This CD is in the music library, if it is not in your own library.
Following are Bill Evans’ linear notes from the original 1959 LP release:
There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.
The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see will find something captured that escapes explanation.
This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflection, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician.
Group improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result. This most difficult problem, I think, is beautifully met and solved on this recording.
As the painter needs his framework of parchment, the improvising musical group needs its framework in time. Miles Davis presents here frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary to stimulate performance with a sure reference to the primary conception.
Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances. The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a “take.”
Briefly, the formal character of the five settings are:
“So What” is a simple figure based on 16 measures of one scale, 8 of another and 8 more of the first, following a piano and bass introduction in free rhythmic style. “Freddie Freeloader” is a 12-measure blues form given new personality by effective melodic and rhythmic simplicity. “Blue in Green” is a 10-measure circular form following a 4 measure introduction, and played by soloists in various augmentation and diminution of time values. “All Blues” is a 6/8 12-measure blues form that produces its mood through only a few modal changes and Miles Davis’ free melodic conception. “Flamenco Sketches” is a series of five scales, each to be played as long as the soloist wishes until he has completed the series.
Miles Davis is someone that creates new languages, tells people how to speak, and when they master it, he changes the rules. This album, somewhere in the early middle stages of his career, only touches a segment of his life. The influence of just this modal album is so expansive and long-lasting that it is hard to account for all the different areas it has touched upon. In the Rock & Roll genre, up to this point, there were not only no modal tunes, but few expansive guitar solos on anything more than a one chord vamp. Today, a standard jazz player knows at least a couple of dozen of standard modal tunes, but none existed before 1959. Miles Davis creates an album of melody and atmosphere. He strays away from his previous roots as a be-bop artist and he invents and instantly masters a new language.
First, the world was created. Then, a little while later, came Mozart and some guy named Ludwig. And then there was jazz, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton starting off the recorded history and evolution of jazz. Big Band and Swing were the forerunners. This period includes the first 15 out of the last 70 years of jazz and the only period in which Miles does not have a major influence over. During this period, on Miles’ 13th birthday, his father bought Miles a trumpet. When he was fifteen, his future wife, Irene, dares him to call Eddie Randall for a try-out. Miles gets the gig and plays with Randall and Clark Terry. The next genre was Bop pioneered by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who played together. They had a couple of different rhythm sections, but their favorite trumpet player (especially Charlie Parker) was Miles Davis. At age 18, Miles sits in with Billy Eckstine’s band in St. Louis. Miles was especially thrilled at this because his idols, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were in the band. In the fall of the same year, Miles moves to New York City to attend Julliard School of Music. The next year, (November, age 19, 1945) Miles drops out of school to get a real education in Charlie Parker’s new band. So the young Miles Davis plays a key role in ushering in a new age of Bop, fairly complicated melodies, fast tempo, and super fast chord changes.
In the late 40’s, Miles goes to the West Coast and starts to develop with a community of Musicians out there, “Cool Jazz” was the result. This new form, also labeled “West Coast Jazz,” was heavily influenced by many of Miles’ albums, especially “The Re-birth of Cool” in 1946. The ideas in this album were spawned with the help of Gil Evans, who helps Miles right after Kind Of Blue, with the Monumental “Sketches of Spain.” However, in the early 50’s, Miles struggles with a heroin habit while recording for Prestige and Blue Note. He does not make more notable contributions to the West Coast style after 1950, but in 1955 Miles makes a “comeback” performance at the Newport Jazz festival. After emerging himself back in “Hard Bop,” Miles takes the young John Coltrane and Cannonball Aderly away from this style to Modal Jazz. He also plays with Bill Evans who also makes huge contributions to the musical world. This introduces new philosophies in jazz music with a feel closer to that of Cool Jazz and it offers a stark contrast from Be-Bop. The major influential albums include Milestones and Kind of Blue. Right after this, he works again with Gil (not Bill) Evans in Sketches of Spain. This is both a looking back at big bands and orchestral pieces and a combination of Miles’ soul and the soul of Spain. Miles and Gil capture these ideas so gracefully, just like they did a couple of years back in doing Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. His rendition of Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo on Sketches shows Miles talent for improvisation and his talent for understanding the true nature of a wide variety of songs.
