Released in 1959, Miles Davis landmark album Kind Of Blue is the best-selling jazz record of all time and is also generally regarded as veritable masterpiece.
Revered by fans from across all musical genres, the record brought together a group of musicians each in the prime of their respective careers. Led by Davis, the album also features saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, bassist Paul Chambers, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
Over just two recording sessions, the septet proceeded to lay down an elegantly simple approach to jazz. Legend has it that Davis showed up to make the record with nothing more than some rough chords and melodies decided upon. A record truly rooted in the art of improvisation, each song on Kind Of Blue was reportedly captured in no more than a couple of takes.
What is most impressive however is the manner in which the record has remained in the public’s eye. In 2008, the record was certified for having sold four million copies in the United States. At the end of 2009, the United States House of Representatives passed symbolic bill HR 894, “Honouring the 50th anniversary of the recording of the album Kind Of Blue and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure.”
This coming Friday night at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre, acclaimed Quebec trumpeter Ron Di Lauro will lead Jean-Pierre Zanella, André Leroux, Pierre Leduc, Michel Donato and Richard Provençal in bringing Kind Of Blue to life.
“It is the kind of record that has managed to withstand the test of time,” Ron says from his Montreal-area home. “In a lot of cases, if people own only one jazz album, it is more often than not bound to be Kind Of Blue.
“It is also the kind of record that appeals to such a wide array of listeners, as well. We have brought this show to towns in Quebec where the population is maybe 1,500 people and have had 150 or so people out to the show. You know when you can attract 10 per cent of a town’s population out to a show that you are offering something that is truly special.
“It is a magical experience for us to perform this music. We do insert some of our own solos into the songs but we stay true to the spirit of the record. We want the audience to be able to close their eyes and imagine that it is Miles himself putting on the show.”
Music has always been a big part of Ron’s life. Both his father and his grandfather were musicians, exposing Ron to a wide variety of musical genres ranging from military and brass band to Big Band, opera and more. He enrolled in the classical music program at McGill University but was gradually pulled into the realm of jazz music.
“My father was a trumpet player and enjoyed more of the Harry James swing-era of jazz music. Initially, I had decided that I would also go into music and had decided to take up the classical trumpet. Jazz was always a passion of mine though. It was actually through a cousin of mine that I gained exposure to Miles Davis’s catalogue. I just fell in love with what he brought to the genre.”
Ron tells The Times & Transcript that it was around 2010 when a music camp in one of Quebec’s Eastern Townships approached him with the idea of performing another of Davis’s records live – 1958’s Porgy and Bess. After researching the costs associated with obtaining the charts to the music, bringing in a conductor and the hiring of 18 musicians, it was not long before they were over budget.
“It was at that point that I had suggested we consider Kind Of Blue,” Ron says. “We got hold of the sheet music, I called up the guys and ran through it and found it was a perfect fit. The record was an influence on each of us performing and so things came together relatively quickly.”
Asked why he believes the album has retained its historical significance after 55 years, Ron says that a number of factors are actually at play:
“Miles and his group were using certain scales and tones on that record that would help usher the transition from bebop and hard bop jazz into more of a modal jazz framework which I believe ended up being the predecessor to modern improvisation. It is the kind of record that most people can appreciate.”
Ron and his bandmates now have more than 40 Kind Of Blue performances over the last four years under their belts. While the show’s popularity has been buoyed by the fact that few other groups are actively performing the record in its entirety, Ron attributes the success of the show to the accessibility of the music itself.
“You don’t have to be a hardcore jazz fan to appreciate the music. Anyone could walk in off the street and have an appreciation for it though many of those coming out to the show already know the album itself. Many nights, close to 90 per cent of the audience is already familiar with the album.”
What: Tribute to Miles Davis: Kind Of Blue
When: Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
Tickets start at $27. Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca
Article published in the February 18, 2014 edition of the Times & Transcript