Tomorrow marks the 55th anniversary of the release of Miles Davis’s phenomenal album Kind of Blue (released in 1959), probably the most celebrated jazz album ever recorded. With Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Bill Evans (replaced by Wynton Kelly on one track) on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, you already know you’re going to get some great music, but Miles decided to use this album to fully explore the concepts of modal jazz that he’d started working with in 1958’s Milestones.
Modal jazz was to some degree an outgrowth of and reaction to the quick chord changes that defined bebop. It focuses on improvisation within musical modes, so chord changes stay within one particular mode for several bars and players really have time to dig in and explore the melodic possibilities of each mode. Let’s be honest; if I really knew how to explain what modal jazz was then I’d probably be blogging about that instead of war and history and the history of war. But it’s pretty awesome, at least when it’s being played by artists like this. So please enjoy some tunes:
“Freddie Freeloader,” which has Wynton Kelly on piano instead of Evans. Kelly was actually Davis’s regular pianist, but Davis put this whole album together with the intention of working with Evans, so Davis had Kelly play on this one track so as not to completely cut him out, and also because Kelly was a really good blues pianist and this is a blues tune.
“Blue in Green,” written either by Davis, or Evans, or both, depending on who you ask. Supposedly Evans asked for a share of the royalties from this one, and Davis cut him a check for $25.
“Flamenco Sketches,” which is all improv (changes written by Davis), apart from the opening, which was written by Evans. Has the extraordinarily minor distinction of being one of two tunes for which I ever learned how to play the piano part. Davis’s first solo is so melodic that it’s really kind of amazing that it wasn’t composed.
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