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A Beginner’s Guide to Miles Davis (samenright.com)
279 points by tintinnabula 45 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

Miles Davis had the greatest set of ears too. His thoughts on his contemporaries in these blind tests are very interesting, and hilarious.

"For a long time, Miles Davis and I had been trying to get together for a blindfold session. I was determined that when the interview did take place, it would be something out of the ordinary run of blindfold tests; and that's just the way it turned out.

Every record selected was one that featured at least two trumpet players. As you will see, this selection of material did not faze Miles.

Miles was given no information whatever, either before or during the test, about the records played for him."

- http://www.forghieri.net/jazz/blind/Davis_1.html

- http://www.forghieri.net/jazz/blind/Davis_2.html

- http://www.forghieri.net/jazz/blind/Davis_3.html

- http://www.forghieri.net/jazz/blind/Davis_4.html

Miles knew everybody by ear and also personally and had his own strong opinions and that's what makes a lot of these reviews difficult. A classic here is the review of 'Caravan' (from Money Jungle) in Part 3 - Miles slams it, but today its regarded highly by many jazz fans.

I like the difference to Monk's blind reviews from the same collection. Monk is much more circumspect in what he says and really refuses to engage in negativity. I really love his restraint.


Interestingly, Monk’s own version of Caravan from “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington” was also derided by many critics (well the album as a whole, really), but it’s one of my favorite versions of that tune, and I think more people have come to appreciate that album over time.

Oh my, that is by turns both hilarious and brilliant. It's like a series of code reviews, but for jazz. Thanks for sharing.

NB: recognising another instrumentalist by ear isn't the wildly special part; I've spent some time around professional musicians and for many the subtleties in phrasing and tone &c are as distinctive and intuitively unique as someone's face, and especially so of a contemporary on the same instrument, so I'd be more surprised if he couldn't. The fun part for me is the encyclopedic scope of Miles's knowledge, and the pithy opinions they inform.

Miles Davis could be unforgiving in his critics, but I like to think that his ability to change his mind allowed artists he ripped apart to not take it personally.

Take for instance his comments on Dolphy, who was by then already considered very gifted by the likes of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane:

http://www.forghieri.net/jazz/blind/Davis_3.html That's got to be Eric Dolphy - nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I'm going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he's ridiculous. He's a sad motherfucker.

Then the irony

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Dolphy Carter, Hancock and Williams would go on to become one of the quintessential rhythm sections of the decade, both together on their own albums and as the backbone of Miles Davis's second great quintet. This aspect of the second great quintet is an ironic footnote for Davis, who was critical of Dolphy's music: in a 1964 Down Beat "Blindfold Test", Miles quipped: "The next time I see [Dolphy] I'm going to step on his foot."[57] However, Davis new quintet's rhythm section had all worked under Dolphy, thus creating a band whose brand of "out" was strongly influenced by Dolphy.

Great reads, thanks for sharing. It's like you can see him getting angrier and more disillusioned with jazz and the industry in general with each session. I also learned a new racist slur from that last one!

It's not in common use since the 70s.

Umm, I don't know about that. I've definitely heard 2 of my black friends disparagingly refer to other black people as uncle tom's within the last several years. That book, or at least tangential references, is apparently still in cultural memory. FWIW, this is the upper midwest, that slur might not be a thing on the west coast, I can't say.

For GP, based on the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" [1]. The book was abolitionist, but a quick read through of the wiki should give some background on why the title characters name is now a slur.

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_Tom's_Cabin

I'd imagine that GGP meant "ofay".


I have a page on my website where you can listen to a lot of bootleg recordings of Miles gigs, mostly 1950-70s. Enjoy!


All these can be found through SugarMegs search page http://tela.sugarmegs.org/

For best possible audio/video quality, join DIME torrents, which is where SugarMegs gets its stuff. http://www.dimeadozen.org/

Warning: If you're new to SugarMegs, prepare to lose a few days of your life. They have so much great stuff. Also, if you come across a set list that you can improve significantly (like you know all the song names), send them an updated HTML set list file, they really appreciate it.

My God, that warning is definitely needed. I'm either going to be extra productive tomorrow or not get a single thing accomplished, but this is great info. Mostly commenting b/c I can't favorite on mobile,but also to say thanks for posting that resource. I'll have to dig through and see if I have anything I can contribute. Thanks!

There’s a favourite link at the top of the page on mobile just under the thread title.

