The kind of blue story

On March 2, 1959, Miles Davis was assigned a recording slot in the 207 East 30th street studio on Manhattan by his Columbia managers. The building, an departed Greek orthodox church, was a recording studio with a unique atmposphere and sound. Miles had worked on rough sketches of what he wanted to do that afternoon, and was anticipating the arrival of the musicians he had invited to the session (Kahn, 2000).

When they arrived, they set up and settled for the recording. Miles made them feel comfortable, and then handed out the sketches he had made for the songs. This moved them out of their comfort zones. Even though the music they had played live together had evolved in a new direction, and some of the pieces built on ideas they had developed together, here were some ideas that were never played before, in new forms. Very different form the extrovert, fast paced, and overfilled bebop of the day. Space instead of pace, circular rhythms instead of freight trains.

They recorded right here and then. Miles walked around, giving instructions while they played and while the tapes ran. Nudging the music in directions he wanted it to go, and providing his team with turns and ideas. Two days of recording led to Kind of Blue. The best selling jazz record of all times, a paradigm shift in jazz music, and an example par excellence of what I want to focus on in my PhD research.

On that days, a network of independent organizations (individual jazz musicians, each with their own brand and reputation) got together with a specific purpose (record with Miles). Miles enabled them to find a groove, both as a team in what they wanted to achieve, and in the music they performed. This groove happened on the micro level, between the jazz musicians during those days, in the music and in the collaboraiton, and it created a disruptive innovation on the macro level of the jazz scene, the birth of modal jazz.

Miles Davis succeeded in helping to make shifts like this happen some five times. What is it that creates the circumstances for a team of individuals to achieve a groove, and make a disruptive innovation? How can we use the rich domain of jazz improvisation to learn how the groove comes about and how this groove happens in other teams. How can we learn to take this groove from the micro level of the team, to the macro level of the organization? And the network? These are the questions that are central to my PhD research.

Kahn, A. (2000). Kind of blue: The making of the Miles Davis masterpiece. New York: Da Capo Press.