Miles Davis and the Profundity of Pause

Miles Davis and the Profundity of Pause

Music often reminds me of conversation. Like speech, between the melodic elements are moments of breath, a space that allows us to take in what we just heard and process it. Monophonic music is defined by melody as it contains no harmonic elements and is often accompanied by an underlying drone of the base note. Indian classical music is a great example of this. Modern music is characterized by notes being played simultaneously, also known as polyphony. In Europe, this was originally introduced with Baroque music where accompanying chords support the melodic lines of the piece.These days it is very rare to hear monophonic music unless one is seeking it out. Yet certain marvels have paid homage to monophony through their melodic expression.

Miles Davis may be the father of such artful melody. Aaron Gilbreath’s article in the New York Times states it beautifully, “Rather than squeezing as many notes and changes into solos as possible, Davis dispensed with clutter and ornamentation and pared his mode of expression down to one defined as much by the notes and phrases he played as by the silences left between them.” “Flamenco Sketches” from his highly lauded album, Kind of Blue, exemplifies his delicate touch. We may take this style of play for granted, though outside of jazz, it is uncommon.

What is it that draws us to this simple and expressive form? Does it harken to something absent in our day-to-day hustle? It reminds me of taking a long walk in the park in the early morning where the breeze glides through the trees and sparse birdsong highlights the stroll like lyrical breadcrumbs. It exudes nature, a mindful gesture to the present. Long melodic pauses also imply an expansiveness, a sense of the breadth of our existence.

Though our time here on earth is conclusive, music like this parallels us with the infinite. And when we have infinity as our co-pilot, we slow down, we no longer measure where something begins and ends. Perhaps when these musical invitations reach our ears we can accept them, and more often, and take a walk with the birds, the trees, the stars, and lose the concern of that thing we forgot to measure.

Miles Davis’s “Flamenco Sketches”

Example of Indian Classical Music
Further reading
Writing With Miles Davis
“Kind of Blue” liner notes by Bill Evans