> We are very sorry! > At the moment, signup to DIME is closed. Please check back with us in a few days for a re-opening. > Thank you very much for your understanding.

Oh noes! Hope they reopen soon!

Hmm yeah.. They explain about that issue in the FAQ, section 2.1. There's quite a lot to learn in that FAQ.


SugarMegs seems to have just about all the audio that DIME has anyway, and at very decent quality. It's mostly not great quality audio to begin with. But DIME does have video too! Most things I would've wanted on there, I was already very familiar with thanks to SugarMegs. I've joined DIME a few times, and the same thing happened each time—I download a lot of stuff, then you can't download more until your ratio is >=0.25, which can take a few months, so I seed as much as I can for months...and then before I get around to visiting again they boot you off because you haven't logged into the site in 3 months.

_Many_ thanks.

Since I was a teenager, several decades ago, I've been deeply steeped in his music and life (read his autobiography so many years ago). But I had a huge revelation only recently, thanks to YouTube clips:

Miles was an extremely gracious person.

His on-stage and off-stage persona are so gruff... to the point, tell it like it is, take no shit, accept only the best work from people around you. But in interview after interview, he deflects personal credit and always (always!) raises up the young musicians around him. I never realized that selflessness.

    A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I'm still doing it.
    -- On being called a "legend." Miles Davis, 1991.
IIRC, only the tiniest handful of people could have unironically said that at any time in the 90's besides him. Off the top of my head, the only one really coming to mind is Michael Jordan (the NBA player, not the actor).

I think David Bowie is in that league. Even into the 2000’s was still pushing himself and I love his final album. I think Beastie Boys, too. Their last album, they were still looking for new sounds.

Bowie was absolutely in that league. It took me several years to appreciate his final album because of the circumstances but it is sublime.

I had kind of written him off after his "Let's Dance" sellout period I regret it. The second half of his career compliments the first half.

Let's Dance is actually a track that gave young Stevie Ray Vaughan a chance to shine with his guitar.

Of course, these examples are shadows of what Miles Davis accomplished. He’s in a league of his own. He fundamentally changed Jazz at least 3 times if not more. Influential in Bebop (he claimed to have written Donna Lee), Cool, Modal, Fusion, maybe some Third Stream. Guy was an incredible musician.


This is a really strange comment and it makes no sense.

The prince comment may be a reference to the musician Prince, who was also highly influential (not at Mile's level) and who changed styles several times.

Prince I agree with, and there's many others. It's really weird to suggest Miles Davis and Michael Jordan were the only "GOAT"-level figures alive and thriving in the 90's.

There were millions of legends in the 1990s, surely.

Knuth :)

Nobody who ever said:

    Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it. 
    -- Donald Knuth, 1977.
would ever dare to call himself the GOAT.

Fair enough, good lore :)


Ali's last bout was in 81, and he was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 84. Sadly, he did spend most the 90's as a legend.

Tyler Cowen’s the man to turn to when you want a great little ethnic restaurant in Rockville or Annandale, but panning Kind of Blue as overrated is peak Mercatus Center performative bloviating.

Here, go read Nat Hentoff’s interview with Miles from 1958 instead: https://www.jazzstudiesonline.org/files/jso/resources/pdf/JR... [pdf]

> Tyler Cowen described the album as the ‘Mona Lisa’ of jazz: undeniably a great work of art, but overplayed and overrated. Nonetheless, I think it’s essential to listen to all of it.

yes, the great music critic Tyler Cowen. No offense, but why is his opinion even relevant here? How is he qualified, compared to someone who either composes jazz or is a professional music critic?

Tyler Cowen always has an opinion and the author is an econ undergrad, so it just makes sense.

When learning to play jazz, one option is to practice using pre-recorded generic/commercially available backing tracks. They're alright for for practicing changes or just noodling a solo, but they also get old fast; nothing substitutes jamming with other musicians. The middle ground is using a well-known classic with enough room in the music to develop your own ideas, and for me Kind of Blue was (and remains) the stand-out stellar joy to play along to; damn if Miles doesn't leave a ton of space for others to fill in, and his collaborators were polite enough not to take all of it.

For a group where we talk often about frameworks and architecture, and ponder the dividing line between a platform and an application, perhaps it's worth seeing parallels in the field of music. Miles Davis wasn't just one of the greatest musicians of all time, he was also one of the great architects of music, and Kind of Blue a shining example.

