House kudos to Miles’ Kind of Blue. So what?

At age 50, Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue has been officially and unanimously hailed by the US House of Representatives. Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) sponsored H.Res 894, which on Tuesday passed 409 to 0, recognizing the “unique contribution” of the 37-minutes of modal improvisation trumpeter Davis and his stellar sextet recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959. The honor is richly deserved, and if you have to ask why, spend some quality time with the music. To learn more about it, I recommend Ashley Kahn’s well-researched book of “the making of Miles Davis’ masterpiece.”

But back to our contentious Congress: As my colleague Philip Booth posted on his blog “Scribe Life” the resolution reaffirms jazz as a national treasure (a point Conyers first made in 1987 with House Concurrent Resolution 57), upholds fair protection of recording artists under copyright laws, and encourages the U.S. government to take steps to “preserve and advance the art form of jazz.” 

Before anyone complains that would entail a government takeover of American culture, let us remember that this resolution is aspiration, not enforceable, and our gov already invests in culture in myriad (though too often paltry) ways. As Seattle-based jazz trumpeter and blogger behind One Working Musician Jason Parker suggests in his post on the KOB resolution, there are many programs costing little that could be highly efficacious in supporting jazz (and which could be applied to other American vernacular art forms too — I’m thinking blues, bluegrass, ethnic and folk forms) but require Congress to better fund the NEA, states to support their own arts councils, municipalities to get in on the game, private philanthropists and fans with modest financial resources to give what they can, presenter-producers to believe in the potential of putting on jazz concerts, media to open its ears. 
A little of that happens now, but not in any concerted way. Jazz and its extensions enter 2010 the same way they’ve struggled through the past 50 years of a century-long history: borne in the hearts and minds of creative musicians and a relatively small though international and influential coterie of devotees. If you’re reading this blog, you surely know this. 
Struggle, they say, is good for the soul, and if so, jazz has got it. Would direct government funding help or hinder jazz’s autonomy and development? Only one way to find out — try it. And then we could judge, applaud, ignore, reform, renew or scrap the results. As it is, a House resolution is a nice pat on the back for an album that’s proved itself by staying in print, finding new fans and staying of the moment for five decades.
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  1. says

    It’s hard to imagine there’s not a subtext to this citation (a good one) considering this is Obama’s favorite album (although I would have chosen In a Silent Way). Next, a citation for Bitches’ Brew!

  2. says

    What, me worry?
    Let’s take the cupcakes that Congress offers when it comes to jazz, and maybe we’ll get the three layered cake eventually. But worrying about it too much will just sap much-needed energy for creating more jazz.
    Besides the fact that I, too, might have gone with In A Silent Way, you can’t argue with the choice of Kind of Blue. After all, it is no doubt the single best-known jazz recording of all time, based on its continual breaking of sales records.
    Keep your eyes on the Improvise!

  3. Scott Foster says

    Joe Lieberman has threatened to block the Senate version of the Kind of Blue resolution unless changes are made. “Why did Cannonball Adderly lay out on ‘Blue in Green?’ I think America deserves an answer to that question,” he told Hannity. The Connecticut senator said Miles should consider remaking the track with Adderly included, but when informed that both artists are no longer with us, he said “well, then let Belden figure out something to do with it.”

  4. Scott Foster says

    This whole thing could be a slippery slope! First you get a Miles resolution, then the next thing you know there’s a petition for one honoring Kenny G from some guy calling himself “the congressman from Smooth Carolina.”