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MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue

THE LAST KING OF AMERICA:


HOW MILES DAVIS INVENTED MODERNITY

We shall not cease from exploration


T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
i

Im not thinking about anybody but myself when we play. I mean, how is my audience gonna move me? I know that if I dont move myself, then its no good. Miles Davis, 1973 ii

By 1959, the year when the album Kind of Blue was recorded, trumpeter Miles Davis had become one of the most famous jazz musicians of his generation (post-World War II), a celebrated and singular personality in his culture and in a profession where unusual and unconventional sorts were the rule, not the exception. He stood at a pinnacle, at a moment of mastery not only of his music but also of his moment. This was no small achievement as the jazz performer is driven equally by talent; insufferable ego; obsessive, insular training and focus; blind confidence; self-destructive habits; and the abject fear of creative failure. Any sustained imbalance of these elements, a precarious alchemy at best, will not produce anything but an artist who never realized or only dimly saw his or her gift, the stillborn genius or the anguished one-work wonder. Davis had his fair share of all these qualities and attributes, as uncertainly poised as molecules in a volatile formula. He played upon his strengths and weaknesses and bedeviled his audience with them for adulation as much as those strengths and weaknesses played upon and bedeviled him. He was both feared and admired, and admired for being feared as an imposing, tem-

peramental, seemingly evil-minded artist: Lord Byron on a bandstand. (Both Davis and Byron liked boxing and both were cruel to women.) This was clearly at the time a remarkably new public persona for a black man to assume but Davis, undaunted by its daring, wore it with the panache of swashbuckler. Im a musician, I aint no comedian, he once growled at nightclub owner Max Gordon, I dont smile, I dont bow. I turn my back . . . The white man always wants you to smile, always wants the black man to bow. I dont smile, and I dont bow. Ok? Im here to play music. Im a musician.iii These barks of artistic grouchiness, minor enough in most respects, were nearly revolutionary in the 1950s: first, Davis was insisting that as a black man he was entitled to be respected on his own terms for the performance of his craft; second, Davis was insisting that being a musician, always a suspect profession in the United States, was worthy of respect and was quite different from being an entertainer. (Davis had nothing personal against entertainers and often went to see them perform. He just wanted to make it clear to the public that he was not one of them.) Davis never thought he was there to en-

tertain his audience in the way a tap dancer, a magician, or an acrobat might. How Daviss demand for dignity struck the public beyond the fact that many people were intrigued or even, horror of horrors, entertained by it is unclear. Some surely thought he was a snob, others that he was overly sensitive (a common charge against a member of a persecuted minority who gets prickly), and still others probably thought he was simply engaging in an especially ornery form of special pleading. It is little wonder that Davis emerged as a public figure at the same time as novelist/essayist James Baldwin. Despite the considerable differences between the two men, their upbringing, their temperament, they served the same needs for both their black and white publicspride and racial breakthrough for blacks, encounter and racial rethinking for whites. (The two men were also alike in two important respectsthey were small men with artistic bents who were the oldest sons in their families.) Davis changed his culture by changing how whites saw black artists and how whites and blacks understood jazz. He was not alone in doing this but he was a major figure in transforming America.

II

Having money has helped me once in a while, but Im not looking for help. Im even the one thats the

helper, helping people by playing my music.

Miles Davis, 1972 iv

What made Davis extraordinary was that by the end of the 1950s, he gave every impression to the public of being a highly exploratory, probing musician while never seeming at all outside the mainstream of what jazz was becoming or had become since World War II. The great achievement of Kind of Blue was that it was an experimental record, experimental music, that never seemed at all experimental. Ironically, what made the music seem so fresh and appealing to listeners, even to people who disliked jazz, was that all of it seemed so familiar. The music never put you on the spot as a listener by revealing your inadequacies to appreciate it. This is usually how many of the most significant artistic innovations have worked: the audience is taken somewhere its never been while passing a lot of well-known signposts. Kind of Blue was experimental in several ways:

