Half a century ago! During March-April 1959 Miles Davis and a stellar quintet recorded what is generally regarded as the greatest jazz album of all time – Kind of Blue (#12 In Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest LPs Of All Time). The album became a landmark in modern jazz and the most popular disc of Davis’ career, eventually selling over two million copies, a phenomenal success for a jazz record.
Miles’ ‘first great quintet’ consisted of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (1928-1975, alto saxophone), John Coltrane (1926-1967, tenor saxophone), Bill Evans (1929-1980, piano) or Wynton Kelly (1931-1971, piano), Paul Chambers (1935-1969, bass), and Jimmy Cobb (b. 1929, drums, the only surviving member).
Here’s the review at Allmusic:
Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of “So What.” From that moment on, the record never really changes pace – each tune has a similar relaxed feel, as the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It’s the pinnacle of modal jazz – tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn’t quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they’ve memorized every nuance. They return because this is an exceptional band – Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb – one of the greatest in history, playing at the peak of its power. As Evans said in the original liner notes for the record, the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised. The end results were wondrous and still crackle with vitality. Kind of Blue works on many different levels. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable. It may be a stretch to say that if you don’t like Kind of Blue, you don’t like jazz – but it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection.
Last weekend BBC 4 broadcast an evocative documentary – 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz. The BBC website states:
1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America; the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt of freedom and wealth, social, racial and upheavals were just around the corner, and jazz was ahead of the curve.
Four major jazz albums were made, each a high water mark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt: Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; and Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come.
The programme concluded that the album that probably had the greatest long-term impact was the one that had the least visibility at the time, yet was presciently titled: The Shape of Jazz to Come.
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary
Miles Davis & John Coltrane: So What
Miles Davis and John Coltrane play one of the best renditions of So What ever captured on film -live New York, April 2, 1959. Cannonball Adderley had a migrane and was absent from the session. Wynton Kelly played piano-he was the regular band member at this time-but Bill Evans had played on the original recording of “So What” on March 2, 1959.