If you hadn’t heard already — and you should have — Kind of Blue is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In fact, it was 50 years ago this week — March 2, 1959 — that the first of the two recording sessions that created the best selling jazz album of all time took place.
It’s hard to add to what’s already been said and written about the album. That’s particularly so when you consider it was No. 12 on Rolling Stone‘s rock and blues intensive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. And even if it hadn’t been discussed so much, this album undoubtedly falls within what Elvis Costello said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
That said, there’s a couple things about the LP that strike me ever time I listen to it.
There’s always been discussion of how Wynton Kelly was a bit peeved when he showed up for the sessions and Bill Evans, the man he had replaced in Miles’ band, was there. Yet I can’t help but think that helped contribute to the power of Kelly’s solo on “Freddie Freeloader,” the second cut on the LP. It is far more upbeat and bop-influenced than the more reserved and subtle comping approach Evans tends to take on the other tunes.
The bop influence in Kelly’s solo is also another fascinating aspect of the LP. Look at the players. All of them — Miles, Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane, Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums and even Evans — were considered bop players. Moreover, Miles Cannonball and Coltrane would be among the purveyors of the “hard bop” sound. But that isn’t necessarily the case here. Bop elements are there but this is far more subdued and smoky.
I also believe Kind of Blue should be mandatory listening for anyone who wants to play the drums. In propelling the ensemble, Cobb isn’t letting go with big bass booms or gargantuan runs on the toms. No, he moves the band almost entirely with his cymbal and brush work. There’s some snare work here and there for emphasis but Cobb’s delicate touch is an essential part of an LP that is subdued to mid-tempo at most.
With its modal approach, the framework laid out by the rhythm section is comparatively sparse. Yet it’s stunning what each soloist does when the tune is handed over to him. That is why Kind of Blue is a great jazz album for people who don’t normally listen to jazz. It’s pace and approach provide a perfect introduction to how jazz artists build on and play with basic structures, taking them to levels you wouldn’t anticipate at the beginning of a tune.
The simple fact is that just as you have to look at a building to appreciate the architecture, you’ve got to listen to this album to appreciate the music on it.
When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit.
Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography