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13 It is safe to say that most listeners of the Someday My Prince Will Come version of “Old Folks” are aware that they are hearing a Miles Davis record, or at least a jazz record, and one safely within the traditions of the jazz art, at that. ”14 Again, we are left to ask: what do we do with this thing? As one example of how the sound on “Old Folks” could work—indeed, has worked—to shape meanings, I offer my own history with the track. I realize it is impossible to describe my full experience of this, or any, music.

The typical “toolbox” used by today’s music scholars carries an array of techniques designed to account for harmony, form, and other largerT h e C r e a k o n M i l e s D av i s ’s “O l d F o l k s ” 39 scale aspects of a performance or composition. That same toolbox, as impressive as it is, does not appear to hold anything capable of theorizing a single, humble sonority. Musicologist Richard Taruskin has raised this problem in another context, and his thoughts on it are worth quoting at length: Our training as scholars gives us very precise and efficient ways of dealing with generalities.

In the case of John Coltrane these meanings are shaped in large measure by timbre and other formalistic details but also by an array of other aspects. In other words, it’s never “all in the music,” as Bishop King declared, or “immanent in the music,” as Michael Bruce McDonald would have it. If we want to understand how Ascension is understood as holy and John Coltrane himself is understood as a holy man, we must pay attention precisely to “the discursive supplement”—the information and meanings circulating around and about the music—that McDonald dismissed as unnecessary.

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