Ears Wide Open

I was in the middle of a long moving process when I decided to go through some boxes and pull out my favorite albums. I soon realized that I hadn’t sat down and really listened to music in quite some time. When I discovered jazz in college, I would finish my classes, return to my dormitory and sit on the couch with the speakers facing me, close my eyes, and listen to one or two albums in full. It wasn’t mere background music, and I realized that lately that’s exactly what it had become.

So one by one I went back and really listened to some of my favorites:

• Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and the Abstract Truth”
• Clifford Brown’s “At Basin Street”
• The Jazz Messengers’ “Live At Birdland” (Art Blakey is pictured above)
• Sonny Rollins’ “Plus Four”
• Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker’s “Reunion”
• Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Django”
• And from Miles Davis: “My Funny Valentine,” “In Europe,” “In Person Friday Night,” “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “ESP,” and “Kind of Blue”

All are classic albums with a great sense of cool, and lend themselves to sitting in a comfortable chair with your beverage of choice, closing your eyes and really following the music. With Miles in particular, his breathy notes give a feeling of solace that never fails to keep my attention, and making me sink into a deep calm and lose track of time. Several weeks later I’m still on my Miles kick, listening to “Kind of Blue” as I write this. And I’m back to listening to jazz the way I used to: on my couch, eyes closed, with a cold drink. Why not do the same with the following clip? Though you may want to keep your eyes open. It’s Miles and Coltrane doing “So What.” As one comment puts it, “They rip holes in the universe with their solos.” — SCOTT BYRNES

16 Comments on "Ears Wide Open"

  1. Was jazz’s adoption of the Ivy style an early example of cultural appropriation?

  2. Dieter König | January 14, 2019 at 6:07 am |

    Were you an Ivy aficionado when you were a college student?

  3. Old School Tie | January 14, 2019 at 7:50 am |

    Kenny, we suppose it was, however, the Ivy look must have been so de rigeur at the time that it was almost impossible to NOT look on the Ivy side…

  4. Just goes to show everything is contextual–of its time and place. The soundtrack of 80s-era parties I recall, where shetland crewnecks, corduroys, (Duck Head) khakis, penny loafers, prep school sweatshirts, “Bean Boots,” and (usually PoloRL) OCBDs were in abundance, mostly entailed music by the budding “college (alternative) rock” bands– R.E.M., The Smiths, New Order, etc. And lots of Grateful Dead. Few if any had heard a jazz song in entirety by that point in their lives. And nobody cared about the roll of the collar or the slope of the blazer shoulder.

    Funny how Heyday Ivy fetishization connects all sorts of cultural dots that might have been lost to time.

  5. Ironically, I suppose nothing has grown or expanded music quite like the mp3 and portability, while at the same time, nothing has diminished the soul of music quite like the mp3 and portability.

    In many ways, perhaps for most of us, at least at times, music has primarily become a soundtrack for daily life, merely a supporting character, a sauce to complement something else, and rarely the star.

    I fear the response and look of utter confusion that one might receive just asking people “when was the last time you just sat and listened to music, without doing anything else?”

  6. Charlottesville | January 14, 2019 at 11:58 am |

    Nice post, Mr. Byrnes.

    BRB – Good point re the ease of MP3, etc. making us sometimes forget to listen to what we are playing. Yesterday it snowed all day at my place, and my wife put an actual LP on the turntable, something we rarely do these days. It was the Brandenburgs, rather than jazz, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless to sit by the fire and simply listen to great music.

  7. I used to do this in college as well. It was to de-stress after exams or oral presentations. My go to album was In a Silent Way by Miles.

  8. Jonathan Mitchell | January 14, 2019 at 2:27 pm |

    I was introduced to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in 1960 during the first semester of my freshman year at college, and have never felt the need to listen to jazz ever since.

  9. Charlottesville | January 14, 2019 at 2:57 pm |

    Jonathan – Beautiful and serious music indeed. Listening to all 6 in a row makes for an enjoyable afternoon. I like jazz as well, but my soundtrack in school days was closer to the bands S.E. mentions above. Nowadays, my wife and I are most likely to be listening to classical or something from the 40s through early 60s, a mixture of jazz, and American songbook pop (Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Cole, etc.). However, last night after we re-watched The Big Lebowski, I finished the night with a little Townes Van Zandt, which suited the mood and may appeal to Whiskeydent and the other Texas Ivy guys.

  10. What do you Bachians think of Glenn Gould’s iconic interpretation of the “Goldberg Variations”?

  11. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” should be played on a harpsichord rather than piano.

  12. By this reasoning, shouldn’t all Bach be played on harpsichord?

    BTW, I frequently attend this long-running Bach Vespers series and enjoy hearing him on period instruments. I also enjoy Gould’s interpretation.


  13. JS Bach composed for the harpsichord, not the piano or fortepiano. If you want to hear his music as he intended, the harpsichord is only authentic choice. Glenn Gould’s playing was idiosyncratic, especially the tempos, at times.

    Wendy Carlos played Bach on Moog synthesisers (recorded when she was Walter). “Switched On Bach” was hated by the classical music industry. The Grammy Awards and Gould love it. Personally, I prefer to the hear the music as the composer intended. Rachmaninov’s recordings of his own music are much treasured.

  14. Franz Lehar composed “Vilia” for the operetta “Die Lustiga Witwe.” It is my favorite operetta aria.

    Still, I enjoy Coltrane’s version.


    Fortunately there’s more than enough art out there to last a lifetime.

  15. Christian, real cool. I had never heard of The Lost Album. I feel the same about the MJQ and Swingle Singers rendition of Bach’s Air on the G String. I think Bach would have dug it too.



  16. LOVE that video!

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