Monday, February 27, 2006

Kind of Blue: An Excercise in Interdisciplinary Studies


Going through some old papers from graduate school, I came upon a short essay that I wrote about Miles Davis and the album Kind of Blue. It seems even clearer to me now that Jazz is the perfect example of how an interdisciplinary education works. There are many ideas and lines of information coming together under a broad theme with minimal control from the top. Everyone “knows” what to play and where to come in. The popularity of this album lends support to the idea that “emergent” systems have it right and that top down control and rigid hierarchies would produce lifeless, or mechanized-sounding music.

Here is an excerpt from that paper (edited for this blog):

I think this also proves something else of educational value. Right combinations produce right things. Just like the concept of emergence, if software, a city, circuit board, building or whatever is put together the right way, it will yield great things.

In the case of Kind of Blue, one has the perfect combination of instruments and musicians. Davis came together with Julian "Cannonball" Adderly, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Here's how you know they were the right musicians; they had no rehearsal and only one take. Maybe this setting, being around equally talented musicians inspired each to do well. One great artist inspiring others - creating synergy.

I'm finishing up listening to the album as I write this, and, already I want to replay it. They say (whoever they are) that anyone can make something complicated - the real genius knows how to make it simple. Kind of Blue is just that - perfectly simple. Great musicians converged at Columbia Records on 30th street in New York City on March 2nd and April 22nd, 1959 and created something truly great.
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