Produced by

Smackdown: Kind of Blue vs. Bitches Brew

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

2009 and 2010 have been big anniversary years for Miles Davis fans. But only one album can reign supreme. Today, Soundcheck's weekly Smackdown series pits the iconic Kind of Blue (1959) against the genre-bending Bitches Brew (1970). May the best riffs win!

Joining us is Ashley Kahn, music historian, journalist and author of several books on jazz including Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece; and Will Layman, writer, teacher and a jazz critic for Pop Matters and other publications.

Which is the more influential album? Tell us why below.

Guests:

Ashley Kahn and Will Layman

Comments [31]

Michael Kellough from Staten Island

Bitches Brew.

When I left home to start college and study art at FSU in summer of 1970 I spent a bunch of my summer job money on some new technology, a Sony portable stereo cassette player. Battery powered, it had two detachable speakers all assembled into a nice leatherette briefcase.

I didn't yet have any cassette tapes (portable music all 8-track until then) so I stopped off at the music store and bought a few. Not knowing what to buy I took a chance and just chose stuff based on the cover art. I don't think I'd ever even heard of Miles Davis but the psychedelic realism of the Bitches Brew cover was so amazing I bought it anyway.

Got to campus, went through orientation, met a few like minded people and we decided to go see the sunset at the FSU Reservation on Lake Bradford. I decided to take the stereo and extra batteries and we'd all listen to my new unopened tapes for the first time.

And...I'd take LSD for the first time.

Laying on a sun-warmed concrete boat ramp on a lake in Florida, on a clear summer night, listening to Bitches Brew (in stereo), on acid, was a fantastic introduction to fusion jazz and I went on to absorb Weather Report and John McLaughlin etc.

Also in rotation that night; Donovan's "Open Road" and Quicksilver Messenger Service's "Just For Love". By chance, a fine combination.

Jan. 25 2013 02:09 PM
PiaZadora from Unemployment line

Oh, nothing sounds like those hokey, stale SoundCheck promos about the guy who grew up in Africa with zebras but listened to Led Zeppelin, Philip Glass blathering about some slurpy love thing and whatever. I only wish WNYC would repeat them EVEN MORE

Sep. 08 2010 02:06 AM
Andrew in Brooklyn

In an aural encyclopedia, you could look up "jazz" and hear Kind of Blue. If you looked up Miles Davis, I think you'd hear Bitches Brew.

Sep. 07 2010 10:32 PM
Hugh McCormack from NY, NY

No choice necessary, two different eras, two different Miles; add John Mclaughlin's electric guitar and Davis' tripped out trumpet, with electric keyboard and it's a whole new ballgame. Both major sea-change moments in contemporary Jazz.

Sep. 07 2010 05:08 PM

The Bad Plus??? Sorry, I have a bunch of their albums, and I do not get that comment.

Sep. 07 2010 04:15 PM

"So What" reminds me, the 1959 Robert Herridge Theater CBS TV program "The Sound of Miles Davis" is now available at Netflix. Gil Evans Orchestra, John "Coltraine"(mis-spelled), Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly. Cannonball Adderley was at that time part of the sextet, but missed the date due to illness.

Definitely worth it.

Sep. 07 2010 04:13 PM

Yup, late, listening on the the program audio.

For me, before one judges, listen to Steve Rowland's "Miles Davis Radio Project" from artistowneddotcom.

If the project does its job on you, you will realize that you need to get into both and not make a judgment.

Sep. 07 2010 03:59 PM
Beverly Brown Ruggia from Jersey City, NJ

fun discussion but the influence of each is infinite!

KOB is a timeless classic, the absolute best jazz of the era . It set a standard that musicians still strive to reach today and listeners love.

BB is provocative and shatters the traditions of early jazz standards. It offers a rocket ride to new possibilities and so many musicians and listeners jumped right on board for the ride.

