John Kelly writes for Culture about the Albums That Will Save Your Life...

Miles Davis, in his own whispered words, "changed music five or six times." He was right about that.

When Miles left Charlie Parker's band in 1948 he immediately formed groups of his own, including the famous nonet which recorded Birth of the Cool, developing an approach quite unlike the frenetic, explosive bebop of his old boss. The instrumentation, which was also new to jazz, produced the original sound of the 'cool school'. He was only 22.

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From 1949-53, and with a serious drug habit, Miles lost all direction.  As his biographer Ian Carr puts it, "he diced with death, he suffered humiliation and degradation, becoming at times a virtual derelict."  He was to return, however, after kicking the habit 'cold turkey' and enter an extraordinary ten-year period that produced a string of masterpieces.  This was the era of the great Miles quartets, quintets and sextets – starting in 1955 with that first group, featuring John Coltrane on tenor sax. A creative relationship with the orchestral arranger Gil Evans led to albums like Porgy and Bess, Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain – all recorded in 1959/60. He was just 34 years old. He had been a central figure in everything that had happened in jazz since the Forties, and he had a back catalogue that, by anybody’s standards, was simply astonishing.  But then Miles was never one for settling.

Kind of Blue was also recorded in 1958/59. Miles, never afraid of great musicians, always surrounded himself with the very best. For these sessions, they were a varied bunch – very different from each other and, in many ways, from Miles himself. For example – and to crudely simplify – the piano of Bill Evans was ‘cool’ but the alto sax of Cannonball Adderley was rooted in gospel and blues. And where Miles was sparse, Coltrane was full-on. It really was quite a remarkable band – Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and Wynton Kelly on piano on one track – and Miles just threw them in at the very deep end of modal jazz. Modal is one of those terms that jazz folks like to drop – basically, it’s to do with improvising over scales beyond major and minor, with less emphasis on chords. The album’s best-known track So What has only two chords. More than enough when these guys are playing.

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The music on Kind of Blue, happening on the spot, is mostly slow, sparse and always exquisite. And yes, it really is kind of blue. Not just because of its consistent mood, but also for the simple fact that it’s actually a kind of blues album – a kind of a blues, concept album that never, ever fails. So if you feel like launching a life-long love of jazz, go get a copy of Kind of Blue. It’s kind of beautiful.

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Kind Of Blue is on Columbia in various formats and editions. The John Kelly Ensemble is on lyric fm, Monday-Friday @2pm.