That's a far cry from "overplayed and overrated", which upon investigation appears to be a misquotation/misparaphrase of a disposable observation made for the purposes of debate during an economics professor's podcast (no, really). If that's the standard of evidence, I suggest taking the more subjective assessments in this article with a huge grain of salt, notwithstanding that it's otherwise a decent overview for those not overly familiar with the jazz canon.

For fans of Miles' later period, this project is releasing every live tape of his performances from 1969-1975, in order and with commentary: https://theheatwarps.com/

Some real gems here, most of which are free to download. I admire the level of borderline-obsessive dedication required to keep such a project going!

During the pandemic I started listening to a bunch of Jazz again, listening to Miles Davis of course, but also a bit more of his collaborators such as Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter.

One person I really started listening to a lot more of that I didn't before is Ahmad Jamal, who I know is an artist Miles Davis was a big fan of. IMO if you like Miles Davis you should really have a listen to Jamal as well. Davis was clearly listening to Jamal.

Miles Davis was often criticized for being too commercial, but I I didn't realize that Jamal was criticized for the same thing. Jamal had cross over to pop appeal well beyond a typical Jazz musician.

Yeah, I played Ahmad Jamal to my girlfriend and she thought it sounds very 'cocktail' jazz. And she's right, it does! But the melodies and phrasing in his work are complex and beautiful, just like Miles.

ha! yes this was the criticism of him from jazz critics. cocktail jazz.

I've been lucky enough to see Jamal live a few times and it's great. Some real gems in there. I really enjoy the variation and evolution between his recordings of the same tracks, if you can find them!

If you really want to understand what made Miles unique I would skip the rest and jump straight to the Fusion period. Notably missing in the write-up are two incredible live performances: Dark Magus and Live Evil.

Huge fan of both records. As a massive Miles fan they're probably the two that I can come back to again and again when I'm looking to get kicked in the pants, musically. I suspect a lot of people are going to be alienated by 'Dark Magus' in particular, but the energy of his bands in this era is astounding. Really wild stuff.

A personal favorite of mine is 'What I Say (Live)' off of 'Live Evil. That bass line is the foundation for a lot of my own playing and Keith Jarrett is on FIRE in this performance. It's a shame that his Miles performances are the only ones where we got to hear him in this idiom.

I'm also a huge fan of 'In a Silent Way' and 'On the Corner'. I suppose my fav Mile's records are the ones where he was really pushing the boundaries of music. It reminds me of the tag that started appearing on his record around the era of 'In a Silent Way': "Directions in music by Miles Davis."

Edit: Wow. The reviewer really just skipped right over these two records. I guess they're probably niche for most people. That's too bad, cause they're the most bombastic records in his catalog and really highlight his range and the depths of his innovations. Oh well.

You're right about that bassline! I love the full, round but tight tone.

You might like Richard Bona and Linley Marthe, both of whom played with Joe Zawinul's Syndicate project. They both have that similar kind of solid tone.

- https://youtu.be/c4zNb01nA_A - https://youtu.be/ppNFJbMrOHw

Yeah. Michael Henderson on bass. He was only 19-20 at the time of that record. One aspect I love about Miles is his eye for talent, and his openness to switching it up and bringing in new players of diverse background.

I forget who, but one of the 'Dark Magus' era players is on record describing how Miles would just throw in some wildcard players to keep everyone fresh and on their toes. I believe 'Dark Magus' itself features two players who had not played with Miles prior that gig and didn't know each other. Imagine that! Your first time (ever) playing with Miles is on stage at Carnegie Hall with a band who's never played with you. Talk about trial by fire.

I think it was in his biography. They had some disagreement about money with one of the players. The guy was out and a new young guy came in as a replacement directly to the gig.

Man, I love that live, and all the music from that period of Miles' career.

On The Corner is one of my favorite albums of all time.

The opening of Live Evil is one of my favorite bass grooves of all time. A good portion of that album is very difficult to sit through, though. Interesting intellectually and historically but not something I find myself putting on for pleasure. Something about the trumpet does not lend itself well to electronic treatments IMO.

Man, I feel you. High intensity trumpet can be so grating. If a trumpet is going to be played in it’s higher registers with a lot of intensity it’s usually more palatable if it’s blended into other sounds to create a composite. Adding some lower tones really softens the edge and balances it out.

That’s the art of arranging music. You can write a good song and you can perform it well, but an arranger who knows how to blend the colors of sound will make you feel it in a tactile way. It’s probably the aspect of music that feels most like cooking to me: It’s like having a savory base with an acidic note that cuts across everything. Control of musical texture is so broad and rewarding when you stumble on something exciting and “right”.