I prefer KOB but respect and love BB as the work of a genius who was not willing to rest on his laurels. Miles Davis jumped off a the cliff of his comfort zone to challenge himself and the jazz world to invent new music.

Miles Davis was a one of a kind . He spoke different musical languages fluently and communicated with a variety of audiences. The discussion should really focus on the influence of his whole body of work and his artistic integrity.

Sep. 07 2010 03:11 PM
donna from brooklyn

blu v. bru - a haiku

why the brouhaha
about bitches brew versus
kind of blue? get both!

Sep. 07 2010 02:39 PM
Charles from mt.vernon,ny

"Kind Of Blue" wins hands down,IMHO. I didn't discover it until 1971 myself-and then heard "Bitches Brew"....yeeoow! I saw Miles at Avery Fisher Hall('72'?) and understood what he was doing,but not WHY he no longer sounded anything like KOB. As usual,Miles had moved on.leaving it up to his audience-at least the lucky ones-to catch up. Also, like many others,I can sing any number of solos from KOB. I don't know anyone who says the same about BB. While I still dig the track "Miles RunsThe Voodoo Down" with it's bad-ass ostinato bass-line,it's Kind of Blue that still brings tears to my eyes-"Blue In Green"-each and every time.

Sep. 07 2010 02:38 PM
STEWART ZULLY from nyc

The show spoke of how these albums influenced jazz artists, and I think Kind of Blue influenced Miles himself. Brew would never have happened were it not for Kind of Blue--Plus, it is the all time ultimate mood music; you can do anything with that in the background--it is a major player in American culture...period.

Sep. 07 2010 02:35 PM
Tom from jersey

Kind of Blue:
A dry Martini, pencil skirt, maybe a touch of heron
Bitches Brew:
Every white man's nightmare with a silthering bass clarinet & too much brown acid

Sep. 07 2010 02:34 PM
Ian

Even Miles wasn't influenced by KofB– listen to what he and the band did with it when they took it on tour in 1960 (Live in Stockholm, for example.) Very fast, edgy, pushing the envelope...already looking ahead to the music of the late sixties and seventies.

Sep. 07 2010 02:31 PM
anonym

there is so much more to jazz and so much more happening besides the modal stuff and the electric guitars.

i don't think of either of them as masterpieces.

Sep. 07 2010 02:31 PM
Marc Stager from Manhattan UWS

Follow up:
But - most influential?

BB, unfortunately.

Sep. 07 2010 02:30 PM
Frank Stevens

Don't forget all those albums he made in the interim between these 2. "Kind of Blue" led to ESP and Miles Smiles; which then morphed stylistically into Nefertiti, Filles du Killemanjaro and eventually the masterpiece In a Silent Way.
I think Silent Way is as important, if not more so, as Bitches Brew. And the most controversial Miles album followed Brew; "On the Corner" sparked more extremes of opinion in its day than anything Miles recorded before or after.

Sep. 07 2010 02:29 PM

My favorite of the two is Kind of Blue, Brew is good but a different kind of energy very masculine and sometimes tiring.

Sep. 07 2010 02:29 PM
Jake from New Jersey

You're missing the true Miles masterpiece, In A Silent Way! That album doesn't have the electric indulgences of Bitches Brew, but is far more compositionally complex than Kind of Blue. If you're really looking for an evening of introspective solitude or sultry romance, than In A Silent Way is your best bet, by far.

Sep. 07 2010 02:29 PM
Marc Stager from Manhattan UWS

Simple: Kind: Beautiful
Bitch's: Ugly

The Arrangements by Gil Evans, the mood and feeling of KOB are timeless and unforgettable. Sort of a Mozart of jazz.

BB is noise, gimmickry. Not listenable, as has been most of the "fusion" jazz and hip hop and rap that followed.

I actually prefer Sketches of Spain. My only problem with KOB is that it has been overplayed.

