Friday, September 22, 2006
Worship and Miles Davis
A few years ago, one of the guys who worked with me on collegiate ministry staff asked me what music was I listening to that led me to a sense of worship. I gave him some standard Vineyard CD that I liked, not thinking much of it. I returned his question. He said Miles Davis. I thought his answer was a bit odd, since my cultural framework had put his music in the "jazz" genre and not on the "praise and worship" list. I asked him to explain. He told me that it was the beauty of the sound these musicians created together that drew his soul into a place of gratitude for a God that put His image into humanity. My response was, "Huh." I thought music had to be "Christian" in some way in order for me to deem it OK to worship with. I also assumed that words of songs had to say something about how great God is and how much I suck and so forth. My paradigm was pretty rigid and I was completely unaware that it was. But it took a guy who I was supposed to helping learn ministry to teach me something about myself and to open my mind up a bit. The shift was slow, but I now see what he meant by beauty leading to worship. I bought a Miles Davis CD, Kind of Blue, and can say that it changed my life. I did a little research on the album, which is not hard to do since there is so much written about it. Music experts point to this album as arguably the most influential work on music today. The short of it is this, up until 1959, jazz continued to progress in a more and more complex direction. Bop gave way to be bop, which led to hard bop. All these styles had very intricate chordal structures. Davis suddenly took jazz in a completely opposite direction. He moved toward a simpler approach. The structure of his songs would be based on single note scales, or modes, rather than multiple note chords. What this did was free the musician to explore more freely the improvisational landscape. Davis said of chordal jazz, "once you master knowing how to play through the changes, the music gets boring." Jazz traditionalists balked at the idea, saying it would make jazz too easy, that it would discourage young players from the discipline of learning the standards. Some seasoned players hated modal jazz, because they didn't know what to do with it. It was just too different from what they were used to. The album made a splash then and it still sells well today. Some experts say that even modern electronica and techno has its root in that album, because of its modal structure. Everytime I hear the opening track of Kind of Blue, I get goose bumps. I picture these jazz giants in the studio who were there for just another gig because the trusted Davis' leadership. They had no idea they were about to make history. They weren't concerned with what the music world would think. They had music to make. Interestingly, that opening cut is titled, "So What."