite trying again to watch some of his later movies-I really don't like anything he did that much after Spartacus.
At the end of the day we like movies for different reasons and although I understand Kubrik's genius better it's not for me.
To get back to KOB,well as a mainly rock/popular music fan who has got into jazz a bit in the last say 5 years.
I think my namesake Sd will be much more worthy to comment on KOB but I will add some of my own.
I would suggest you listen to it a lot more before deciding.
You have to put it in context what went before and realise that Miles Davis created something new and unique with developing his modal style he'd been working on previously.
It was (I think) a very original record at the time and it's impact is such that over 40 years later people are still falling in love with it.
Of course there are many listeners who have "never got it" over the years.
The success and charm of this music to me is in it's simplicity,it is hypnotic,relaxing and at the same time strangely dynamic but that's just me,the record was some 37 years old before I heard it.
I would consider it mood maybe even ambient music in the wider sense.
Jazz can be a very difficult genre to get into,the smoother stuff can seem lightweight and the far out stuff as weird as music can get but KOB is really at the centre of the sophisticated,thoughtful side of things and maybe it's not for you.
I also am not big on Miles Davis , regardless of the popular opinion I don't find his style holds my interest. Kind of Blue was recorded in one take which is what is supposed to make it so special , but if you don't like the music , the milestone doesn't really matter.There is a whole lotta jazz out there,Miles Davis is just one guy.
Kind Of Blue is the soul and energy of the musicians, melting together to form a record that you can really feel deep inside. If you are not familiar with Miles Davis, I highly recommend listening to some of his previous (before KOB) work to understand the build-up to this masterpiece.
Brian's response kinda nailed it, intellectually, the playing in modes thing was new to jazz. Kinda Blue was from 58 or 59 though..you might actually find the earlier stuff a bit more to your liking, albums like Workin', Cookin' Steamin', Relaxin' are from 56 as I recall, and are more blues and popular tune oriented, jazzy versions of the days pop songs...try Some Day My Prince Will Come...Credit pianist Bill Evans for opening up Miles to more challenging chords & rhythms. He is a big part of the Kinda Blue sound. In my musical journey, something I don't like the first time I hear it, I've learned a few years later my ears are big enough to appreciate it. Especially in jazz I've developed an ear for things over time. I'd keep that Cd and try it again down the road, or listen to it over & over so the tunes become imprinted, then it is like you are playing along. I've bought this title several times over the years as formats or mastering has improved, definitely a classic. As an aside there is a CD title So What, one of the tunes on Kinda Blue, it is on Acoustic Disc by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, this style of jazz played on acoustic guitar & mandolin, with rhythm section. Great album.... These compositions have become classics and are cool even without the horns!
I only play the LP, not the cd, and I am in complete awe of it. I love side one in particular. Describe your stereo system, maybe it's not optimized for realistic reproduction of acoustic instruments?

I tried playing a cd of Kind of Blue in my car and was totally bored by it. At home on my tube stereo I am transfixed.

Try his 'Bitches Brew'.I don't like'Kind of Blue' either,puts me to sleep in 20 seconds.
JLC: I'd like to recommend a book to you. It's called "What Jazz Is," and it's written by a pianist named Jonny King. It's a great, accessible introduction, and includes an analysis of 10 cuts from 10 classic Blue Note recordings that straddle KOB. You won't like all of them, but if you pick up a few, you'll get a great education in jazz.

Compare, for example, Hank Mobley's Soul Station (which was recorded about the same time as KOB, and wasn't really influenced by it) to Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, which is impossible to imagine without Miles & Evans. Then you'll see why KOB deserves its reputation, even if it's not to your taste.
Banksfriend there wasn't anybody in the history of Jazz who could be determined or tagged by one style less than Miles Davis-- your statement about him really isn't accurate at all -he had more styles than anybody in Jazz.
You don't like KOB fine,you can't be wrong about that.
I also don't think the fact it was recorded in one take (it wasn't but that's a different point)is the reason it is held it such high esteem at all but rather the quality of the music.
Recorded in one take ? Who cares.

It's one of the best pieces of music I've heard. Absolutely brilliant. Hearing that album was the entry point to jazz music for me. I never 'got it' until I heard KOB. I find the spontaneous creativity of the album to be it's major strength. The solo's just lock in and come out 'like magic'.

Question/Note: I have a version that has the original and an alternate take of flamenco sketches at the end. I prefer the alternate take. Other's ?
Ben-Campbell, I've listened to more than one album, Don't love them either. It's just my personal preference don't take it personally. You are right about the one take though, I was thinking faster than I was typing.
Please understand that I am not trying to be a wiseguy nor do I seek to belittle you. I play jazz (badly) and have been listening for over 30 years.

