Phil Tovell May 2011

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

Davis, Evans, and, in the background, Chambers, during the recording process. (Don Hunsten/
Sony Music)

Introduction. There’s not much you can say about a jazz recording – jazz is an event that is designed to produce unique experiences, so there is a sense that if you were not there, you are not even entitled to hear it - and what attracts a lot of performers to it is the tacit imperative to never do the same thing twice. Having said that, listeners and academicians are still talking about this

the veteran presenter of jazz programs on BBC Radio 3. between the sounding of the theme and the solos. The name of the opening track is So What. A Revolutionary moment. . chapter 1). introduced by a mysterious. with whom Davis had recently had a successful collaboration). . after 23 minutes): One of the great moments in jazz drumming . Jimmy Cobb makes a kind of cymbal crash . and the Sextet itself. what an extraordinary influence it has had. almost. which somehow seems to suit that open. suspended quality – you can’t imagine how this would end. Geoffrey Smith. sort of launches the soloists on their way as if we were all suddenly heading into open sea .recording 50 years after it was made – this is half the lifetime of jazz (Williams. This document only has space to discuss two of the tracks in detail. Not only is there much to say about the revolutionary nature of the music – modal jazz. followed by the tune – little more than . but also the process by which Davis created it. So What. where that may have came from. describes it (2005. the piece ends with a fade. . Not many recordings can claim a pivotal moment in the history of music as clearly as the beginning of the first improvised solo on this album. 2009. digressive pairing of piano and bass (very much in the style of Gil Evans. .

but meaning the opposite – ‘so what’ being a phrase Davis used a lot in the way currently reserved for the word ‘whatever’ Then the solo itself – one of Davis’s most memorable – often using just the notes of a primary triad bars against a static harmony for 8 bars – this is also a challenge for the pianist. It is unlikely to be mere coincidence that the intervals are identical to those between the . answered with the famous ‘so what’ chord voicings. by stacking fourths on the bass note. The chord voicings are designed to open up the whole of the scale – dorian mode . like ‘Amens’ in a gospel-style call and response.a riff [vamp or ostinato figure]. often see-sawing up and down by a (major) second: The uses of this approach are still being explored today (Richards. 2005. 36-41). pp.and can be used starting on any degree.

It is known that Davis gave Evans a picee of paper outlining the chords G minor (7th) and A augmented. . to another. listening to the master-tape of the recording. in the most creative and unexpected and challenging ways. . the more rooms in the house there are. BBC Radio 3 (2005) [after 9 mins] Blue in Green. With Miles. Blue in Green has a more usual faster harmonic tempo. as one of the frequently challenging suggestions he would give to musicians in his bands. and is a good example of claims of authorship by Davis where the project was a collaboration. in the moment invention. each chord. All this comes with modal jazz. The most unusual feature is that a chorus lasts exactly 10 bars. . to another. . This composition is generally credited to Evans. Ashley Khan has a neat way of explaining how this contrasts with Bebop: Think of each change.bottom five strings on a guitar. the whole idea was to run from one room to another. the whole idea was: Let’s find the most comfortable room – and hang out. so that what you’re concentrating on is much more the melody. in a . With Bebop. these days. as one room in a house – so the more complicated it is. saying: What would you do with this? Also. . By complete contrast. another difference is in the organisation of the solos – Adderly is not featured but Evans and Davis play twice giving a symmetrical order with Coltrane in the centre. musical composition. and just be there .

especially on Kind of Blue. The two most remarkable aspects of the way the album was created are the minimal preparations made and the short time it took to record.” he said. 2000) He was known for the unusual challenges he presented the people working with him “ Davis maintains that if a jazz . half or all of the material might be all new and had never been rehearsed before. even though his process was more about creating the conditions for the music to happen than anything else. In another program. that kind of regimen could work only with a cast of superior musicians. p310) The speed of producing results was not all that unusual in the early days of recording – perhaps the lack of modern editing and mixing facilities meant even jazz musicians were more disciplined.Davis can be heard re-arranging the introduction. BBC Radio 3 included Davis as a subject for their Composer of the Week series. With the players in the sextet. On the record dates. Chambers. (NPR Music Web page) However the album is mainly a collection of starting points for improvisation – Flamenco Sketches for instance has no theme at all. and was in overall control of the process.’ Needless to say. so here the issue of who came up with what is less pointed than it would normally be. The Process. ”Everything was done on the job.(1998. it worked magnificently. in Davis’s most comprehensive biography (700 pages) quotes Evans on this: “We never had a rehearsal. (Khan.

