Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 5, 2019

Birth of the Cool by Kathleen Cornell Berman

Birth of the Cool: how jazz great Miles Davis found his sound
by Kathleen Cornell Berman; Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown
Page Street Kids. 2019
All ages

Sixty years ago, on August 17, 1959, Miles Davis' ground breaking jazz album, Kind of Blue was released. Deemed the most influential album of all time. I am listening to it right now as I write this review. It truly is amazing. Have you ever listened to it? If not, stop reading, find it, and listen. Can you feel how different the sound is? 

Okay. Now read the review.

Berman and Brown introduce readers to jazz great Miles Davis in this stunning poetic tribute. 

Miles Davis (1926-1991) grew up in St. Louis. As a child, he would sit as close to the radio as he could get. 
Louis Armstrong’s 
soaring trumpet, 
Duke Ellington’s 
sensational big band
dazzle Miles imagination.”

Miles listened to the sounds around him. Whether he was visiting his grandpa in Arkansas or hearing the melodies drift up from the river boats playing up and down the Mississippi River, it was all music to him. The struggle was taking all those sounds and making music of his own.

“He practices long tones
over and over and over.
Struggles to erase brassy notes
and create that round
sound he loves.” 

Each poems is surrounded by Brown’s vibrant art done in pen, ink, and watercolor. The large double-page illustrations reflect visually what is being explained in the poem. 

Miles did face racism. A gifted musician, his playing would stand out yet all the prizes went to white kids.
“Miles burns with humiliation.
Anger fuels his passion
to move forward,
to play harder,
to be undeniably
better than everyone else.
He blows those feelings 
into something beautiful.”

His big break came when he played at the Newport Jazz Festival. 
The audience goes wild,
stands on their feet,
electrified and satisfied
with the unforgettable
Miles Davis trumpet sound…”

Quotes by Davis are placed in a different font throughout the book. 

Back matter includes a note from trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, an author’s note, illustrator’s note, selected discography, and bibliography. A timeline of dates would have been helpful in giving a context as to when Miles Davis lived. 

Share this book with all ages, especially high school students who might not be familiar with Miles Davis' work. (it’s possible!) 

The author’s encourage readers to listen like Miles. “Get lost in the rhythms of environments and see the birth of the cool” as Miles found his voice and changed jazz forever.

I borrowed this book (and the CD of Kind of Blue) from my local public library to write this review.

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