Ashley Kahn: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece

Lazaro Vega By

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AAJ: But you're right: there was a sea change in the music. There was just a huge difference to what had happened even in the immediate post-war period. By 1955 and Bird's death there was something there. Musicians were like, hey, wait a minute.

AK: I was fortunate to find that John Lewis quote where Nat interviewed him, and John Lewis said, and this is like five years afterwards in the early sixties, and he says five, six years ago there was me, there was Miles, there was a handful of us, and we were demanding that our jazz be looked upon as an art form.

AAJ: His quote puts it in clear perspective. Isn't Duke Ellington's "Koko" modal?

AK: What is modal jazz? Is the ultimate question. I quote Dick Katz. He says if you take a simple cadenza, at the very end of a tune where the band drops out and the soloist stays on a chord for sixteen bars or whatever to show off his stuff and then, boom! they bring the song to a final close, that cadenza is an example of modal jazz.

One of my favorite images in the book is that close up of Bill Evans's note to Cannonball Adderley on "Flamenco Sketches" where he doesn't write 'play the scales, play the notes in the scale' he says, "Play in the sound of the scale." What he's saying is this is a suggestion. Play the blue notes, play off of these scales, and play on the scale: it's up to you. But the idea is, use this as sort of a foundation.

Modal jazz is not a direct script it's a suggestion. It's up to the improviser. I think modal jazz, whereas you have modes, modal jazz is more about freedom for the improviser.

AAJ: Right, it is not just that you're going to play mixolydian, Dorian, Phrygian—you're going to use those as a template for what emotional climate you're trying to convey.

AK: Yes, you said it better than I could (laughs).

AAJ: I don't know about that. Well Ashley man you better get to your family dinner or else I'll keep you all night.

AK: O.K., we'll stop. But let that be a comment on how I'm enjoying this.

AAJ: I appreciate it.

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