Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

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“No chords…gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes and you can do more with the [melody] line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically innovative you can be. When you’re based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there’s nothing to do but repeat what you’ve just done – with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords…there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.” – Miles Davis

What does one say about an album that has been so profoundly influential on music? Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is exactly that kind of album. It is amazing. It is one of 50 albums chosen in 2002 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. It was ranked #12 on the Rolling Stone list. It is also often cited as the best-selling jazz record of all time.

Let me start by just mentioning one name (other than Miles Davis): John Coltrane. This was the first that I knew that Coltrane worked for Miles Davis for a period of time. I love John Coltrane.

By the end of 1958, Miles Davis was sitting pretty nicely. He employed one of the best and most profitable working bands pursuing his genre: hard bop. His personnel was also holding steady. This band was playing a mix of pop standards and bebop originals. The originals were often composed by huge names in the jazz world: Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tadd Dameron. Man, hero worship going on in the Mad Pianist house tonight!

Miles Davis was becoming quite dissatisfied with bebop during the late 1950s. He saw the increasingly complex chord changes as hindering his creativity. This album’s focus on modality was influenced by pianist George Russell. In 1953, Russell published Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. This offered an alternative to the practice of improvisation based on chords and chord changes. This concept introduced the idea of chord and scale unity. It was the first theory to explore the vertical relationship between chords and scales, as well as the only original theory to come from jazz.

It was recorded in NYC in 1959 during two sessions and on three-track tape. Three-track tape! Who knew that was a thing? Well, I do now!

Miles Davis was the kind of leader/boss that I would hate to work for and with. His normal process called for almost no rehearsal. The musicians had very little idea of what they were going to record. Bill Evans (pianist), described this process of Davis only giving the band sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise. Once the musicians were together, Davis gave brief instructions for each piece and then set to taping the sextet in studio. I would have died! Note: This is why I am a classical musician!  HA!!! Kind of Blue was also released in 1959.

“So What”

  • 2 modes: 16 measures of the first, followed by 8 measures of the second, and then 8 again of the first
  • Introduction (attributed to Gil Evans), closely based on the opening measures of Debussy’s Voiles (1910), the 2nd Prelude from his first collection of preludes.

“Freddie Freeloader”

  • Standard 12-bar blues form

“Blue in Green”

  • Consists of a 10 measure cycle following a short four-measure introduction

“All Blues”

  • 12-bar blues form in 6/8 time

“Flemenco Skethces”

  • Consists of 5 scales, which are played “as long as the soloist wishes until he has completed the series”
  • Hispanic influences

Personnel:

  • Miles Davis: trumpet
  • Bill Evans: piano (except on “Freddie Freeloader”
  • Jimmy Cobb: drums
  • Paul Chambers: double bass
  • John Coltrane: tenor saxophone
  • Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: alto saxophone (except on “Blue in Green”)
  • Wynton Kelly: piano on “Freddie Freeloader”

Jazz music, in all forms except Big Band, has always made me a little uncomfortable. I like knowing the plan and exactly what I am supposed to do and this is where my uncomfortableness enters. I am learning to appreciate jazz and to see the incredible musicians that exist within that genre. Miles Davis was always a bit of a revered name in my life – one of those brilliant musicians to admire. This album does not disappoint. It is incredible and absolutely deserves all the accolades it has received and maybe a few more. Go take a listen. You definitely will thank me later.

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