Five songs. That is all it took to make the best selling jazz record of all time. The sound was soft, but soulful; the solos short, but powerful.
Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” has been a great influence to many musicians. Everything on the record is something to behold—at least as far as Russ Peterson is concerned.
On Nov. 30, Peterson and a group of five other musicians took the stage in Christiansen Recital Hall at Concordia College.
The sextet of musicians liked the “Kind of Blue” album so much that they decided they would play through the entire album, top to bottom, showing spectators and students the passion and meaning behind the collection of songs.
Peterson, a saxophone player and jazz professor at Concordia, said that the pieces of music, while important as the originals, were used as the basis for their performance last Friday night.
“We are not going to play the pieces note for note with a transcription for everything,” Peterson said before the concert. “While that music is important, the basis for all jazz is that you listen to your favorite players and then you imitate, and when you can imitate, that is when you start to innovate.”
Peterson imitated both John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. They played alto and tenor saxophone in Davis’ group. Because the group only consisted of six players, the music is more raw and open than a jazz band that consists of more than 20 players. Peterson said that all the music on the album was unrehearsed and recorded on the first take, which is the feeling he hoped to bring to the stage.
The beginning song, “So What,” started with a soft bass line and began to build with all the instruments until finally giving way to trumpet player Tom Strait, who emulated Miles Davis for the night. Strait stood in front of the microphone as the other players stepped off to the side just to listen—to feel. The simple cord changes gave way to melodies and rhythms that seemed simple but were powerful and soulful in their own right.
The music, all written by Davis, had a powerful effect on the musicians playing on Friday night. For example, drummer Allen Carter, who was imitating Jimmy Cobb, talked about the simple rhythms and notes he was going to play.
“If I look bored tonight don’t be alarmed; I am enjoying myself,” Carter said. “I have never had so much fun playing so few notes.”
Carter’s job was mainly to drive the band forward and keep time in the music. He even recounted his own experience in an airport bathroom where he encountered Miles Davis and they talked about, of all things, “Kind of Blue.”
Students that came to the show had their own stories of meaning behind the performance. Junior Michael Schuldt said that the rendition of “All Blues” was his favorite.
“This is one of the only jazz albums that I actually know, so it is cool to see how they played this,” Schuldt said. “I was able to recognize and see how the solos differed from the originals and they were fantastic.”
For freshman Tom Dukatz, “Kind of Blue” holds a special meaning. He liked the album so much that he wanted to share it with his mom; he gave it to her as a present a couple years ago because he knew that the simple, relaxed jazz would be perfect for her.
“I knew this album before the performance and I thought it was great,” Dukatz said. “But this performance was so full of soul and power.”
At the performance, the solos were a key part of each song. Each player took turns trading off solos, and for Peterson, the solos in the album are as good as it gets.
The album is only 45 minutes long but packed with music that makes people listen. As the players began to play their last song, “Flemenco Sketches,” the mood was relaxed. Yet there was something about the music and the way the musicians played with focus and intensity that excited the room. They never succumbed to the calm and commanding quality of the music.
Peterson was able to put the feeling of the entire album into words.
“Jazz abandons itself in the moment,” Peterson said. “You either live in the moment with jazz or you don’t live.”