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Behind the BeatKind of Blue by Miles Davis
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Nine special recordings that stood out PBS: Kind of Blue album cover
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Kind of Blue

By Loren Schoenberg, Conductor and Saxophonist

Written by: Miles Davis
Performed by: The Miles Davis Sextet: Miles Davis, trumpet; Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, alto saxophone; John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums
Recorded: March 2, l959

Audio sample So What (from the album Kind of Blue)
Recorded March 2, 1959
(Courtesy Columbia/Legacy)

Studio shot of recording, 1959
Studio shot from recording of Kind of Blue, April 1959 at CBS studio.
Photograph by Don Hunstein, Image courtesy of Sony
Miles Davis' musical concept was always built on change. Every few years, he shed his previous musical persona for a new one, leaving many in the jazz community waiting in vain for a return to what had been their favorite of his periods. From his earliest days as a bandleader, it was clear that Davis knew how to take charge and get what he wanted out of his musicians. He did this by an unusual combination of suggestion, nuance, and indirection, with none of the "do this and do that" that so many bandleaders fall prey to. Davis learned from Louis Armstrong, Lester Young and Thelonious Monk that what you didn't play was just as important as what you did play. The extreme use of space in his solos set each of his phrases into stark relief, and made for a wonderful contrast with players more prone to prolixity like Adderley and Coltrane. Nowhere is this more readily apparent than in the groundbreaking album Kind of Blue.

Working with pianist Bill Evans, Davis challenged his musicians with new music on which they had to think quickly and differently. What we hear on the recording is what writer Whitney Balliett so aptly called "the sound of surprise." Some of the tunes used the ancient musical scales known as modes as the basis for improvisation. There were also two blues, Freddie the Freeloader, and All Blues, which had been pared down one beat per measure from the standard time signature of 4/4 to 3/4. More than forty years after its release, Kind of Blue remains the most consistently popular jazz album of all time. Writer Ashley Kahn's recent book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, is highly recommended.