To cut to the chase, I would recommend that you take a Jazz History or Jazz Appreciation class at your local college. You MAY not like KOB because you don't undertand what Miles is saying. Alternatively, Miles may rub you the wrong way. Or modal improvisation may drive you crazy.You need to geet in an environment where you can hear the development of imrovisational music (jazz) and benefit from another person's knowledge and experience.

Also, do yourself the favor of a lifetime and go to live jazz so you can see the artists play. Ask questions of the person next to you during the break in the performance. No question is too dumb-even "What is that instrument he is playing?" Knowing the instruments goes a long way towards greater enjoyment.

Finally, be patient with yourself. The joy of this endeavor is that you will learn forever. No one knows everything.
I'm sensing you've not experienced Jazz live. To truly appreciate this style of music, you need to find a performer doing it live. Terrance Blanchard, Dave Douglas, somebody who is influenced by the Miles Davis school of music.
It was not only recorded in one take (all but one song which took two) I am almost certain none of the musicians had ever played the music before. I do not care about this either but FYI.

I like Kind of Blue because it almost has a melody or something that is 'catchy' that a novice like me can grasp and at the same time I find it melodic and ever changing.

A far cry from the 'squaking' I hear in some jazz.
YOu really need to come to the Monterey Jazz Festival. It takes place around the 20th or so of Sept for Fri, Sat, and Sun.

I love the music of Miles Davis and I love this recording. That doesn't mean you have to. Some things hit me all at once. Some things take time to appreciate. For what ever reason some things never take hold. To each his own.
try the book, cd included, "what to listen to in jazz" by barry kernfeld. the cd includes 21 "historic" jazz recordings! Listen to Manteca while you are at it...

'What to listen FOR in Jazz' by Barry Kernfeld.
Like all milestones; since the style, techniques, formula, etc, etc are copied over and over again, future generation may not understand why it was so special. It seems typical to them.

Take the movie "Citizen Kane". It set too many new movie standards to ever list them all, on how movies are constructed, shot and edited. The techniques first used by Orson Wells have been copied so many times (thousands), that young people who watch it go.... "what's the big deal with this movie?"

Same goes for British director Michael Powell's films.
I have not read through all the responses, but there is also the issue of the sound Miles had on this LP. He was praised at the time for having a unique sound which upon further inspection turned out to be due to a tape speed issue. Before this discovery many jazz musicians were trying unsuccessfully to duplicate the sound he had.
jlc, "understanding" Miles Davis and Kind of Blue may take some more time. You say you are new to jazz so maybe before you develop such a viewpoint you need to learn more, much more, about jazz, about music and how KOB changed jazz and, in so many ways, is what jazz is all about. Listen to some more of his music and other jazz music since KOB. His influence is there.
Kind OF Blue is a CD or LP that grows on you.Try out Cumbia and Jazz Fusion by Mingus.The reason why its groundbreaking is that it was way ahead of it's time...Cheers....
I, too, find myself wishing Scott would weigh in on this issue of blue.
I have the opposite problem with KOB - I love it, but have been so overexposed to it that I don't put it on too often myself. The exposure level is probably due to the fact that this record is frequently considered to be an 'easy' entry point into modern jazz for folks who aren't necessarily big jazz buffs, and it has the sales record to back up that assertion.

But just because something is popular doesn't mean one ought to like it, and in truth, I would be surprised if you didn't have approximately the same reaction to about 1,000 other equally, or almost equally, deserving recordings representing the overall movement in jazz at that time, away from the more frantic be-bop style which preceeded the 'cooler' wave KOB was archetypical of. In fact, given your stated preference for Armstrong et al, I'd be surprised if you were even a big be-bop fan. Not everyone who likes Renior is going to like Picasso, even though they were both a part of of the evolution of modern painting; not everyone who likes art deco is going to like danish modern - you get the idea.

Fair enough; a lot of 'hot' jazz and swing fans never liked be-bop when it came in during the 40's and 50's, and many of those same fans never got into the later styles either. I myself don't care for Davis' work after he 'went electric' - or most 'fusion' mucic for that matter. Nothing anybody could say to me would make me like that particular style, and nothing anybody says to you is going to make you like something which you find that you really don't.

