Getting Schooled by Miles Davis

Music is powerfully emotive.

The right piece at the right time can be a spiritual moment like no other, for some of us.

There are specific times I can remember some songs that blew my mind — songs I’d heard in the background time and time again, but a moment presents itself and the head explodes in all the aural rightness.

Like when it’d been a 14-hour day of stupidity in Whitehorse, Yukon, and The Tragically Hip’s “Cordelia” began playing as I pulled my car into my driveway, me ready to snap or sigh, whatever came first. Suddenly slow rising guitars just matched the coursing muted anger and frustration I felt after such a futile day. I sat there and listened to it twice.

Then I turned the car over, and drove the fuck out of town for an hour, listening to that song over and over.

I’d probably heard it 20 times before that night, but just never when it mattered.

Same deal with The Doors’s “The End.” Until I heard it play in Apocalypse Now, it never really registered on my radar. But a midnight viewing of the Vietnam classic in a dusty old theatre with that track bleeding out of crackling speakers, it just blew my fucking mind.

The creative process, for me, is all about timing, so it’s not really a surprise, then, that ingesting creativity should also require good timing.

Miles Davis is giving me an old-school edumacation today about how foolishly exclusive our tastes can be sometimes, and how much our narrow-mindedness can deny us when we wrongfully judge a genre via a single example of it.

For years and years and years, I was decidedly Not A Jazz Fan. And I ain’t talkin’ Utah, okay? Although…

But I mean jazz-jazz. Crazy trombones, pounding pianos, all that jazz-jazz, man.

It’s really the Story of Two Matriarchs. My aunt tried to get me into jazz when I was 8 and spending the summer with her in Toronto. I sort of got it, but let’s face it — I was eight. I wrote stories about pretend animals on “Garfield” note paper and slept with a teddy bear. What’s there to get? Are The Muppet Babies on TV yet? Miles who?

My mother, though, laughed at this fledgling interest in jazz when I returned to Vancouver. It was just noise, she opined. Aunt Pat was pretty nutty and sure liked to get silly with alcohol, what with that wobbly-walk of hers’n’all, so maybe Mom was right.

I slowly got the whole “it’s just noise” opinion myself from hearing the really experimental stuff, and just wrote the rest off.

Over the years, as I got older, I tried Miles Davis in a not-really-trying-because-I-secretly-know-it’s-just-crap kind of way, and stuck to my taste guns: Jazz was crap.

So, a few weeks ago, I finally got around to playing Miles’s A Kind of Blue, which had been in my iPhone for a while, under the thinking that one day the mood might strike. Well, nothing else was making my musical heart respond as I toggled through artist after artist on my phone, and then I saw Miles.

Hmm. Hey, you know, I’m kind of blue. Maybe I should listen to A Kind of Blue.

So, I did. And I liked it, and this feeling niggled its way into me while I scrubbed my dirty dishes at the kitchen sink. A jazzy kind of blue, kind of niggling thing.

Today I’m diving into The Cellar Door Sessions. And it’s working all too well. A half-hour ago or so, my feet were cold and socks loomed. I’ve been toe-tapping since and flip-flops remain in place with warm-blooded happy feets.

I’m glad I’ve tried again and again to get that appreciation of jazz working for me. I know better than most people, I guess, how quickly we can grow and change. I’m all about change.

It all comes back to the adage, “there’s a time and a place.”

It’s true of tastes, too.

From food to sex to music, it’s too easy to sample something once and think it’s representative of the whole. Maybe it’s THAT salmon you don’t like, not all salmon. Maybe they were a lousy lover and you should rethink your thoughts on sex in X-position with X-prop. And, hey, maybe you were listening to the wrong jazz.

Know who I learned that from?

A two-year-old boy named Jack.

He’d try every food a minimum — seriously, EVERY food — of three times. Three times! It could be rancid but he’d take three bites before he decided his opinion. THEN, he knew passionately which side of the opinion he sat on.

Here I was, 35, and always lived on old opinions, and opinions taken in a single sampling. A bite, a listen, a trial of some sort.

“No, I didn’t like that kind of seafood when I tried it 18 years ago, therefore…”

Now I accept that I’m narrow-minded and given to stupidity with a tendency to default my most obsolete opinions.

Everything’s worth trying again. I now make sure it’s a good example of that thing before I judge it. I’ll talk to others, rethink things. It’s a big world of experiences.

Methinks it’d be terrible to miss out on any because of foolishness and poor decisions.

So, here I am. Tapping my toes as the first disc fades out in applause and disc two of Miles Davis’s Cellar Door Sessions swings into a new groove.

Liking what I thought for 25-plus years I could never like.

This growing-up thing’s all right, man.

How about you? What’s something you did a total 180 on, and why? How’d opening your mind to trying it again change you?