Also notably missing: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Any guide to Miles Davis missing Jack Johnson along with Live Evil and Dark Magus is … incomplete.

Miles’ fusion period is by far his most interesting work.

Searched to find a reference to Jack Johnson because I, too, was surprised it was missing. I think JJ, Kind of Blue, and Sketches of Spain are the best entry points to start listening to Miles.

The Jack Johnson outtakes with Sonny Sharrock were a revelation to me. Well worth seeking those out.

I think of it as pre-fusion. It’s a very experimental, somewhat tentative - there is so much music from 70, 71 that I love and then it just goes way too electric for my taste.

My first reaction was to strongly disagree on advising a newbie to start with that period, but you are right to say that period will be the most "unique", even to modern ears.

His 50's-60's work was genius, but is still an easily accessible language, even to non-jazz folks. His later output, by contrast, is a language that was never quite-this or quite-that. It never popularized, and will seem rather bizarre to most people even today.

Strange to say that Miles' fusion never popularized, because Bitches Brew sold well and sparked imitators (Herbie Hancock's fusion era, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Jaco Pastorious) that also sold well and sold out conventional concert venues. As the Wikipedia article for Bitches Brew notes, the album “was viewed by some writers in the 1970s as what spurred jazz's renewed popularity with mainstream audiences that decade.”

I don’t know if you can call those guys imitators - Herbie, McLaughlin and Zawinul all played on Bitches Brew. It was a seminal “fusion” record for sure and the school of Miles without a doubt left a lasting impression on all of them, but all those groups sound pretty different to me.

I love hearing John McLaughlin tell Miles stories - he has so much respect and gratitude for him.

BB, In a Silent Way and Kind of Blue are probably my favourite Miles records, he really managed to reinvent the art form more times than many other people I can think of

Agreed, none of them are imitators. Proteges, yes.

Zawinul got his start with Cannonball Alderly, and one of his early compositions (Mercy Mercy Mercy) has big fusion vibes to it.

Hancock is just a Miles level genius. My piano teacher told me something like "I can play at Herbie's standard for a 5 minute stretch, but watching him keep at it for 90 minutes solid ..."

McLachlin is a hippie who cut his teeth on the late 60s modal/fusion scene.

In a Silent Way is my favourite jazz album ever. I think the history was they did Bitches Brew, then after that straightened that approach out a bit to make something more accessible.

Protégés - absolutely! I think they all saw it that way too. Miles was the teacher

Timeline on those albums - I think it happened the other way around actually - In A Silent Way was Miles’ first foray into electric jazz in 1969 - Bitches Brew came soon after in 1970 and was pushing the boundaries further. Both great albums, every single player on those albums is great. Miles sure could pick the best for his bands and make it gel together.

Herbie is without a doubt one of the giants. Listened to the Headhunters era albums probably more than any other records in my life. Killer. Love his earlier jazz stuff too, and the acoustic albums he put out later (Joni covers etc)

I mean that the musical language of BB (perfect example) won't be familiar to people today (same as it was unfamiliar back then).

By contrast, any of his quintet performances is easily recognized as "jazz", even to people who don't listen to jazz.

BB will be more like "what am I listening to??"

Do you disagree?

That does make sense to an extent. The average listener today is more likely to think of cheesy 80s synthy jazz fusion when they hear of the term, rather than something like Bitches Brew.

They all sound like imitators(not really) because most of them played on the Bitches Brew record. At least Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin. :)

"Imitators" might not be the best word, but judging from these musicians’ recordings as leader or sideman to others up to about 1970, which are generally in a much more traditional postbop vein, they might not have made the leap to fusion had it not been for Miles’ late 1960s albums already opening up a new genre gradually and then IASW and Bitches Brew throwing the doors wide open.

Your recommend got me to listen to Live Evil yesterday. I'm blown away and very intrigued by how many hip hop artists have samples from this this in their hits. I was continually encountering familiar riffs and moments as I listened.

Miles Davis is like the Forest Gump of music in that despite dying at age of only 65 in 1991, his career spanned so many epochs in US history, and always adapting with the times. Such as from the Jim Crow era of America from the 40 and 50s, to the era integration and social upheaval of the 60s to the 70s, to the digital and synth age starting in the 80s, the ending information age in the 90s. Nowadays, it seems like artists are stuck in a fixed, amorphous state of time between the early 2000s and present, whereas in the 20th century each decade was distinct in some way culturally, socially, and musically.

