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When Cory came home to his apartment, he could see lights shining in many of the windows. He felt good knowing that he was not the only one awake, and as he walked up the stairs, he heard people pacing, a baby crying and the sound of muffled voices. He could smell garlic and spices and remembered that he was still hungry.
Inside his apartment, he started cooking noodles with a broth from the deli around the corner. He added frozen vegetables, mushroom and chopped onions. He took a bowl with the noodle broth and sat down in his sofa with a cold beer. He liked the contrast between the hot soup and the chilly beer and immersed himself in the taste, feeling a welcoming warmth in his body. After finishing the meal, he wanted to hear a record before going to sleep.
He flipped through the many albums in his bookshelf. He liked to take them out and look at the covers. The dark saxophone shadow on a blue background. A cool man with a sixpence and sunglasses sitting in a cart. A clown with a big red nose and melancholy eyes. A smiling blue cat playing with a chandelier. Big letters with exclamation marks and abstract art. Beautiful people in sharp suits. Every record was a world waiting to be discovered.
There was one world he returned to again and again. An album that he couldn't finish playing. It would be a part of him until he died or lost the ability to remember. The cover was nice, but not spectacular. A man playing the trumpet with closed eyes and only the mouthpiece clearly visible. Dressed in a blue suit and elegant tie with an orange pattern. Black background. The title spelled with blue letters in the top of the corner. Kind of Blue
. In the other corner, the name of the artist. Miles Davis.
This was his masterpiece. Above all his other great albums. When he thought about it, the cover made perfect sense. Miles seemed to disappear into the music with his eyes closed. Into a world that only existed on the record. Miles had talked about reconnecting himself with a feeling of walking down the dark Arkansas road with his cousin, listening to gospel, but when he got together with the group, it had become something else.
The group. What a group! The gentle touch of pianist Bill Evans. Paul Chambers whose bass was so calm and cool. Miles Davis with the flickering light of his trumpet. The hushed, swinging rhythms of drummer Jimmy Cobb, and then the saxophones. The preaching saxophones. Julian Cannonball Adderley, the funky prankster, talking hip with his horn and John Coltrane, silent, introvert, searching. The wonder of the horns taking color from one another. Darkness and light, joy and sorrow. Lifting lines at once so heavy and light, so sad and serene.
The piano at the beginning of "So What," like a bell tolling at midnight. Not the loud chime of bells in the morning, telling the world to wake up, but the soft song of the night watchman lulling the city into sleep. Then the bass walking, not fast or slow, just strolling with a beat, and the horns punctuating the riff. The smoke rising from the trumpet, the perfect splash on the cymbals.
"Freddie Freeloader" walking around the city searching for kicks. Swinging through the doors of the bars in the neon light. Coming home late at night. Bummed, broken and lonely. The strange waters of emotion, "Blue in Green," the endless shades of sadness and the green color of hope.
Cory closed his eyes and disappeared into the mood. It was music to live in. Music to inhabit. An emotional space that was much needed in jazz today. He remembered how he had bought an anniversary edition of Kind of Blue
with a book filled with scholarly essays talking about the time, context and musical theory of the album, including the often-mentioned approach of modal jazz that had begun with Milestones
Somehow all these words missed the most important aspect of the album. Its ability to create a coherent emotional statement that was blue in green and kind of blue. Not just blue, but also green. Not just blue, but kind of blue. Davis dipped into the rich reservoir of human emotions and came out with the night song of the soul, equally tender and desperate. Meditation in movement.
It was not just the ordinary blend of ballads, up-tempo pieces and medium grooves, but a way of conceiving the album as a whole, a stained-glass window where every part illuminated the work, describing the state of being kind of blue.
"I'm lonely Cory," Valentine had said, but her words had failed to communicate the state of her mind to him, her best friend. Here was Miles Davis, a total stranger, and he understood everything. In fact, he needed this language because it was not only Miles' language, but his language as well. Davis might have thought of the music as a response to his memory of walking down the Arkansas road, but that road had been split into many branches. First by the group and later by the listeners. The memory had become an image and the image a mirror.
When he thought about it, the beauty of music was often created in collaboration. History was full of artists who created something on their own. The wild, lonely geniuses expressing their art in an individual signature, but the writing of Kind of Blue had come from many different pens. Miles Davis. Julian Adderley. Paul Chambers. Jimmy Cobb. John Coltrane. Bill Evans. Wynton Kelly.
Kelly who only played on "Freddie Freeloader," but helped shape the character of the album, adding a different temper and feeling to the piano and the music. Kelly who played his own version of blue on Kelly Blue
. The midsummer night of Bobby Jaspar's flute dancing in the air like playful fireflies. The deep groove of Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. Kelly playing his lines with precise, bluesy strokes. The subtle painter in the background giving way to the tales of Nat Adderley's cornet and Benny Golson's saxophone. Kelly was also a storyteller. His playing visualized Freddie's flapping jacket as he exits the door of a bar in a city.
Everything about Kind of Blue
seemed spontaneous and yet closely choreographed. A friend had once asked him if the music was really improvised. The group Mostly Other People Do The Killing had remade the music on an album called Blue. Like architects making a perfect copy of the Eiffel Tower, they had traced every arc of the album, revealing its glorious composition in a gesture that could be sincere, ironic or both. Of course, Kind of Blue could not be created again. It was a moment in time that was captured and disappeared. Later Davis would play "So What" and "All Blues" and turn up the tempo. Moving somewhere else restlessly, finding a new sound.
Cory was listening and reliving the moment. He discovered something new every time he listened. The album seemed to capture the endless sea of emotions that no one really understands. It was familiar and yet strange. It was a riddle that could not be repeated, not even by Davis himself. The wonderful thing was that Kind of Blue showed the unlimited potential of music. It was just a little wave hinting at something far bigger than a single album. Cory gave in, relaxed and eventually fell asleep.
It was late in the morning when he woke up to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He greeted the janitor drowsily. "A girl came by last night. She couldn't find you. Told me to give you this." He got a slip of paper. When the janitor had left, Cory read the message. "Cory. Meet me tomorrow noon at Picasso's. We need to talk. Valentine."
He stood perplexed for a moment before he realized that he had to get out of his apartment soon. He would not miss this opportunity on any account. All kinds of emotions swelled through him as he prepared to leave. Sadness and hope. Blue in green. Note
: Miles Davis' memory of the Arkansas road is told in Miles Davis the Autobiography
by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, Simon & Schuster, 1989.