1964, the second great quintet (Kind of Blue representing the first) is formed. It consists of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, the young Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter. In the mid to late 60’s Miles, with the help of two new heros, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, helps to usher in the new age of Fusion, or Jazz-Rock. This spouts one of the most incredible modern day jazz groups, Weather Report, who later is joined with one of the most renound bassists since Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorious. Miles records “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew” and ushers in this new age along with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. John Coltrane steps off the train and goes his own way, breaking new ground in free jazz and A-tonal compostion. In 1975, Miles steps aside claiming he can not hear the music anymore and he is not seen for six years. A little more than a decade later, he makes his last album.
Kind of Blue
“So What” is the first track, and it introduces and defines “standard modal format” as of 1959. Standard Modal Format consists of a few characteristics; the first being always in Dorian, not as applied to II-7, but as to I-7. The format also consists of 16-bars of I, 8-bars of flat II (also Dorian), and then 8-bars of I. In “So What,” there is a bass/piano intro in a free rhythmic style. After, a simple bass figure in the following setting:
E-7 F-7 E-7
The bass plays a simple theme, but it is very interesting. He is playing a straightforward D (not E) Dorian scale with a VI-V cadence from B to A. This cadence also works good in the setting of E minor, as it hints of a more blues cadence of V-IV. However, when Paul Chambers plays B to A on the bass, Bill Evans plays E minor 9 to D minor 9. This is why when Miles comes in with his solo, the music “lifts” out of the D setting and into the E. Then during his solos, Bill Evans plays around with the falling motive of E-7 to D-7, but also varies it with a rising motive of D-7 to E-7, and these figures help with struggle back and forth with these “centers of tonality.” The piano causes a shifting back and forth harmonic structure. It is not like a regular pendulum rocking back and forth, but Bill Evans plays with it like a Child who is playing “Now you see it, now you don’t” or Peek-a-boo. However, the larger structure of the song from E-7 to D-7 is very much like a slow and methodical pendulum. This shifting is contrasted against the bass which is stable as a rock, playing a walking bass in strict accordance with the Dorian scale of E- and F-.
The inter-play between the musicians is incredible. The way the bass line predicts the melody in some parts and plays in unison. The way the leave space for each other and play of each other’s phrases. This piece is both so fresh to the musicians at the time, and yet so concrete, solid, intact and almost heavenly to our ears today. Miles knew how to find muscians to play with that not only were virtuosic musicians, but also had a great ear, an ability to understand his motives and philosophy. Miles had a tendency to create an atmosphere of co-dependency and as Bill Evans put it: “sympathy from all members to bend for the common result.” This shows in the modal changes in the song. The slight ease back and forth causes a type of music that has never been heard before.
Miles’ first solo is brilliant and sets the stage for the other improvisers to follow. First rule of thumb Miles takes is to stay very orientated to the key, E dorian. The only accidental is a d#. His phrasing is not complicated as he sounds imitates a the melodic essence of a human voice. The first little motive (mm.2, e-b-a) is a simple phrase that is often repeated. A high note often signals a change in modes or chrouses and a Bb is almost always the pivot note going to F- from E-. This piece is based much more on melodic variation as opposed to harmonic variation which dominated the be-bop style. Robert Palmer wrote “ Davis complained in a 1958 interview for The Jazz Review, ’…I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords, and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.” Technical though it might seem to non-musicians, Davis’ statement can be reduced to a single, simple proposition: A Return to Melody. Kind of Blue, in a sense, all melody-and atmosphere.” Miles was able to create such perfect music while maintaining his philosophy of no rehearsal not only through his own talents but by being able to choose carefully the type of player he wanted. Miles had a great ear and he discovered more incredible musicians than any scout could ever find.
All Blues is a twelve-bar blues song, however it is not a standard I7-IV7-I7-V7-I7 blues. It starts off with an oscillating piano between G and A which sets up the two modal tones in this song. The beginning seems to goes:
G7 C7 G7 D7 Eb7 D7 G7
Over the C7 chord, the melody plays an A phrygian scale up to the forth and back down. Over the rest of the chords, the horn section is repeating a three note phrygian motive (d-eb-f). It is hard to tell what the actual ground work set up here defines and why he does it, but it is beautiful. The A Phrygian over the pushes the envelope to such a minor sound, but yet it is distinctly different from our normal idea of tonality.
