studio album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released on August 17, 1959, by Columbia Records. It was recorded earlier that year on March 2 and April 22 at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City. The recording sessions featured Davis's ensemble sextet, with pianist Bill Evans, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. After the entry of Evans into his sextet, Davis followed up on the modal experimentations of Milestones (1958) by basing Kind of Blue entirely on modality, in contrast to his earlier work with the hard bop style of jazz.
Though precise figures have been disputed, Kind of Blue has
been described by many music writers not only as Davis's best-selling
album, but as the best-selling jazz record of all time. On October 7,
2008, it was certified quadruple platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Kind of Blue has been regarded by many critics as jazz's
greatest record, Davis's masterpiece, and one of the best albums of all
time. Its influence on music, including jazz, rock, and classical genres, has led writers to also deem it one of the most influential albums ever recorded. Kind of Blue was one of fifty recordings chosen in 2002 by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, and in 2003, it was ranked number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
By late 1958, Davis employed one of the best and most profitable working bands pursuing the hard bop style. His personnel had become stable: alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Bill Evans, long-serving bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. His band played a mixture of pop standards and bebop originals by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tadd Dameron. As with all bebop-based jazz, Davis's groups improvised on the chord changes of a given song.
Davis was one of many jazz musicians growing dissatisfied with bebop,
and saw its increasingly complex chord changes as hindering creativity.
In 1953, the pianist George Russell published his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization,
which offered an alternative to the practice of improvisation based on
chords and chord changes. Abandoning the traditional major and minor key
relationships, the Lydian Chromatic Concept introduced the idea of
chord/scale unity and was the first theory to explore the vertical
relationship between chords and scales, as well as the only original
theory to come from jazz. This approach led the way to "modal" in jazz. Influenced by Russell's ideas, Davis implemented his first modal composition with the title track of his studio album Milestones (1958). Satisfied with the results, Davis prepared an entire album based on modality.
Pianist Bill Evans, who had studied with Russell but recently departed
from Davis's sextet to pursue his own career, was drafted back into the
new recording project, the sessions that would become Kind of Blue.
With Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis distilled a new tonal palette for jazz. As early as 1954, Davis
reacted to the escalating chordal complexity of hard bop by fashioning
an evocative blues based on a simple scalar pattern ("Swing Spring"). Kind of Blue was the ultimate fulfillment of this approach, with Davis
providing his collaborators little more than outlines for melodies and
simple scales for improvisation. By emphasizing the blues and the
improvisor's melodic gifts, Kind of Blue precipitated a major stylistic development: modal jazz. Charles Mingus had experimented with pedal points throughout the '50s, and the melodic freedom of Ornette Coleman's Atlantic sides was also predicated on freedom from chord changes. But Kind of Blue was to prove the most influential, enduring work of its kind. There was just such a vibe about these 1959 sessions -- Davis' lyric genius and burgeoning stardom, the innovative voicings and rarefied touch of pianist Bill Evans, the electrifying presence of John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley --that some 50-plus years after its initial release, Kind of Blue is still recognized as Davis' point of departure toward jazz's less-explored regions. Bill Evans' translucent chords and Paul Chambers' famous bassline herald the revolution that is "So What": Davis and Evans'
taut, coiled lyricism stands in sharp relief to the saxophonists'
labyrinthine elation. The fat, shimmering beat of the classic Evans/Chambers/Jimmy Cobb rhythm team is an oasis of calm throughout the childish blues of "Freddie Freeloader." Often credited to Davis, "Blue in Green" is an Evans masterpiece, in which the rhythmic oasis becomes a smoky mirage for Davis'
minor reveries on muted horn. The waltzing "All Blues" is one of the
smoothest, most swinging grooves in the history of jazz, while "Flamenco
Sketches" reflects Davis' fascination with the earthy melodies and brooding metaphors of the Iberian peninsula; a harbinger of his next masterpiece, Sketches of Spain. Kind of Blue remains Miles Davis' most evocative piece of musical haiku.
This is simply the warmest and most
likeable album you are likely to ever hear. So What is an absolute
masterpiece, and I still think it's one of the most thrilling uses of
modality I've ever heard. The soloists on here have mastered the simple
progression to the point where it sounds like the most natural thing in
existence. I could go on for days about the solos on this piece, but
special mention needs to be made of Miles, who plays the most
understated, and note-for-note perfect solos in his entire career. Every
musician should know this solo by heart. Cannonball steals the show
however. His solo is as gorgeous as an impressionistic painting, and his
impeccable phrasing and sense of melody transcends the simple framework
he is working in. (Compared to Miles, who deliberately stays well
within the framework) Coltrane does his usual thing, but he's merely
awesome on this piece. As he usually is.
Freddie Freeloader is a
much more straightforward Blues piece, but it's a stunner, and you can
really hear how much pianist Wynton Kelly is enjoying it, providing some
excellent comping to all the soloists. Again, Cannonball makes the most
of the changes, with some phrases coming out in a growling sputter.
Bill Evans is the star of Blue in Green, and anchored by an
authoritative bassline, he produces a devastatingly subtle sound, which
Miles and Coltrane solo over in a whisper.
The album's longest
piece, All Blues, begins with a sublime tremolo on piano from Evans, and
the rest of the players come in softly with one of my favourite
melodies on the album. As soon as the solos start, the song takes a turn
for the groovy thanks to Paul Chamber's excellent basslines. Coltrane,
ever the master of the 6/8 time signature, lays out a very avant-garde
solo compared to the more traditional Cannonball, but it provides the
perfect contrast for Evans to come in with his much more understated
sound. He too, pushes the song out to its limits, but the whole band
brings it back again as if nothing out of the usual had occurred.
the purest, most fully realized manifestation of Miles' vision is the
legendary closer, Flamenco Sketches. Based on Evans' Some Other Time (In
turn based on the single chord Peace Piece), the piece is so centred,
so at peace with itself, that you cannot help but be affected. Pure
magic from every single performer.
The absurd popularity of this
album, and the sheer amount of writing done on it (of the sort you have
just read) can sometimes take away from the fact that this is one of the
most enjoyable records ever made. It is great, significant,
groundbreaking, all of that, but what I want to to take away from this
is just how happy it will make you feel.
1. So What (9:25)
2. Freddie Freeloader (9:49)
3. Blue In Green (5:37)
4. All Blues (11:35)
5. Flamenco Sketches (9:25)
6. Flamenco Sketches [Alternate Take] (9:32)
Total Time 55:23
Line-up / Musicians
- Miles Davis / trumpet
- Julian Adderley / alto saxophone ( 3)
- John Coltrane / tenor saxophone
- Wynton Kelly / piano (2)
- Bill Evans / piano
- Paul Chambers / bass
- Jimmy Cobb / drums