I applaud you for giving it a shot, and being open-minded enough to come here seeking insight, instead of just dismissing it as crap. But as you say, you are new to jazz, so take your time. It's a big leap from Ella and Louis to KOB, and you might just grow into it over time. My advise would be to try and broaden out from your base, both chronologically and stylistically, in a more incremental fashion, maybe getting yourself some good books on the subject to help you figure out what you might like along the way. Watching the Ken Burns "Jazz" programs he did for PBS on VHS or DVD could also give some prespective. Another useful introduction to different sounds which can be helpful to a newcomer is to take advantage of the radio, provided you have a good true jazz station in your area; just listen and follow up on whatever catches your ear.
You mean that "Kind of Blue" was not an original title by Patricia Barber ??? : ) Sean
These are great posts about "Kind of Blue." It is ground breaking, beautiful, user friendly, jazz. Don't worry if you don't like it. Just keep plugging away at jazz, keep it on your shelf, and low and behold, one day it'll hit you. Jazz is kind of like sushi. I was told for years that uni is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I hated it and lost my stomach over it. Every once in a while I'd check it out. I love it like crazy now. Go figure. Try these Miles Davis ablums:
Relaxin With The Miles Davis Quintet
Cookin' With the Mile Davis Quintet
Steamin'" " " " "
If these don't do it for you, you're just not ready for this guy. They should bring you back to the beauty of Kind of Blue.
happy listening,
In my opinion, the beauty of an album like Kind of Blue, and that genre of expressive jazz, is the ability of the musicians to "lock" onto a flow that they all have in their minds. They are all improvising, yet they seem to know where each other is going, and where the music is going. It is an ethereal thing. Like all of them have "tuned in" to a wave, and are riding it with their improvisations. No matter what timing changes, or modes or rhythms that they move through, they don't "lose" each other. Many other jazz attempts at this result in gibberish. Alot of live jazz is done in an attempt at finding this "meshing" and sometimes it is successful, and sometimes not. When it happens, it is magic. This is a good example of what Kind of Blue is. It is the connection of the musicians on a different dimensional plane, expressed through the musical improvisations. Many improvisational musicians know that sometimes the music just flows out, without even thinking. It comes from somewhere else. When all the musicians are flowing from the same connected "somewhere else", music is created that is beyond the musicians themselves. That is the only way I know how to describe this.
I agree with the earlier poster who argued that jazz is something to be experienced, not dissected. Although there are some awfully intellectual treatises on jazz structure, etc., IMO it is primarily a visceral experience.

I am a classically trained musician with a number of years of symphonic and chamber music playing. I resisted and looked down on jazz for many years. Then I discovered Gigi Gryce and was instantly hooked. I'm still not a hard core jazzer, sitting motionless (except for a little side to side rocking of the head) peering through a pall of smoke and inhaling the aromas of room deodorant and stale beer. But I do love to listen at home, a pleasure I never thought I'd experience.

Listen around and find what you like. If you don't like any of it, that's OK, too.

Another opinion worth what you paid for it.

As lisa Simpson says
"You have to listen to the notes he's NOT playing".

Example Bartok's "Concerto for orchestra" I first heard it at about 12 years old and hated it. By 18 after hearing it dozens of times "I GOT IT". VERY AWESOME!

It is musicians who teach us about music

If at first you don't get it try..try.. again.

As I can understand almost any music and any musical taste I can point out that in general this album is too bluesy and quiet. I would not recommend to listen to it in the car especially if you have a long-way ride:) Audiofiles love this album due to its original live recording without overdubbing with noise from the blues bar. Those who likes dynamic music it's definitely not the album. I personally love Miles Davis later on post-Kind-Of-Blue period when he started to excersise fussion("Do Bop", "Decoy", "Tutu", "Amandla") and elements of flamenco("Scetches of Spain", "Siesta")
I listened to both versions CD and vinyl. CD sounds poor. Vinyl is superb.
Great response! Thanks everyone. Now, at least I know a bit of history behind KOB (see, I learned the acronym :). Okay, I'll listen to it with my mid hifi system instead of in my car. Read jazz books or take courses. Listen to more jazz music, live and recorded. And not worry about figuring out KOB or not.

Again, thank you all.
Hey jlc993...I think your problem may be with "modern jazz" in general. Don't feel bad...Chuck Berry didn't like it either.

The term "jazz" covers a huge variety of styles and music. You can't compare Louie Armstrong's early stuff (extrememly catchy, upbeat Dixieland jazz) and Louie Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald duets (pop with a jazzy leaning, but still pop) to the bop style of jazz that gained popularity (a relative term) in the 40s and 50s. A style of jazz where most of the things that were considered "jazz" up to that point where questioned and challenged. Melodies moved from the forefront and became something merely hinted at, or left out entirely. Arrangements were invented on the spot. Jazz was taken over by a new generation of players and the style of the music changed drastically (similar to shift in early 20th century classical music, or the Pink Floyd/Sex Pistols transisiton that rock music went through 20-30 years later).

