#12: Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue" (1959)

12 Kindof Blue.jpg

You learn about jazz from insomniacs and early risers, nightfly DJs and space cowboys. Miles is your first and as such, your all things, what you carry when Manhattan has you up late and anxious, when he is snoring although he tells you he is not, when he has ripped away the part of you that once whispered yes and replaced it instead with a black oil slick that coats your whole soul.

So what you tell yourself. You will improvise your way out of all of this. That’s what life is, after all, a thumbnail sketch, a scribble of melodies from your mother—go to college, become a teacher, marry an accountant like your sister did. One apartment, then another in a series. You can’t sleep in any of them; in one, the cockroaches freeload in small brush strokes around a windowpane and in the other, car horns blow around your room at all hours, what they used to call taxis they now call Uber. You always come back to Miles and Bill, Coltrane and Cannonball.

In college you will deviate temporarily; you will fall in love with a man over a pair of slim negronis and the pulp-wood scent of paperbacks. He will whisper blue in green while you fail to sleep with him, despite your best dress, despite the candles you have lit. It rains almost daily where you are these days; your soul aches with broken voodoo as you watch each tender droplet on the windowsill, wondering what you have lost, wondering what might have never been found. Another will pretend to like Charlie Parker and give you a ring, and when you find out that this is one of a thousand lies he has told you, you will give back the ring and run off with the Bird. Despite false starts, you will, for a time, be happy.

You will never get the courage up to ask if he even likes jazz, instead you will invent a version of him with a winter-cool whisper on his lips. Miles and miles you will travel and give all your kisses to a straw between your lips while you savor the taste of cashmere, the scent of unmet desire. His eyes, all blues, will quietly wind up your soul like a red string around his finger, but you don’t mind, do you? Not one goddamn bit.

We let our heads get cluttered up until nothing makes sense. We try swapping out the piano player, a spouse, an old friend who isn’t as shiny as a new one. But when that horn comes in, clean and pure, you realize that you only have this one take. A fakebook can only take you so far, a sketch is not a lifeline.

So you close your eyes. You breathe in the scent of cigarettes and magnolias. You let your heart ache, and you let your heart soar. You will survive the improv, you know where the open road is even if you choose never to take it. Hell, maybe someday you will. Hell, maybe someday you’ll make good on a promise to make one perfect sound.

Just one.

—Libby Cudmore