Sep. 07 2010 02:28 PM
Janice

Kind of Blue, no question. at the age of 58, I have both albums. I never get tired of listening to Kind of Blue. Bitches Brew? Haven't listened to in years. I agree that Bitches Brew represents, at least for me, a moment in time. Bitches Brew may have had an affect on jazz artists in terms of leading up to smoth jazz, jazz fusion and so forth, but for listeners, Kind of Blue is so evocative, has so much "emotional veracity," as the current speaker refers to and seems timeless. It's music is immediately recognizable.

Sep. 07 2010 02:27 PM
Ken from Manhattan

Don't dismiss In a Quiet Way as a precursor. Brew, while revolutionary, didn't come out of nowhere.

Sep. 07 2010 02:24 PM
Ero from Brooklyn

People do, however, sit with a joint in a dimly lit room, pondering the universe, while listening to Bitches Brew. And for my money it's plenty beautiful...

Sep. 07 2010 02:23 PM
Frank from Newark

I like both albums but Witch’s Brew does have a little bit of a dated sound.

Sep. 07 2010 02:23 PM
Rob Zantay from New York city

As a working Jazz musician (Bob James, Stanley Jordan and more) I remember the first time I heard Bitches Brew, it was like having a window open on a new world. It was almost hard to believe at first listen, two complete rhythm sections playing at the same time, the colors of the electric pianos, combined with the bass clarinet, electric guitar and all the rest. Truly something that was never heard before, it totally changed my life. Kind of blue was a "must hear, must learn" album, but each exists in its' own time sphere. Each was a revolution in "New directions in music" by Miles Davis.

Sep. 07 2010 02:22 PM
Ken Braun

I remember an article that the jazz critic Stanley Crouch wrote in the 80s, castigating Miles Davis for selling out to commercial interests and pandering to public taste. Crouch is a great critic, but he was way off the mark on this one. "Bitches Brew" was indeed a commercial success in 1970, but his many albums after that were resolutely anti-commercial and extremely unpopular. Only when he covered "Time After Time" in the 90s (after Crouch's criticism) did he pander to public taste and enjoy a bit of commercial success for the first time in two decades.

Ken Braun
Nutley, NJ

Sep. 07 2010 02:19 PM
Ryan from Virginia

Both are awesome records in their own right and for completely different reasons, but "Kind of Blue" shows up at the top of everyone's "Best Jazz Albums" lists for a reason. The atmosphere, the interaction, and even the story behind the record itself all make it one of the most fascinating records of the era.

Sep. 07 2010 02:18 PM
Reggie from Brooklyn

Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew are vastly different. Brew is amazing but dated, you can't listen to it without thinking of the late 60' early 70's. Blue however as your guest mentioned seems timeless.
How bout Brew vs. Panthalassa w/ B. Laswell.

Sep. 07 2010 02:18 PM
Crescenzo from NJ

Sadly, "Bitches Brew" is the more influential and because of the heavier marketing of its release time it got dumbed (VIA ROCK) far more than "Kind Of". If "KOB" is wallpaper, then as wallpaper it's the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.

Sep. 07 2010 02:18 PM
Nick from UWS

"Kind Of Blue", no contest. The mood, the evocative quality, the nocturnal universe of the it...nothing equals it. Nobody sits with a Martini in a dimly lit room, pondering their life, while listening to "Bitches Brew". One of the most deeply beautiful albums ever made. "Bitches Brew" while interesting, is not beautiful. It doesn't connect with deeper emotions.

Sep. 07 2010 02:16 PM
Rick M. from Bronx

if the title is "most influential," then the winner is BITCHES BREW by a knockout! HOWEVER, when one considers the HORROR of jazz fusion that followed BITCHES, one would have to consider it a hollow victory.

Sep. 07 2010 02:15 PM

Can't wait. May have to catch it late. I like both, The "First Great Sextet", and "Electric MDD".

Sep. 03 2010 06:26 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.