Kind of Blue and the Signifyin(g) Voice of Miles Davis

Fyffe, Jamie Robert (2017) Kind of Blue and the Signifyin(g) Voice of Miles Davis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Kind of Blue remains one of the most influential and successful jazz albums ever recorded, yet we know surprisingly few details concerning how it was written and the creative roles played by its participants. Previous studies in the literature emphasise modal and blues content within the album, overlooking the creative principle that underpins Kind of Blue – repetition and variation. Davis composed his album by Signifyin(g), transforming and recombining musical items of interest adopted from recent recordings of the period.

This thesis employs an interdisciplinary framework that combines note-based observations with intertextual theory. It maps out the intertextual associations of each piece on Kind of Blue, illuminating Davis’s creative practice and more generally, Signifyin(g) in jazz. The study presents a more rounded account of the trumpeter, identifying Significations that possess a transformative power indicative of his idiosyncratic voice. This derives from the trumpeter’s skill in recognising the musical potential implicit in each borrowed item. Davis employed varied modes of revision in response to each insight, which nevertheless exhibit common traits – simplicity/neatness of approach, economical use of materials and revisional instinct.

The study catches Davis in the act of revising musical tradition, as the trumpeter renegotiates African-American traditional forms using contemporary jazz devices. Some tracks exhibit “indirection” by saying one thing but meaning another. Thus, while the bluesy vamps of “All Blues” appear to affirm the blues tradition, a series of intertextual readings reveal a hidden dialogue concerning the mutability of style, as musical items traverse stylistic boundaries with ease courtesy of Davis’s Signifyin(g) voice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Signifyin(g), Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey, jazz, intertextuality, musical analysis.
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Supervisor's Name: Cloonan, Professor Martin and Bjorn, Dr. Heile
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Dr. Jamie Robert Fyffe
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8066
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 May 2017 11:47
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2017 11:46

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