A friend recently asked for a recommendation on an album to give as a Valentine’s Day present - specifically, a recording substantial enough to be considered a worthwhile gift but romantic enough to win approval from his wife.
All I could think of was “Kind of Blue,” the seminal Miles Davis recording that was recorded 50 years ago this spring. Because of the record’s impending anniversary, “Kind of Blue” is available in two new deluxe versions designed mostly for ardent jazz admirers rather than casual romantics.
So here’s the lowdown on how much green you need to spend on “Blue.”
The Collector’s Edition runs about $100 and extends “Kind of Blue” to three discs, including a fairly redundant set of the album’s initial vinyl mixes. But the kicker is the inclusion of a DVD called “Celebrating a Masterpiece,” a beautifully shot hour-long documentary on the making of “Kind of Blue” and the history of Davis’ career that surrounded it.
Shot in vivid black and white, it lets a host of luminaries - from the photographers and engineers involved with the original recording sessions to a host of jazz giants (Herbie Hancock, John Scofield, Ron Carter) - provide complimentary but impressionistic views of “Kind of Blue.” Several of the interviewees - singer Shirley Horn, saxophonist Jackie McLean and journalist Ed Bradley - have died since the documentary was filmed.
Hopefully, Columbia Records will see fit to release “Celebrating a Masterpiece” as a stand-alone DVD. It shouldn’t take 100 bucks to enjoy its riches.
The two-disc Legacy Edition of “Kind of Blue” is vastly more affordable (less than $20). It augments the original album with bits of studio chat and false starts that for die-hards will make the album seem like a combination of rehearsal and performance. The second disc also includes standards, including a lovely and, yes, romantic “Stella by Starlight,” cut in 1958 with the same Davis sextet that would soon fashion “Kind of Blue.”
The treat of the Legacy Edition is a previously unreleased 17-minute live version of “Kind of Blue’s” most storied track, “So What,” cut during a 1960 concert in Holland.
Finally, for those favoring romance over any kind of jazz detail, there is “From the Heart,” a new, Valentine-themed Davis sampler that covers more than three decades of the trumpeter’s music, including the ultra-romantic, Bill Evans-penned “Kind of Blue” ballad “Blue in Green.” The anthology is designed as much for jazz novices on the prowl for an eleventh-hour Valentine’s Day gift as the Collector’s and Legacy Editions of “Kind of Blue” are for the Davis fanatics who can’t get enough of a classic.
My personal choice: Get the single-disc version of “Kind of Blue” that was remastered in 1997. It sports an extra, alternative take of the hushed, wondrously simple and overwhelming emotive “Flamenco Sketches” and is $10 or less.
Whichever way you go, though, you will find no greater passport to a day defined by red than with a gift underscored by blue.