for instance Durufle’s three different orchestrations of the Requiem. He may not have always been the easiest to work with – nor was Coltrane – and could be harsh and impatient. There are many reports of his relentlessly forward-thinking attitude. or among the best. 310). Teo Macero – Davis’s main technical collaborator – compares the idea of him returning to his previous way of doing things with the idea of Picasso suddenly revisiting his ‘blue period’.musician were forced to respond to a situation he might otherwise have thought beyond his capacities. 2 p. in their field and somehow he always spotted and attracted the best people around at the time. p. perhaps even a moment of genius” (Chambers. and he is not alone in this – and the opposite is not rare either. (Chambers. vol. also that he invited Bill Evans to . But then he chose his collaborators well – all the musicians here were the best. chapter 10) He has rarely said much about this particular work beyond apologising for not playing these tunes any more after 1960 – he had the excuse that people could listen to the records. 2009. 1998. (Tirro. 1998. 364) Where it came from. but he had already established himself as a soloist. band-leader and innovator. he might very well come up with an unexpected and stunning solution. It is well known that Davis’s strengths are his melodic invention and his relentless innovation.

The accompaniment on So What – where a scale rather than a triad is the basis – clearly owes something to Debussy’s saturated diatonic harmony in the solo piano piece La Cathedrale Engloutie from Preludes. BBC Radio 3) .the session because he brought a wealth of knowledge about such composers as Ravel and Debussy (Smith. Book 1: Example 2. Neil A Kjos Music c.1995 The piano part for Flamenco Sketches had already been heard on Everyone Digs Bill Evans: . 2005.

and a similarity between Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. musicroom. including the unusual time-signature. 2004) One way the album influenced a lot of people to take their first steps into jazz was that the “liner notes by Evans gave hints . (Lenz and Khan.and it seems that everyone who played with Davis around this time went on to even better things.5. The list of important musicians who have declared this recording to be a major influence is truly beyond practicality – and will probably continue to expand for a while .com [accessed 17. The most obvious influences are the copying of the harmonic structure of So What by Coltrane for his compositions Impressions. Peace Piece 1938.11] The Influence. and All Blues.Example 3.

later front-line soloist of Weather Report.of how the music had been put together. Section VI [AFTER 1960] subsection 2 [The modal alternative: Davis and Coltrane. Subsequently Davis’s famous Quintet included his most stable rhythm section . and Tony Williams. Miles Davis trumpet John Coltrane tenor saxophone Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderly alto saxophone (does not play on Blue in Green) Bill Evans piano. Ron Carter.Herbie Hancock. by far the longest lasting fusion jazz legacy of this historic album. the other soloist was Wayne Shorter. (Coryell and Friedman. (All the above went on to achieve considerable success as banleaders) Paul Chambers bass Jimmy Cobb drums Wynton Kelly replaces Evans on Freddie Freeloader.]) The Sextet. so that the album as a whole acted as a kind of tutor for other musicians” (Collier. 1978) .

. 3/2/59) 2 Freddie Freeloader (take 4. Full CD Track Listing 1 So What (take 3. 3/2/59) $ All Blues (1st. they are relatively tentative. 3/2/59) 3 Blue in Green (take 5. 4/6/59) 6 Flamenco Sketches (take 6. the only other successful recording from the sessions. The bonus track on this Album includes the previous recording made of Flamence Sketches. The photograph was taken by Don Hunsten. 4/6/59) 7 Flamenco Sketches (alternate take). but perhaps that makes them even closer to the heart of the process that gradually reveals itself over the course of the album. take.This CD. and is worth a listen for that reason alone – but both Evans and Coltrane produce different approaches from those on track 6.

Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music’ London: Faber and Faber.11.Reference List Chambers.] Macleod. NPR Music. L. Ashley (2000) Kind of Blue. [All accessed 12. J. A. Available in 3 parts: http://www.11]. 2nd edition [accessed http://www. Frank (2009) The Birth of the Cool of Miles Davis and His Associates.npr. Hillsdale: Pendragon Press.php?] Coryell. London: Schott. C. 14:00. Discovering Music: Miles Davies: Kind of Blue. Laura (1978) Jazz-Rock Fusion. [accessed 17. 23rd October. Jazz(i) The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.5. London: Granta. New York: Da Capo Press. http://www. 8 October. Richard (2009) The Blue Moment. Collier.MU2404 . the People.(2005) BBC Radio 3. The Making of the Miles Davis Donald (2006) Composer of the Week: Miles Davis (19261991) BBC Radio 3. and Khan. Khan. Julie and Friedman.5. Nashville: Columbia/ Sony Music Entertainment. the Music London: Marion Boyars. Tim (2005) Exploring Jazz Piano. (2004) Made in Heaven: The Story of Kind of Blue [DVD]. Jack (1998) Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis. Tirro. Williams. Lenz.

