Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece
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From the moment it was recorded more than 40 years ago, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue was hailed as a jazz classic. To this day it remains the bestselling jazz album of all time, embraced by fans of all musical genres. The album represented a true watershed moment in jazz history, and helped to usher in the first great jazz revolution since bebop.
The Making of Kind of Blue is an exhaustively researched examination of how this masterpiece was born. Recorded with pianist Bill Evans, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, composer/theorist George Russell and Miles himself, the album represented a fortuitous conflation of some of the real giants of the jazz world, at a time when they were at the top of their musical game. The end result was a recording that would forever change the face of American music.
Through extensive interviews and access to rare recordings Nisenson pieced together the whole story of this miraculous session, laying bare the genius of Miles Davis, other musicians, and the heart of jazz itself.
“Summertime,” Miles plays simple melodic phrases that are answered by the thick textures of Evans’s arrangements. Although far different from the way “Summertime” is usually played, it nevertheless has the dusky, humid atmosphere that the tune is meant to convey. The Porgy and Bess album is one of Miles’s greatest triumphs, one of the most gorgeous albums ever recorded. The simplified harmonic structure of this and some of the other tunes on the album give further clues to Miles’s future course.
Green Dolphin Street,” “Stella by Starlight,” “Love for Sale”—and the old children’s tune “Put Your Little Foot Out,” which he retitled “Fran Dance.” The group’s version of “Love for Sale” was not released until the late 1970s. As Miles said about Evans, he did not play chords; rather, he played sounds. For Miles, that was about the highest praise he could offer any musician. In this session, after years of unceasing effort, Evans finally established his own sound and conception. His introduction
fusion, as this period was labeled. He was accused of selling out, deliberately diluting his music in order to reach a huge pop and rock audience. But the truth is, Miles was never an elitist. He always wanted his music to reach the broadest audience possible. Late in his own career, Cannonball himself was accused of selling out. His answer was that if he could find a way to sell out, he would do it in a minute. The fact that Cannonball’s blues-filled style reached those in an audience confused
Townsend asks, “This is just for you four guys on this next one, right?” Miles replies, “Five. Adderley lays out on this piece.” The next piece recorded at this session is the ballad “Blue in Green.” It is such a subtle, delicately constructed and lyrical piece of music that it presents its own kind of problem: the only analogous form that I can think of is a Zen koan—within the few simple lines of a koan, a Zen master can offer the transcendence of nirvana. Undoubtedly, this is why Miles said
Cannonball Adderley. I personally believe that using Cannonball on this tune was a mistake, perhaps the only truly egregious one that Miles made on the entire album. Bill Evans opens the piece with an introduction that seems derived from some of his recent work as a leader: his version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” and Evans’s own famous “Peace Piece.” Like “Blue in Green,” the tempo is extremely slow; perhaps no tempo, except for the exceedingly fast, is such a challenge for an