Kinds of Blue: Miles Davis, Afro‐Modernism, and the Blues

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Abstract

Musicians and scholars alike tend to view Miles Davis's career through the lens of change, emphasizing his stylistic shifts among modern jazz styles from bebop to cool to hard bop to modal jazz to fusion and beyond. Davis himself supported that view with his famous claim that “I have to change. It's like a curse.” Through all the changes, however, the blues form a connecting thread that runs from his earliest recordings as a rhythm‐and‐blues sideman to his final years on tour. Although Davis's diverse blues compositions and improvisations reflect his many stylistic shifts, they are also linked by the cultural phenomenon recently dubbed Afro‐Modernism, expressed as a tension between tradition and innovation, rural and suburban, south and north, downhome and cosmopolitan. Seven blues recordings spanning almost four decades—including “Sippin' at Bells,” Israel,” “Walkin',” “Blue ‘n’ Boogie,” “All Blues,” “Eighty‐One,” and “Star People” (a.k.a. “New Blues”)—reveal that tension in the ways in which Davis and his collaborators treat melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, form, texture, groove, and other musical elements. Such an approach aims to integrate cultural and musical perspectives on Davis's life and work, and by extension, illuminate a key theme in postwar American life.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-27
JournalJazz Perspectives
Volume1
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2007

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