Tag Archives: music

Kind of Blue (Miles Davis)

Kind of Blue (youtube/complete-album)

Jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, evolving to produce some of the most creative and varied music the world has ever heard.  Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue holds the honor of being one of the most highly valued jazz albums, and one of the most influential records of any musical genre in history.  Recorded in New York in 1959 and released that year, the album features Bill Evans on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass, John Coltrane and Julian Adderley on saxophones, Miles Davis on trumpet, and pianist Wynton Kelly on one track.

The use of improvisation makes jazz unique, gives the music life and power, and carries an emotional energy through the sound waves like currents of electricity.  The solos on Kind of Blue feel like echoes of an invisible music more real and powerful than the notes we hear from the trumpet and saxophones.  The drums, bass, and piano maintain a gentle structure for the horns to dance over, trancelike, then more upbeat, alternately crying and singing, sadness, weeping, fusing into mellow joy.

A departure from the style of his earlier work, Davis shifted from hard bop to modal jazz with Milestones in 1958, furthering his experimentations with modality on Kind of Blue.  At a time when American music, culture, values, and society were rapidly changing, artists like Davis cleared new paths for others by simply doing what they loved.  The Sixties saw wave after wave of brilliant, unprecedented, soulful music flooding out of the United States and Great Britain, a creative movement founded on the bold work of fearless artists of the 40’s and 50’s.  Popular music contributed a uniquely powerful voice to the national community, a vitality which healed and bonded people when bitter disagreements kept trying to make our nation split.

People talk about jazz’s quality of incorporating “wrong” notes into the music, pressing on through failed attempts and using the rhythm as a platform to speak hints of some far greater truth, so that really there are no mistakes in jazz, no “wrong” notes, because it’s all one big try anyway.  The musicians get together and give it their best shot to reach the unreachable, maybe they come close and maybe they don’t, but at least they gave it a shot.  Miles probably wouldn’t care too much that the Library of Congress selected his album for the National Recording Registry, or that Rolling Stone ranks it among the top 20 albums of all time, but he definitely does care that his music speaks truth to people, revealing the eternal.

America has a lot of music playing today, jumbled, broken music, jagged signals flying around and scattered voices trying to sing along.  The invisible music of truth gets drowned out by all that noise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still playing.  Another thing people say about jazz is the most important notes are the ones you don’t hear—not that those notes aren’t being played, only, silently.  Miles teaches us the best thing one can do in life is miss.

From Intended Consequences:
Available at Amazon.com

 

Don Z

The first time I met Don Zelle he struck me as a hybrid between Socrates and Doc Brown, the mad scientist from the Back to the Future movies.  That was about five years ago, and since then he’s proven to be one of the most pleasant and peculiar people I know.  Don’s a retired English teacher who now serves as cantor and reader at several Orthodox Churches in the St. Louis area, commuting by way of his yellow Ford Model A replica (originally manufactured in 1929), and constantly criticizing people who enjoy music that was recorded after the 1940’s.

Don’s great-great grandfather immigrated to the States from Germany in 1851, and made his home in Mount Pulaski, Illinois, not far from Springfield where Don grew up.  After graduating from Lanphier High School in 1956, Don attended Knox College and earned his undergraduate degree in Art.  He moved to New York after college and met his wife Evthokia whom he married in 1963.  “She was Greek,” he told me.  “Still is.”  He also informed me that Saint Evthokia, for whom she was named, is an empress who helped preserve the tradition of venerating the holy icons of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints in the Orthodox Church.

Don taught English in the town of Lincoln, Illinois, then moved to Long Island for a time before heading west to San Francisco State University where he continued his studies and acted in close to thirty plays.  He and Eve eventually made their home in Affton, Missouri, and both worked as teachers at Affton High School.

For the majority of Don’s career he taught speech, drama, and freshman English at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis County.  He claims to have been a strict and serious teacher which I believe given his frequent rants concerning pop music and culture.  I asked him what qualities make for a good educator.  He replied that too much emphasis is placed on style nowadays.  “Teachers should have knowledge on the subject,” he said.

One of Don’s favorite poems is “Sailing to Byzantium,” by William Butler Yeats, one of his favorite plays is The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, and he greatly appreciates Jane Austen’s work.  His favorite musicians include Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck, Scott Joplin, and Johann Sebastian Bach.  Don loves old movies, the silent comedies starring Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.  He also named John Gielgud, Deborah Kerr, Alec Guinness, and Robert Duvall among his favorite actors.

Don’s first marriage ended with a divorce, sadly, in 1978.  After some time had passed, one of his students suggested he go out with Barbara, a coworker at Kirkwood High School, so Don asked her out on a date.  Six months later she agreed, and in 1980 they got married.  “I can’t praise her enough,” he says of Barbara.  “Except that she married me—I can’t respect someone like that.”  Don and Barbara were happily married for thirty-one years.  Three years ago, Barbara fell asleep in the Lord.  Don’s two daughters, Nikki and Teddi, live in New York now with their mother Evthokia.

On most weekday mornings Don can be found chanting and offering praise to the Trinity at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church.  On Sundays he celebrates the Divine Liturgy at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in South St. Louis.  One of the holy icons Don painted portrays the Apostle Thomas and is currently on display at the Assumption.  He has also painted icons of Saint Barbara and of the Holy Prophet Samuel.

Regarding life in St. Louis, Don said, “I love this city.  I’ve had a love affair with this city for half a century, and my love has not diminished.”