There's the classic miles davis/nancy regan urban legend (which is almost certainly false):

"Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?"

But miles did reinvent musical genres several times.

At least for me it seems that jazz is meant to be listened to by musicians. Otherwise you will miss 90% of what's going on. I remember an episode from Youn Indiana Jones Chronicles, where he stumbled upon jazz scene and learned to play a trumpet, he started soloing and everyone was like:"this is not jazz" and I was thinking "this is pretty good". I'm able to enjoy blues because I understand basics of it, but jazz seems way over my head. I wish there was a course, a series that could teach you how to listen.

> jazz is meant to be listened to by musicians

I've noticed that many people have an impression of jazz as being very technical and abstruse. Personally I got into it as a young teenager just because I liked the way it sounded. I didn't know anything about its cultural context and certainly nothing about musical theory (in the meantime I've learned a bit about the history of the genre, but still remain completely ignorant of musical theory).

My approach with jazz, as with any other piece of art, is to enjoy in the simplest and most direct way the things that give me a nice feeling or that challenge and surprise me and at the same time to discard those things that I don't like. I suspect any professional or serious aficionado would find this approach childish and rudimentary, but I don't care in the least.

> a series that could teach you how to listen

If there is such a thing I think you should run away from it. At least as a consumer of art you should look into the things that speak to you personally without regard for how high-brow (or low-brow) they may be considered. This is not to say that you should immediately dismiss things that are 'too fancy', but just that it's OK not to like them.

> At least for me it seems that jazz is meant to be listened to by musicians.

I get where you're coming from, I didn't get into jazz until I started playing myself. You can certainly appreciate it more when you understand what goes into it and why. Same goes for so many things in life.

That said Miles' album Kind of Blue which has been mentioned here I think is an album that can be appreciated by anyone and for me personally served as a gateway to more complicated jazz. There aren't any fast-moving complex harmonies, the framework of the songs are simple. Coltrane's and Cannonball's solos are fast on some songs, but not that complex or weird to a non-trained ear (I'd assume) and they are also very melodic (especially Cannonball's).

I'm a jazz player, though by no means great.

I think there are a couple of things that make jazz tend towards being more "difficult" for lack of a better word. One is that for whatever reason, jazz accommodates music with a very high level of complexity, and it's fun to go there and explore.

Another is that jazz no longer rules popular music, and is therefore not constrained to produce music that is "utilitarian" in the sense of being able to sell lots of records, fill dance halls, promote consumer products, etc.

One of the best "courses" for it is to understand how it developed. The miniseries Jazz by Ken Burns from 2000 is excellent and offers an extremely good intro to jazz. Don't take it as gospel though; some people have very strong opinions on it.

The most common strong opinion is that it basically ends in the 1960s. Jazz is 100 years old. There are more years of jazz after where the documentary ends than in the years covered by it.

It is a good watch but that's what peeves jazz nerds.

Looks like a great article, I will have to spend some time listening, though I've already listened to tons of Miles Davis over the years.

These articles are always missing a ton when they're written by a non-musician. That seems to be the issue with jazz. It's really really hard to tell what's going on if you're not a player, and jazz is not an easy thing to understand and learn even when you are a player.

I took Music History as an elective in college and it was really tough as a non-musician to understand a lot of this stuff. I made it a goal to learn an instrument and actually learn to understand this stuff as an adult as a result. And Jazz of course comes up as something very tricky to get your head around when you're trying to play it. The "aha" moments when you dig deep into a piece trying to play it/studying the score are what makes it special, and these kind of treatments of famous musicians completely gloss over that, as if it doesn't even exist.

His sound-track to “Lift to the Gallows”, a French movie, is my favourite. https://youtu.be/PW-SxgZViuk https://youtu.be/VjHCyl6X2q8

This reminded me of this 10 year old YouTube video that creates a "duet" between that soundtrack and LCD Soundsystem's New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, which served as one of my most memorable early introductions to jazz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huEtJw7pfLk&t=0s

It’s such a beautiful soundtrack. Perfectly paired with Jeanne Moreau despondently walking through the Paris night

I remember when our teacher of "African American Musical Civilization" in college used to say "Davis didn't invent anything, he was an opportunist that improved what already existed". I don't have great memories of that teacher and, regardless of if what he said was true or not, doing what he said Miles did, is not a trivial and/or bad thing at all.

