‘A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.’ – Ernest Hemingway


Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 30, 2014
Category: Jazz

The Book with No Pictures
Down Under
Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine

WEEKEND CLASSIC: Another week of stupid public figures revealing they’re even dumber than we thought they were last week. (One heroine emerged: Kaci Hickox, the nurse “quarantined” after treating Ebola patients in Africa. After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie confined her to a tent for three days, he released her without apologizing. She’s gone home to Maine, where that state’s Governor threatens to arrest her if she leaves her home. Her lawyers have threatened all kinds of legal action. So much for “Thank you for your service.”) In the face of dumb and dumber, I look for calm, quiet, timeless beauty — an instant disconnect, a balm for nerves and soul. Like this….

The biggest sellers in any category are often cringeworthy.

One notable exception is the biggest-selling jazz record: “Kind of Blue.” Released in August of 1959, it’s #12 on Rolling Stone’s list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” [To buy the CD of “Kind of Blue” from Amazon, click here. To buy the MP3 download, click here.]

There are reasons why this album is so significant. The musical ones are technical but boil down to this: Miles Davis changed the language of jazz from improvisation based on chords to threads based on scales. That opened the music up and maximized the opportunity for melodic sweetness.

The sound here: Hard bop’s vanished, noisy improvisation’s been sent packing. The trumpet is breathy, spacey, minimal; it’s a late-night walk on a deserted Paris street. The band is made up of giants: John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and the pianists Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans. They recorded with no rehearsal and minimal conversation — all the musicians had to work with were sketches of scales.

None of that really matters. What counts is what you hear — and the welcome news this time is that the music which breaks tradition and makes history is surprisingly easy to listen to. Most of the songs are slow, trance-like, relaxed; this is Barry White for hipsters. Any fool can hear this CD and feel space opening up and possibility enlarging — it’s at once totally serious and extremely accessible.

The proof is in the listening. And for half a century, the listeners and critics agree: If you own only one jazz record….

Short takes

He made billions. Now he’s giving them away.

Billionaires no longer write memoirs, and with good reason — we’ve lost interest in self-erected monuments to ego and greed. As a billionaire and as a memoirist, Jon Huntsman Sr. is different. When he became a wage earner, he tithed10 percent of his salary to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; when he got rich — one of his companies invented the box for the Big Mac — he started a second career as a philanthropist. At last count, he’s given away $1.2 billion, most of it to cancer causes. (He’s had cancer four times, and his mother, father and stepmother died from it.) At the Huntsman Cancer Institute, his ambition is as outsized as his philanthropy: cure cancer. I have written that most books should be at least 100 pages shorter, and “Barefoot to Billionaire: Reflections on a Life’s Work and a Promise to Cure Cancer” is no exception. Or is it that everything Jon Huntsman does it just a bit bigger than life? [To buy the book from Amazon, click here.]

Frances Palmer Pottery Sale

If you’re near Weston, Connecticut, this is worth the trip. Sunday, November 9, 11 AM to 4 PM. In her barn, 313 Georgetown Road, Weston, Ct. Her site. And my Valentine.

Lori Lieberman: Killing New York Softly

Lori Lieberman says she likes “nothing more than walking my dogs and eating a good chocolate chip cookie,” but if you’ve ever heard or seen her, you know that is just false modesty. This is the woman who wrote the poem that became “Killing Me Softly.” She’s loved in Europe. On Saturday, November 8, it’s New York’s turn — she’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. For tickets, click here.

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.