I think your issue is with that particular style of jazz more than it is with Miles Davis, or "Kind Of Blue". Based on your comments and your tastes, I doubt you'd like other Miles albums, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or most of their contemporaries either. You could try to listen to more of it and see if it grows on you...it may, or it may not. Some people will never like the less arranged, less melodic, seemingly random type of jazz. If you're that type of person, you might want to focus on some of the older jazz musicians...people like Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, the Dorsey brothers, etc. Musicians from that era were composing with more traditional song structures. They tended to have strong melodies and were much much poppier than the jazz compositions of the late 40s, 50s, and 60s. There are also people like Charles Mingus who successfully combined elements from both eras. There are, and have been, people composing in both stlyes of jazz ever since. It's just a matter of deciding what style you prefer and seeking it out.

And then there's Kenny G...
Phild, KG blows... I though he died choking on his sneaker laces after listening to one of his own lame productions.
Another approach in trying to understand KOB, is to check out what the rest of the crew is all about..........

John Coltrane.....Blue Train, Blue Note
Bill Evans........Waltz for Debby, Riverside
C. Adderley.......Presenting C.Adderley, Savoy
Wynton Kelly
Paul Chambers.....Kelly Blue, JVC XRCD, Riverside
Well it's 35 posts later. Do you think you'll understand "Kind of Blue" now? Probably not, but you certainly have a lot of music to listen to. I'm familiar with all of these, for the most part, and they will, eventually, bring you back to Miles and all his earlier stuff. He is the man. Listen to what you like, relax and you might just get it. Happy listening.
P.S. Try this. Listen to some Wynton Marsalis. Amazing technician. Then listen to some early Miles. You tell me who moves you more. No contest...
I also get sleepy listening to KOB. I bought it because of the recommendation. It doesn't seem simple to me, the solos are so complex!!! What the hell are they doing??? I began putting it on at bedtime, when I couldn't sleep. I'd listen to these crazy soloists. It's like they are trying to talk but they don't have voices. What are they trying to say??? Zzzzz...

Now I've got the entire thing memorized, as does my poor wife. I absolutely love it. Every note is anticipated and arrives so beautifully. I usually play it on the bedroom "boom-box" and still it's great. I can't explain except that many, many repeated listenings were required to begin to comprehend the solos. What ARE they trying to say?
I also sure hope that Sdcampbell checks into this thread.

For me, Kind of Blue hit me like a thunderbolt.

I bought it because it is de riguer, the essential jazz piece, and at the time I had been diving deeper into jazz. At first, I played it, then maybe played it again, and maybe even once more. Nothing.

Then, all of a sudden...

Like the liner notes which quote Duane Allman in an interview raving about it. I am paraphrasing, but it was something like, "It's all I listen to, and it's been that way for a few years now." The influence on music has been mentioned, but I would like to say that THE American rock and roll band, The Allman Brothers Band, was formed pretty much trying to recapture what had been achieved in Kind of Blue. Just listen to the interplay between the two guitars or two drum kits in the first 4 ABB albums.

It was basically in my listening every day for something like a year. I could play it over and over and over again and it never seemed like it wasn't the freshest piece of music I have ever come across.

Even in the year 2002, I sometimes listen and marvel that it sounds more original, captivating, and spellbinding than almost anything else I can play. Strange.

I have met a lot of people who hate the album, including most of the people who have lived in my home. But, if it grabs you, it just won't let go. The modal jazz, first popularized in this piece, is absolutely hypnotic. I cannot say it's the notes, or the sound when the notes are being played, but there must have been some kind of deal made with the Devil when this album was recorded. There is something along the lines of magic in these songs.

From afar, there is nothing much to the music. In fact, some early critics laughed at it. A bunch of musicians simply playing scales? Others derided it as slow, morose, maudling.

To this day, more than 40 years after its release, it remains on the Top 10 Jazz Sales list, year after year after year. My biggest shock of the 40th Anniversary Edition of Stereophile(November, 2002) was its lack of inclusion into the most important albums of all time, jazz category. Unforgivable!!!
Interesting citing, Trelja, about the ABB and KOB - I can see that connection, now that you have pointed it out. (I'll politely take exception to "THE American Rock & Roll Band" however! :-)
Great comments, Trelja. I agree that is never grows old. I keep discovering new layers of intelligence in the playing. I've listened to it enough over the years that it's part of my DNA now.