In any case, I wish there were more "basic guides to X", being X whatever artist that has a certain level of fame and recognition which I fail to understand the reason for.

I’ve wished for two decades that I was more familiar with his work, but haven’t given it the time it deserves. Certain songs are my favorite jazz, by far excepting a few Coltrane songs.

But I just don’t know my way around, and I’ve spent too much time avoiding Bitches Brew (no judgment, but not my thing, even though it hits a lot of my tastes) fanatics who always want to show me that.

I’m not at a place where I can take much from this now but I’ll definitely reference it again when I can.

Meh. People like what they like but I hate that whole album.

Some may say the same for Kind Of Blue. I bought it on CD at Walmart in the 90s as a teen and fell in love with it. Never knew Miles was the Giant he was until later in high school.

A tangential question: for someone who has tried to listen to Jazz and Classical music but always found it sort of.. pretentious(?) would you have any advice or recommendations? I find myself less interested in music these days, although I'd say I would be more of a fan of the blues genre. I would really like to be able to listen to something (maybe only in the background) and enjoy it.

> always found it sort of.. pretentious

I've encountered this reaction a lot, but I suspect that it actually stems from a dislike of the kind of people that often listen to jazz/classical etc. which it then extended to the music itself. My approach is to enjoy the music in complete isolation from the 'aficionado community'. Music is something that any human being is capable of enjoying, no need to have a degree in musicology or to be a musician yourself.

> I'd say I would be more of a fan of the blues genre

That's perfectly fine, no need to listen to things you don't like :) - keep in mind though that it's important to assess the thing itself, not its fanbase.

> maybe only in the background

Perhaps this is a problem. My experience with jazz and classical is that at their best they really aren't background music, at least not for the first few hearings. I would recommend setting some time aside to listen intently and to explore the feelings or visual imagery that the music elicits - not the kind of feelings/imagery that you think it should elicit (because some critic said it should), but what you actually feel. Hopefully something will come out of that. If it doesn't it's also fine.

The difficult thing about listening to both jazz and classical music in the modern era is that both genres spent a long time (centuries, in the case of classical, about 1 century in the case of jazz) of modernist language-building (also deeply connected to each other). Every generation of composer felt compelled to improve on the last, ultimately leading to works that can be difficult for the uninitiated to approach.

Some advice for appreciating both genres:

- Do some learning about the functions of the music you're listening to; both jazz and classical music spans an enormous range of human musical expression and serves a huge range of needs, so knowing whether the music you're listening to was written for direct entertainment, background music at a party, the soundtrack for a play, or as a form of social interaction in itself can help to appreciate the music.

- Similarly, gain some understanding of the traditional forms and formats of the music. For classical, if you have some understanding of the mass, the sonata, the concerto and the fugue, you'll be able to learn to recognize and appreciate more what the composers are trying to do. For jazz, if you can pick up on the 12-bar blues, you'll learn to hear it everywhere. Either way, the forms help you build a pattern recognition that you likely already have for pop.

Lastly, both jazz and classical music are much more accessible from an entertainment perspective in their early forms than their later forms. If you start out listening to Bach and Louie Armstrong, it's a lot easier to build up to Schoenberg and Miles Davis than the other way around.

There's a Ken Burns documentary series on the history of jazz. It is not the best, but it is a very good into for understanding the history and development of jazz. For me, I used to dislike any vocal jazz, other than scat. This Ken Burns Jazz series illuminated me about vocals in jazz and now I appreciate them much more, and enjoy many. The series also gave me a context to understand and investigate deeper on my own.

If you are a blues fan, a good crossing over point might be someone like Kenny Burrell and his Midnight Blue album. SRV actually has a smokin cover of the first song off that album.

Edit: additionally, you might enjoy some more melodically focused players like Julian Lage. I’d highly recommend his album Gladwell as a starting point.

Look up Rick Beato on YouTube - he has the answers. / serious.

Seconded. Rick is great.

His music theory analyses may not be wanted/useful for non-musicians, but he’s very good at communicating what makes a given song/artist special.

> There is a perception that jazz is dead, and Davis himself even famously declared that jazz was dead. This is pretty unfair. For one thing, almost all of jazz is on Spotify now at amazingly high quality.

I think the recognition of this trend is what led people to start declaring "jazz is dead".

Frank Zappa once said, that Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny.

There’s a great series of albums from the ‘Jazz Is Dead’ collective, FWIW :)

So why do Jazz purists dislike Kenny G? (And Smooth Jazz in general, which is much more accessible). I want to relax and enjoy music, not work hard to appreciate its intellectual rigor!

