’Legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis recorded the second and final session of his seminal album Kind of Blue on April 22nd, 1959. It remains the best-selling jazz album of all time. Its unforgettable solos by Davis, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and pianist Bill Evans create an ethereal atmosphere; the album continues to be one of the most beloved records in jazz.
Kind of Blue popularized a new approach to improvisation. Rather than basing its five tunes on a rigid framework of changing chords, as was conventional for post-bop music, Davis and Evans wrote pieces with a more limited set of scales in different modes. “Modes” maintain the basic intervals of an underlying major or minor scale, but move the tonic (first note) to one of its other notes, creating different moods or coloration. As this detailed video on modal jazz by Polyphonic explains, this creates a more open network of harmonic relationships. Davis and Evans’s “cooler” approach shifts the musical emphasis from “harmonic rhythm” of post-bop jazz, toward the melodic inventiveness of individual players.
The modal approach to jazz became so popular it changed the way jazz was taught and analyzed.
The modal approach to jazz became so popular it changed the way jazz was taught and analyzed. This has justified the significance of the album for many players and aficionados. Music scholar Samuel Barrett argues, however, that this narrative oversimplifies both the way Kind of Blue was composed and performed, and its true cultural impact.…’