The year is 1959 and the place is New York City. Outside the “Birdland” club, a young musician is taking a break when he is told by a patrolman to “move on”. The musician tries to explain that he works at the club. The policeman punches the musician in the stomach and is then joined by another one that beats the musician in the head. Later that night, the musician receives five stitches for a wound on his head. A few days after the attack, he tries to pursue the case in court but has to eventually drop it in order to recover his license to work in the city clubs.
The young musician was none other than Miles Davis who, in that same year, produced his great masterpiece “Kind of Blue”. One of the many fascinating aspects of that amazing album is how its creation epitomized Davis’ commitment to freedom. A sense of freedom that transpires in the more technical aspects of the work that broke the bebop tradition of complex chord changes in favor of modal scales. Freedom also highlighted by Davis’ decision to give a pivotal role in the album to a white and classically trained musician, Bill Evans. Davis made the change despite the ferocious opposition of some followers and even other members of the band like Coltrane.
Some places deserve more attention than are usually given. In modern cities like London, the underground system is, in my opinion, a prime example. Based on a rough calculation, I reckon that I have spent the equivalent of over one hundred and sixty full days in the London “tube” during the last eight years.
However, I think that the underground is interesting in many ways and not merely because we, poor commuters, are forced to spend long periods of time there.
While suffering the winter cold that the air conditioner fails to mitigate and longing for the ideal holiday portrayed on the inevitable myriad of ads that cover it, there are many things that can be appreciated.
Consider, for example the relentless regularity of certain patterns in the behaviour of the “tube” tribes. Groups of builders discussing football and reading “The Sun” at 5:30am, bankers and lawyers religiously reading the “Financial Times” at 6:30am, noisy children in uniform comparing mobile phones at 8am, the inevitable pack of foreign students wearing their “I love London” t-shirts and going back to the hotel at 8pm, the football fans on their way to Wembley wearing the prescriptive scarfs and face colours, the group of young girls with too much make-up and impossibly high heels going clubbing on Friday nights…