If you want intellectual challenge then maybe you should enroll for a graduate program in Theoretical Physics :)

If you want the long version, written by a qualified person, Pat Metheny’s views on Kenny G are well written and reasonably accessible:


If you’d like a short answer by someone who isn’t qualified, it comes down to the disparity between his record sales and talent. Purists feel he has sold a shit tonne of records despite not being up to the technical standards set by the great sax players.

I’m not much of a Kenny G fan but I find that kind of criticism rather unwarranted. I don’t think it’s particularly fair to compare him to people like Coltrane or Cannonball as they’re almost completely different genres. To me (I’m not qualified), it’s like comparing baseball players to cricket players.

All that blah blah blah aside, like what you like and be proud about it. Purists can be wrong and they’re definitely not you.

> I don’t think it’s particularly fair to compare him to people like Coltrane or Cannonball as they’re almost completely different genres. To me (I’m not qualified), it’s like comparing baseball players to cricket players.

I agree, it is not fair. However, a more apt comparison would be between a top 3 major league baseball player and a top 3 little league player. And many people enjoy watching little league games (often when their kids are playing) and are not interested in pros, and that's totally their right.

Edit: and I just realized my comparison is between Kenny G and Coltrane's performances. It is entirely possible, and even likely, that Kenny G can play at a high level, but he just gives his audience what they want.

Thanks for this reply!! :)

I don't think my analogy was very effective, but I'm not sure the minor/major league baseball player analogy is much better. This one might just not be fit for analogies and the truth might be best.

John Coltrane and Kenny G are extremely good at what they do. They do dramatically different things and that's okay.

If you're right about Kenny G being able to play at a Coltrane-esque level, I'd argue that he's even better at marketing than music. It would mean that he could easily prove everyone wrong but he'd rather have the free press (and boatloads of cash) of infamy than bragging rights.

>If you're right about Kenny G being able to play at a Coltrane-esque level

Well, it appears my assumption was false!

I finally read The Pat Metheny article you posted, and he's pretty clear that Kenny G is not on the level of the greats:

> He had major rhythmic problems and his harmonic and melodic vocabulary was extremely limited, mostly to pentatonic based and blues-lick derived patterns, and he basically exhibited only a rudimentary understanding of how to function as a professional soloist in an ensemble

> The other main thing I noticed was that he also, as he does to this day, played horribly out of tune - consistently sharp.

> There must be hundreds, if not thousands of sax players around the world who are simply better improvising musicians than Kenny G on his chosen instruments. It would really surprise me if even he disagreed with that statement.

Mind you, he is comparing Kenny G (unfavorably) to the best jazz sax players (because he also argues that it is jazz, despite what the naysayers may say).

It’s elevator music. (You asked.)

I agree that the purpose is enjoyment. But art that demands attention, and, yes, some work, repays with a higher level of enjoyment. This is true for music, literature, movies, anything.

I like listening to music, not having music in the background. Maybe that's the difference.

Music is like everything else, the more work you put into it, the more enjoyment you'll get.

But it's perfectly understandable if non-musicians (or musicians not really interested in music theory, formal or informal) stick to Smooth Jazz and stay away from bebop and its successors, and prefer simple melodies and minimal harmony instead.

I’m only speaking from my taste here but… interesting music isn’t work. It’s just what catches your ear and your brain and your emotions. The “weird” jazz (I’m quoting one of my favorite live jazz drummers who correctly noted I “like when it gets weird”) isn’t work, for people who enjoy it. At least not passively enjoying it, as a musician I’m sure there’s a lot more thought process around what you can learn from it.

But as a listener who likes it, it’s just really interesting to hear. It’s not a challenge or an intellectual pursuit.

There are technical things we could discuss but it's tricky without going all music nerd on you so I'll argue by analogy from the visual arts.

John Coltrane is the mac daddy saxophonist. He is the capo da tutti capi. The recordings of his golden period (eg Crescent, A love Supreme etc) are the Mona Lisa.

Coltrane: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa#/media/File:Mona_Lis...

By contrast Kenny Gs recordings are Trechikof's "Chinese Girl" - Extremely popular but kind of terrible.


Just like it's fine to prefer Phil Collins' version of "You Can't Hurry Love" to the original[1], it's fine to like Kenny G's music - you should like whatever you like. But it's not being a "purist" to dislike it. When people get to a certain level of education in their music taste they start to realise some of its shortcomings.