Some of the most individual soloists in jazz . Rob. this book earns its definitive title by its completeness.5. Subtitled ‘The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece’ as the title (and the year) suggest. with the aid of Ashley [last accessed 13. London: Granta. Khan is called upon as an Authority by BBC Radio 3. and their exploration of the contrast between the styles of Davis and Coltrane. here it is thoroughly and sensitively documented. and explains modal jazz very clearly.(2005) BBC Radio 3. 8 October. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. 14:00. Davis. Discovering Music: Miles Davies: Kind of Blue. . Mark.11] The record is the text! More objective than Made in Heaven. especially worth listening to for his note-by-note analysis of Miles’s crucial first solo. Josh). and he directed and produced the DVD Made in Heaven (see below) for Columbia Records. voicings on Blue in Green and solo using notes a 2nd apart on So What are also documented. Davis. Evans tremolo on All Blues . Ashley (2000) Kind of Blue. Vinci. Davis. Coltrane every note of every solo.Davis. and its evolution as a contrast to Be-bop. Miles (Transcribed: So What.MU2404 ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Phil Tovell May 2011 Kind of Blue. Guy Barker [British trumpeter] makes a telling contribution. The most important aspect of the record is the process by which it was made. Especially interesting to see how Davis achieves the lyrical simplicity of his opening on the first track. Evans. Mark. Available at: http://www.

Argues strongly for the recognition of the recording as a crucial moment in music and jazz in particular. Lenz. One drawback is that the comments from non-musicians may carry less weight if. [accessed 16. attempting to be both passionate and objective. Subtitled ‘Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music’.Collier. There is a good balance of writing.5. or Williams. Richard (2009) The Blue Moment. subsection 2 The modal alternative: Davis and Coltrane.5. also has relevant information for those interested in the vexed issue of Davis’s claims of authorship. in that the liner notes to the Album ‘acted as a kind of tutor for other musicians’.youtube. L. (2004) Made in Heaven: The Story of Kind of Blue [DVD]. Nashville: Columbia/ Sony Music All last accessed 12. Available in 3 parts: http://www. Probably the only document of its kind. and Khan.11.11] Collier recognises the influence of Davis’s creative process. they are no longer so http://www. A. Jazz(i) The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. this DVD deepens the context through personal evidence from a range of respected and wellknown performers – especially as regards the extent of the record’s influence. C. 2nd edition: especially Section VI AFTER http://www. especially those of Blue in Green and Flamenco Sketches – generally thought of these days as being Bill Evans compositions. It contains poignant archive film and photographs of the recording and . London: Faber and Faber. New Grove – in the biographical entry.

I was particularly affected by his description of Thelonious Monk getting up and dancing during a performance. London: Quartet Books. is it makes jazz sound a lot easier than it is – Levine demonstrates that it has an almost inexhaustibly rich pallet (evidence: Blue in Green) composed of rich textures with or without cadential motivity. He has a compelling vision of how jazz and ‘modern’ art evolved together. the drummer. Boris (trans. New haven: Yale. this is a collection of his contributions . Drawbacks are that he is not concerned with jazz after 1950. Alfred Jr.features the only surviving [at the time] member of the Sextet . he focuses rather narrowly on the sexual content of vocal performance and then there is the inherent limitation of writing about music using predominantly language evolved to describe visual arts.Billy Cobb. One irony of Kind of Blue. in the small space in front of the piano.provides a sound academic approach to analysing the structures and sonorities that jazz improvisers have at their/ our disposal. for instance it was probably written when many performers were discovering the melodic minor scale. Vian. Vian is a very entertaining writer. Mike Zwerin) (1988) The Jazz Writings of Boris Vian. Petaluma: Sher Music. these atmospheric elements contribute more nostalgia than academic analysis. Appel. It may seem a little ‘dated’. his ideas may prove to be valuable if only as provocation. (2004) Jazz Modernism. Written in an intense post-modern voice. Recognised as one of the experts on jazz theory – especially jazz harmony and piano. This comprehensive volume – over 500 pages . Levine. Mark (1995) The Jazz Theory Book.

contrasting the medium of recorded music with. Chapter). London: Routledge. Here context equals the bigger picture. as an ideal extension of our ability to communicate. in Chapter 28 the role of ‘The Gramophone – the Toy that Shrank the National Chest’.S. especially Jazz Hot. being an economic history of the evolution of communications media of all sorts. McLuhan. He makes an especially valuable insight into the hostile reception bebop received in some quarters. He also dissects the terms cool & hot (essential to understanding the culture of the U. the radio – ‘The Tribal Drum’ – responsible for World War II! – and the bicycle. Subtitled ‘The Extensions of Man’ and famous for ‘The Media is the Message’ (The title of the 1st. and radio. as indeed did Kind of Blue – some people still like to exclude it from the category of jazz recordings. It is also useful to hear a non-anglophone voice so immersed in the aesthetics of the music and the conviction that it periodicals. for instance. when the recording was made) and. Marshall (1964) Understanding Media. crucially for this study. .A.