What more can be said about Kind of Blue? It’s Miles Davis’ seminal album, the greatest work from a man who thrived in all Jazz genres from be-bop to cool, from modal to fusion. However, on March 2, 1959 Miles Davis, who was already the most famous Jazz musician on earth, raised the bar even higher and introduced the world to modal Jazz. Sure there is evidence of modal music in classical music and Miles had already been experimenting with modal music in his solos and compositions, but Kind of Blue set the standard and changed Jazz forever. With an all star cast of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley on the Sax, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Bill Evans on piano, and Miles Davis on trumpet, the Miles Davis sextet did more then record and album, they shaped the future of Jazz to come.
Kind of Blue begins with Paul Chambers playing the melody on bass. This is a unique way to begin a song because usually a Jazz tune begins immediately with the lead instrument playing the melody along with the rest of the group. Other times a song will begin with a piano intro or the drummer will create an intro and then the band will come in. Rarely is the bass used for an intro. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is our ears are attracted to the highest available register and, in Jazz, the bass is usually the lowest. Therefore, it’s harder to listen to thus rarely catches our ear. By having the bass begin the album it sets the tone for Kind of Blue it forces you to focus, it brings you in, and it never lets go. Slowly Bill Evans begins harmonizing over the bass line, then Miles Davis plays the melody, and Kind of Blue begins.
As I have mentioned earlier Kind Of Blue is a modal album. What this means is the songs are constructed by a series of chords implying specific modes of the scale that can be used to improvise with. So What for example is a 32 bar progression with only two chords d minor and e flat minor. This is quiet unusual as most Jazz tunes prior had much more complex progressions with different chords in every measure and sometimes multiple chords in a measure. Modal was the polar opposite of this it was more so about being able to expand, push, and challenge yourself and tonality within the given chords. This actually made improvising more difficult with no new changes it took a creative and skilled musician to make a 16 bar vamp of D minor breath taking. And they did. It’s the simplicity of Kind of Blue that make it special. I can show you all the chords in Kind of Blue in one afternoon, but it will take a lifetime to master and expand upon them.
The solos throughout Kind of Blue are fantastic and everyone contributes their own style to the songs. In “So What” for example Miles Davis’ style fits perfectly into the song. He plays simple melodic lines he dosen’t just play a bunch of running eight notes. He uses space which allows you to hear the walking bass, the drums hits, and the piano comping. He incorporates everyone, the band is just as important to his solo as he is. Immedietly after Miles’ solos comes John Coltrane which is loud, demonstrative, and contains plenty of running eight notes. This juxtaposition from Miles’ solo is refreshing, it keeps the tracks energy up, and is a great example how musician will play the same progression very differently from one another. Cannonball Adderley solos next and plays with soul. Lots of blues riffs at moderate to fast tempo. Bill Evans follows up and utilizes the one thing his instrument has that the others dont’, the ability to play multiple notes at the same time. He uses alot of chords in his solo and mixes it with melodic lines. Chambers comes back in playing the melody and continues to play it until the record fades.
Another great thing about Kind of Blue is it not only gave us a great modal album, but it also implimented different styles of Jazz music that already existed. Alot of times in music we want paint things with a broad brush. From year so and so to hear they played this, then from year so and so to so and so they played like that. Things are not so black and white, genres slowly evolve over time and the transitions happen by incorporating new ideas with older ones. Kind of Blue is a prime example, not every song on the record has a 32 bar, two chord progression. “Freddie Freeloader” and “All Blues” are blues based songs, and “Blue in Green” is a ballad. All the tracks in Kind of Blue are played by using styles we already had and mixing them with modal jazz.
The Miles Davis sextet plays in every song with the exception of “Freedie Freeloader” which features Wynton Kelly on the piano. Both Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly are phenominal pianist and Wynton Kelly does not dissapoint. He stays relatively within the blues which for me is a nice change of pace. On “All Blues” Cannonball Adderley steals the show giving, in my opinion, one of the best blues solos I’ve ever heard. The contrast between Coltrane and Adderley is evident, I enjoy both musicians and they both have something different to offer. Coltrane plays with feriousity and speed and Adderley plays with a blues based feel. The song returns to the head when Miles pierces through with that breathtaking second note being held out.
Kind of Blue is a not just a classic album it changed the direction of Jazz and its influence is still felt today. Many songs became Jazz standards and are known and played by Jazz musicians of all skill levels around the world. For me Kind of Blue is one of the first Jazz albums I loved it was refreshing and breathtaking. No matter how many times I listened to it it never got old it’s timeless. Even now that I’ve heard it hundreds of times, can hum every single note, and have transcribed several solos, the record is still as refreshing and enjoyable as it was the first time I ever listened to it, perhaps even more so. So please if you haven’t done so already, listen to a Kind of Blue. Any music fan or lover of the arts needs this in their collection. You are doing yourself a disservice by not listening to it. Below I posted a link to the album on YouTube and, as always, thank you for staying in The Jazz Loop.