PROFILE: Miles Davis 'Kind of Blue' Album
Kind of Blue was recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959, at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City, and released on August 17 of that year by Columbia Records. The album features Davis' ensemble sextet consisting of saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, with former band pianist Bill Evans appearing on most of the tracks in place of Kelly. In part owing to Evans joining the sextet during 1958, Davis followed up on the modal experimentation of Milestones by basing Kind of Blue entirely on modality, departing further from his earlier work's hard bop style of jazz.
Kind of Blue has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz 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. The album 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.
Though precise figures have been disputed, Kind of Blue has often been named Davis's best-selling album and the best-selling jazz record of all time. In 2008, it was certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), indicating sales of at least four million copies.
By late 1958, Davis employed one of the most acclaimed and profitable working bands pursuing the hard bop style. Long-serving bassist Chambers had been with the band from its beginning in 1955; alto saxophonist Adderley had joined in the fall of 1957, with tenor saxophonist Coltrane returning at the beginning of 1958; pianist Evans had replaced Red Garland in April 1958, but quit in November to be replaced in turn by Kelly; and drummer Cobb had been hired in May 1958. The Davis 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, however, and saw its increasingly complex chord changes as hindering creativity.
In 1953, the pianKind of Blue was recorded on three-track tape in two sessions at Columbia Records' 30th Street Studio in New York City. On March 2, 1959, the tracks "So What", "Freddie Freeloader", and "Blue in Green" were recorded for side one of the original LP, and on April 22 the tracks "All Blues" and "Flamenco Sketches" were recorded, making up side two. Production was handled by Teo Macero, who had produced Davis's previous two LPs, and Irving Townsend. As was Davis's penchant, he called for almost no rehearsal and the musicians had little idea what they were to record. As described in the original liner notes by pianist Bill Evans, Davis had only given the band sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise. Once the musicians were assembled, Davis gave brief instructions for each piece and then set to taping the sextet in studio. While the results were impressive with so little preparation, the persistent legend that the entire album was recorded in one pass is untrue. Only "Flamenco Sketches" yielded a complete take on the first try. That take, not the master, was issued in 1997 as a bonus alternate take. The five master takes issued, however, were the only other complete takes; an insert for the ending to "Freddie Freeloader" was recorded, but was not used for release or on the issues of Kind of Blue prior to the 1997 reissue.
Pianist Wynton Kelly may not have been happy to see the man he replaced, Bill Evans, back in his old seat. Perhaps to assuage the pianist's feelings, Davis had Kelly play instead of Evans on the album's most blues-oriented number, "Freddie Freeloader". The live album Miles Davis at Newport 1958 documents this band. However, the Newport Jazz Festival recording on July 3, 1958, reflects the band in its hard bop conception, the presence of Bill Evans only six weeks into his brief tenure in the Davis band notwithstanding, rather than the modal approach of Kind of Blueist 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. These insights helped lead the way to the "modal" approach 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 Evans, who had studied with Russell but had departed from the Davis group to pursue his own career, was drafted back into the new recording project, the sessions that would become Kind of Blue.
Since its release on August 17, 1959, Kind of Blue has been regarded by many critics as Davis's greatest work; it is his most acclaimed album, and has been cited as the best-selling jazz record released, despite later claims attributing the achievement to Davis's first official gold record Bitches Brew (1970). Music writer Chris Morris cited Kind of Blue as "the distillation of Davis's art.
"Kind of Blue has also been noted as one of the most influential albums in the history of jazz. One reviewer has called it a "defining moment of twentieth century music." Several of the songs from the album have become jazz standards. Kind of Blue is consistently ranked among the greatest albums of all time. In a review of the album, AllMusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine stated:
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 possess such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. ... 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. ... 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.
In 1958, however, the arrival of Ornette Coleman on the jazz scene via his fall residency at the Five Spot club, consolidated by the release of his The Shape of Jazz to Come LP in 1959, muted the initial impact of Kind of Blue, a happenstance that irritated Davis greatly. Though Davis and Coleman both offered alternatives to the rigid rules of bebop, Davis would never reconcile himself to Coleman's free jazz innovations, although he would incorporate musicians amenable to Coleman's ideas with his great quintet of the mid-1960s, and offer his own version of "free" playing with his jazz fusion outfits in the 1970s.The influence of Kind of Blue did build, and all of the sidemen from the album went on to achieve success on their own. Evans formed his influential jazz trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian; "Cannonball" Adderley fronted popular bands with his brother Nat; Kelly, Chambers and Cobb continued as a touring unit, recording under Kelly's name as well as in support of Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, among others; and Coltrane went on to become one of the most revered and innovative of all jazz musicians. Even more than Davis, Coltrane took the modal approach and ran with it during his career as a leader in the 1960s, leavening his music with Coleman's ideas as the decade progressed.
According to Acclaimed Music, Kind of Blue is the 49th most ranked record on critics' all-time lists. In 1994, the album was ranked number one in Colin Larkin's Top 100 Jazz Albums. Larkin described it as "the greatest jazz album in the world". It has been ranked at or near the top of numerous "best album" lists in disparate genres. In 2002, Kind of Blue was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In selecting the album as number 12 on its 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone magazine stated: "This painterly masterpiece is one of the most important, influential and popular albums in jazz".On December 16, 2009, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue and "reaffirming jazz as a national treasure". It is included in the 2005 book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, described by reviewer Seth Jacobson as "a genre-defining moment in twentieth-century music, period.
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