Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is the most significant album in jazz history; it signaled the end to bebop and its offshoots and ushered in post-bop, which included several new styles and approaches to playing jazz. It is also the most influential and the largest selling album in jazz history. Recorded in 1959, it was revolutionary for two reasons: the music was based on modes, which are scales other than the commonly used major or minor scales, and the improvisations were based on these modes rather than chord progressions.


The earliest jazz improvisations, circa 1900-1920s, were primarily based on the melodies of the tunes. Louis Armstrong in the 1920s pushed jazz improvisations toward playing off of the chords of tunes rather than their melodies. Bebop, the beginning of modern jazz, complexified this concept from the 1940s through the 1950s. Miles Davis, who played with bebop musicians, notably Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, began to simplify and strip down the harmonic complexity of bebop, which led to the concept of Kind of Blue.


Miles expounded on ideas about modes put forth by George Russell in his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Bill Evans, the pianist on Kind of Blue, also was influenced by Russell’s ideas, and was chosen by Miles not only to play piano but also to contribute to the entire concept of the album. It is Miles Davis along with Bill Evans who are responsible for not just the modal applications but the quiet, almost still, mood and atmosphere of the music, as well. The results were magical – a one of a kind performance played by some of the greatest jazz musicians in history.


Miles and Evans brought some sketches of the material to be played to the recording studio for the first of two sessions and these great musicians produced a masterpiece with no rehearsal or preparation playing unfamiliar material based primarily on an entirely a new concept and approach to playing jazz. These were no ordinary musicians; in addition to Miles and Bill Evans, were Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. (Wynton Kelly replaced Bill Evans on Freddie Freeloader.) Miles Davis once said: “If you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time… that’s where great art and music happens.” It happened in 1959. It happened with Kind of Blue.

© John Valerio 2019