For anyone intimidated by Coltrane, I recommend just getting "Ballads" or "Coltrane and Johnny Hartman". They are incredibly beautiful music that I have successfully played to all manner of non jazz enthusiasts.

[1]Actually that one really isn't fine. He messes up the iconic James Jamerson bassline by removing the beautiful anticipated quavers that give the original so much drive. Once you hear it the Phil Collins version seems so incredibly pedestrian.

You can listen to anything you want, but why should “intellectual challenge” be limited to a graduate program in theoretical physics? Should life be so simply divided into frivolous thoughtless moments of pleasure and relaxation and rigorous formal investigation of theoretical physics?

I’m not a profesional musician, but I think it’s because of the lack of “boldness” of Smooth Jazz.

Jazz might sound like an “old” style, but it was always bold, and audacious genre. You don’t have a 10year span without someone kicking the table and experimenting with something completely new and crazy (for the time being). Jazz is also consumed by people that know a lot about music, and these people get “bored” pretty quickly if they’re not stimulated by bold moves and perfect execution.

And Miles had a lot to do with this (I didn’t read the article).

Btw, there’s nothing wrong if you like Smooth Jazz or Kenny G or whatever. Music is music. Whatever makes you feel good.

Why do chefs dislike McDonald's?


If you want to discuss this, I think it would help to highlight or post some applicable quotes for us rather than dumping a page of close to 50 quotes (of varied content) and expecting us to read through all of them until we find the ones you may or may not be referring to.

As to Mile's supposed racism. I've never gotten the impression that he's had some inherent prejudice against other groups. What I would agree with, though, are his reactions to the various injustices and indignities of his own experience in America. His statements are nothing that I wouldn't expect from someone who was treated the way he was.

In his autobiography he describes his experience going to Paris for the first time and the revelation of being treated with the dignity and respect for someone of his status. Something he had rarely, if ever, received back home.

As another poster has said, if what he has to say about white people in America offends you, then perhaps you need some thicker skin. As far as I can tell, Miles' assessments are fair.

Yeah I find it pretty hard to imagine how any black person in the US during the first half of the 20th century wouldn't develop a dissatisfaction with white America. Heck, Davis was personally beaten up by a cop just for being black.

Reading some of the biographies of the jazz greats really opened my eyes to that experience. I mean, my eyes should have already been open, but hearing it from jazz musicians made a particular impact on me.

He worked with a lot of white musicians and arrangers. In the 1962 Playboy interview, he famously said, "I think prejudice one way is just as bad as the other way. I wouldn't have no other arranger but Gil Evans -- we couldn't be much closer if he was my brother. And I remember one time when I hired Lee Konitz, some colored cats bitched a lot about me hiring an ofay in my band when Negroes didn't have work. I said if a cat could play like Lee, I would hire him, I didn't give a damn if he was green and had red breath."

His legacy is not tainted in the slightest. He was angry at the treatment of blacks by white America, and never apologized for it.

In his professional life, he had life-long and career-defining relationships with white people (Teo Macero, Gil Evans, ...), and clearly did not let race stand in the way of great music.

Miles became an ornery old man in the 1980s. Most of his angry statements (sure, some are about race, others are about all kinds of things he didn’t like for whatever reason) that became grist for quoting came generally when the quality of his work itself had already begun to decline significantly, in the view of most critics and jazz historians. For me, this doesn't “taint his legacy” as much as give me one more reason for ignoring his last decade, while still enjoying greatly the recordings generally regarded as classics.

I saw that. If that hurts you as a white male (I am assuming that's what you are, like most of HN), then you just need to grow some thicker skin.

IMO racism against us hardly feels more than a little "prick" compared to what it does to minorities with a history of discriminations.

Unless of course you've bought into victim mentality.

Care to elaborate? I don't know much about Miles Davis' life, though I love his early jazz albums.

There's an excellent autobiography called Miles, by Quincy Troupe. I highly recommend it. I've read it a few times over the years.

As for racism, Miles faced significant racism himself, being arrested, assaulted by police etc. I don't recall the details right now but he did say some angry and not-so-nice things about white people, perhaps born out of his own experiences.

Nobody can fault him for any kind of discrimination in his music though, as he's helped shape the careers of many jazz artists over the years, from all backgrounds.

In any case, Miles was a fascinating character. A master at his craft.

The ____ed up legacy of the arrest of Miles Davis (by Adam Neely):


I can’t find much context around this. Got some links?

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