April nine, two-oh-two-two: Ben Hunt got the band back together. The intent: to pay tribute
to perhaps Miles Davis’s most famous work, “Kind of Blue”.
Some may claim that other works are more historically important, such as “Bitches Brew”.
Some may claim that others are better artistically. But one indisputable fact is that “Kind of
Blue” is the most successful album—commercially—in jazz history.
The album was recorded in two sessions at the Columbia Street Studio in NYC. The first was
on 6 March 1959; the second on April 22. The work featured a remarkable collection of
greats, including Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and many more. Nat
Hentoff and Robert Palmer (the critic) wrote the liner notes. Stephen Thomas Erlewine
would later call “Kind of Blue” the “Citizen Kane of jazz” and proclaim it “the pinnacle of
Sixty-two years after its debut, a handful of New Zealand’s finest jazz musicians replicated
the album in all its glory and in its entirety for a lucky audience at Bedlam & Squalor: Ben
Hunt on trumpet, Chris Buckland on tenor sax, Jake Baxendale on alto sax, Anita Schwabe
on piano, Nick Tipping on bass, and Mike Jensen on drums.
So What furnished each soloist with ample opportunity to display some chops. The trumpet
riff in particular must be among the most recognizable in music history. Freddie Freeloader
rumbles along in that same groove before Blue in Green slips into a gentler, more poignant
mood. All Blues picks the tempo back up again with some of the most memorable and
provocative horn work in any genre. Even those not tuned in to jazz might recognize these
riffs. Finally, Flamenco Sketches finished the album—and the first half of the night—with a
magical, spicy, and exotic sax solo by Jake.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to some of Miles Davis’s other great works, none less
famous than those of “Kind of Blue”.
“Kind of Blue” was recorded well before I was born, but on the ninth of April it sounded as
fresh to my ears as if it were recorded that morning before lunch. All at once, it captures the
sound of an era. Never having lived in that era, I can nonetheless feel a bit of what it must
have been like at the close of the Fifties: the end, if we’re honest, of the post-war boom; the
calm before the storm the Sixties would usher in. And “Kind of Blue” is nothing if not calm
and even wistful, as if it knows a moment is passing never to come ‘round again.
Sixty-two circuits around the sun and heaven knows how many millions of kilometers later,
Ben Hunt and friends built a bridge over space and time taking us back to that moment of
breathtaking creativity without which jazz would most likely not be the same. Would the
jazz musicians of today, including those right here in Wellington, be what they are if not for
the enormous influence of Miles Davis and his friends? Most, I think, would say no.
And so, for one lovely night in Wellington, a small group of music lovers were witness once
again to the transformative power of music and the everlasting genius of its creation.
Thank you, Ben Hunt, for organising it. Thank you, Bedlam & Squalor for hosting it. And
thank you both for reminding us, as Isaac Newton once said, that we stand on the shoulders
By Charlie Queen