When Miles takes his first solo, he is playing in an A dominate 7 scale emphasizing F,A, and C, which seems to elude to an F Phrygian. This solo, like So What, seems to lift because he is “modulating” to a different mode. On the 5 bar, instead of emphasizing a third of A, (normal blues progression) he instead plays with an A minor scale, and the usual V-IV cadence in most 12 bar blues, with what was V-flat VI-V in the chorus, is now the same as the chourus except it corresponds to A7, i.e. E7-F7-E7. This cadence helps adds to the shifting feel, as the tonal center seems to be ever flowing back and forth like a pendulum. He takes a simple blues format and adds this type of shifting feel pervasive throughout the album. His modal techniques are simple but effective.
Flamenco Sketches is the only track on this album that is not a first complete take. Again, like the other songs on the album, this sketch requires that each musician have a perfect knowledge of what each musician is doing and where he is going. This song has a free piano and bass intro and then a series of five solos. Each soloist was given 5 chords on which to improvise. The chords and order are as follows:
Miles: D Major à Bb Lydian à C Major à E Phrygian à A Minor
Coltrane: D Major à Bb Lydian à C Major à E Phrygian à A Minor
Cannonball: A Major à F Lydian à G Major à B Phrygian à E Minor
Bill Evans: C Major à Ab Lydianà Bb Major à D Phrygian à G Minor
Miles: D Major à Bb Lydian à C Major à E Phrygian à A Minor
Since there is no set duration for each chord change, keeping time is not necessary and the drums are sparse, and yet time is still very important here. It is in 4/4 time, but every member uses triplets extensively make the melody waiver. At times, especially because of Bill Evans, it seems to go into ¾ time.
The way each performer changes chords is interesting to analyze. Miles’ solos are very clear and direct. He speaks through his instrument in clearly defined sentences that is always ended with a long half note. At this point, the accompanying musicians change chords and it has a falling effect. Cannonball, on the other hand, likes to explode into his changes. He builds on an idea untill he pushes that idea and pushes tonality into the next chord. The best example of this is when he hits the G note to introduce the G Major chord. A long run of notes pushes F7 until he hits the leading tone of G Major. At this point the music seems to freeze for a split second as the tone changes color. Cannonball, like the other performers except Miles, likes to stay of the Major, more tonal chords, for a longer period of time. Coltrane’s solo is fairly short and the highlight comes during the E7. He hits a half note on B which is a strong cadence of E7 but doesn’t move well to the next chord, A minor. The phrasing of his solo over the E7 is very much like the D major solo which ends in correspondence where he hits the B note. It seems as though he meant to end it here, but the other players wisely stuck with the same chord. The next bar is shear brilliance as he rests shortly, but then blurs or smears a succession of notes to a cadence on C which goes very nicely into A minor. The scale up and then down includes the leading tone to A minor and it also seems to push because of the rhythmic qualities. These are not sixteenth or 32nd’s, but rather an odd number of notes smeared in that ends up fitting just right. Bill Evan’s solo shows his mastermind for sense, touch and feel. Nothing too elaborate is portrayed except for his uncanny feel and movement of tonality.
With this album, Miles Davis creates a new genre of music with little display of virtuosity, but rather an emphasis on a kind of beautiful, melodic singing through the instruments. The first, and most important track, So What was aptly named as a reaction to Be-Bop and it’s snobism and complicated harmonies and melodies. He gave origin, created, and completed this masterpiece of an album in only two days. Two days that significantly changed the world of jazz, popular music, and Rock & Roll. His awe-inspiring sense of melody and his incredible talent to recognize talent in other musicians is incredible. Some performers, especially improvisers, are so hung up with copying great masters and perfecting licks that they never achieve a good sense of the overall picture and are unable to hear the overall effect of the piece while they are playing the piece. This kind of talent, this general understanding of music that is within us and developed since we our little kids, banging on the piano with the radio, is the same quality that allowed Miles Davis to so easily recognize talent and surround himself with that talent. While I don’t ever think I could possibly achieve what Miles Davis did if I lived three lifetimes, I am very grateful of my musical knowledge that I have obtained since I was young simply because I was surrounded by musicians, and today I am still lucky enough to be situated within the company of so many fine musicians.