It’s time for the anniversary of Miles Davis’ album, “Kind of Blue.”
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Even though I was once nicknamed “Dr Jazz,” this news passed me by. Being in Toronto, I read the Toronto Globe and Mail yesterday. It published their “Moment in Time” anniversary, that of the groundbreaking “Kind of Blue” album by trumpeter Miles Davis and colleagues, my—and many others’—favorite recording of all time.
Yet, until yesterday, and despite being a psychiatrist, I had never thought about what sort of color or mood “Kind of Blues” was attempting to convey, if any. After all, it was titled “kind of blues,” not just “blues.” I checked the jazz literature, but could not find the answer. That is probably no surprise because Miles rarely talked about his music.
Released on August 17th, 1959, the album musically pivots from improvising on chord sequences to modal principles, establishing a certain moodiness or atmosphere in each cut that has led to it becoming the best-selling jazz record of all time.
When I had gotten up that morning, I put on a blue-green shirt instead of the usual white one on this trip. Now I think I know why. One of the cuts was titled “Blue in Green.” Then, more broadly bluish, there is the most popular piece, “All Blues.” Finally, I remembered that the poet and singer Oscar Brown, Jr, had set the latter piece to words, beginning with:
“The sea, the sky, the you and I
The sea, the sky, the you and I
I’ll know we’re all blues
All shades, all hues, all blues.
Some blues are sad
But some are glad
Dark-sad or bright-glad
They’re all blues
All shades, all hues, all blues
The colors of colors . . .”
“All hues.” The most popular current jazz trumpeter is Wynton Marsalis. He recommends using hues for skin colors, not Black or white. Couldn’t variations of “blue” be that metaphoric universal skin color? It represents a certain wistful yearning or sadness we all have at times, yet the blues can also reflect gladness. What can be more universally human than that combination?
If you have never heard the recording, give yourself a present and do so. Listen to both the original and then any version where the words are sung. I doubt you will be left feeling sad.
Sometimes, I wonder: what effect would it have to be played softly as background music in a psychiatric waiting room?
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.