Every once in awhile, something happens that changes everything. Smallpox is cured. The internet is invented. Your baby is born. Musically, one of those moments happened in New York on March 2 and April 22, 1959. On those dates, the Miles Davis Sextet recorded what would become one of the most influential albums of all time. Not just in jazz, but in all of music.
The album is Kind Of Blue. And today, 60 years after its initial release, it is still the best selling jazz album of all time.
Why was this album such a big deal? In the late ’50’s jazz was still heavily influenced by be-boppers like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The songs were full of chord changes and the musicians played over top of an ever-changing harmonic landscape. Improvisations were guided and in many ways constrained by the fast moving chord progressions. With Kind Of Blue, the approach is the opposite. The harmonic structure is much more sparse, and individual chords last much longer than in bebop. This allows players to explore the colors and nuances of each chord, and to think more melodically. In fact, it forces improvisers to be creative and melodic or risk becoming tiresome and repetitious. The change in sound was striking, and to many listeners, welcome. This modal approach to jazz become known as cool jazz.
Why is Kind Of Blue still a big deal? At the risk of being overly simplistic, Kind Of Blue is still a big deal because people still like it. Even people who say they don’t like jazz, usually like Kind Of Blue. The music is non-threatening. You don’t have to be a jazz scholar to understand it. It asks listeners to free their mind, letting the moods and colors take you where they will. It sounds mysterious yet familiar.
As a result, the album’s impact on the music world has been huge. About half of the 6 songs on the record have been canonized into the repertoire of jazz standards, songs that all players study and most jazz lovers recognize. The “cool” sound of the music was something serious musicians of all styles had to acknowledge. For some, the new sound infiltrated their own music and left its mark on their listeners as well.
Kind Of Blue definitely left an imprint on me. I remember the day my girlfriend’s Dad (later father-in-law) first played it for me. I was in high school and was just getting into jazz. He was an experienced jazz musician himself, eager to share his favorite music with a rookie like me. The colors of the music struck me immediately. The sparse, mellow lines appealed to my personality much more than the jazz I had heard to that point.
I still love those sounds and am very excited for our upcoming Kind Of Blue show at Tellus 360 in Lancaster. It happens on June 20 at 7;30pm in the basement room called An Sibin. It’s an intimate, 55 seat room with a great vibe. I think it’s, no doubt, the best listening room in town. We’re performing the entire album plus a few other Miles Davis tunes to round out the evening.
Tickets are available here: https://tellus360.ticketfly.com/
Personnel for the night couldn’t be better. The quintet will be Ryan Kauffman (sax), Tom Hilliker (bass), Chris Loser (drums), myself (trumpet) and special guest Steve Rudolph (piano).
It’s going to be a great night of music- I hope you can join us. And even if you can’t, buy a copy of the original album, or cue it up on Youtube or Spotify and treat yourself to some of the best music ever made.