1. The music itself, as nearly every commentator has pointed out, was built on scales and not chords, as was traditional for the jazz performer who needed chords (and fake books) as the building blocks for solos. But what has been less noticed is that the intention of moving away from chords was to free both the soloist and the music itself from being over-determined and predictable, to make the music more spontaneous and instinctive and not a lot of virtuosic strategizing about running through a set of chords; in short, to make jazz less boring as instrumental music. This is exactly what Ornette Coleman was doing in 1959 with his album, The Shape of Jazz to Come, and with his controversial gig at the Five Spot the same year, albeit with a different theory. The aim was the same: to free the soloist and the music from routine and to re-establish the rigors of creating improvisational composition by re-creating the conventions of the discipline within

which it was generated. Davis did this in Kind of Blue without any sense of self-consciousness that what was being done was new or theoretical, unlike Coleman, which is one reason why Daviss album became so popular and became, not a signifier of the new or the revolutionary, which would have dated it, but rather, more strikingly, a signifier of the hip and the cool, which made it timeless.

2. Kind of Blue harkened back to Daviss Birth of the Cool sessions of 1949 and 1950 in being a very self-aware collaboration between black and white musicians, a stylistic and cultural fusion, in much the way his Columbia Records orchestral collaborations with arranger Gil Evans were. Clearly, white pianist Bill Evans was central to the concept and success of Kind of Blue, which is why Columbia had him write the liner notes, although he was upset in later

THE PLAZA, NYC, SEPTEMBER 1958

years that he did not get as much credit for his collaboration as he should have, especially monetary and composer credit. (Composer theft in jazz was quite commonplace. A musician had to watch his tunes as much as he did his money. Did Davis really write Blue in Green or Flamenco Sketches? Did Davis really write Nardis or Milestones? We will never really know for sure.) Davis himself over the years had mixed feelings about his collaborations with white musicians. In an interview with Nat Hentoff published in 1958, he said, Boy, Ive sure learned a lot from Bill Evans. He plays the piano the way it should be played. He plays all kinds of scales; can play in 5/4; and all kinds of fantastic things. Theres such a difference between him and Red Garland whom I also like a lot. Red carries the rhythm, but Bill underplays it, and I like that better.v In a 1973 interview, at a time when Davis spoke more harshly about whites and about race, he said, Let them [the critics] say it. I dont care what they say. As long as I been playing they never say I done anything. They always say that some white guy did it.vi But the blending of black and white jazz is key to the mystique of the album.

standard small group jazz album of the day was. Kind of Blue was one of the few jazz records of its time that had a sense of narrative, a cohesive inter-relation between the tunes. It was a work, not a bunch of disparate tunes used to pace a small group jazz album: one fast-tempo piece, one ballad, one blues, one or two standards, a bop-oriented original. The sense of the album as an organic whole added to its appeal.

4. Kind of Blue, its sonic accessibility, its moderate-to-slow tempi, its inspired but tempered performances, was an album that was tailormade for the Columbia House Record Club, started four years earlier (1955) as a way to generate a mail order business for LPs. Here was a jazz album that would appeal to both Middle America as a kind of hip mood music as well as to jazz fans and purists as state-of-theart, uncompromised jazz: non-commercial jazz for commercial or aspiring taste. Kind of Blue, in other words, was one of those records, along with Dave Brubecks Time Out, another Columbia jazz record released in 1959, that made jazz a middlebrow music, a respectable music for middle-class, educated people who felt they had refined taste. This was enormously impor-

3. Kind of Blue would not have been possible if the LP did not exist. It was jazz conceived for the record album, not only because of the playing times of the tunes but also because of how the album creates an overall mood. Kind of Blue is not simply a series of tracks as the

tant for Davis both commercially and artistically for the rest of his career. As jazz ceased to be dance music, it needed middlebrow status in order to survive as art music. Davis was essential in making this transformation possible. NEWPORT, JULY 1958 Miles and Guests

III

Yeah, you have to come up through those ranks. They can always do that; but you dont hear anybody doing that old shit with me. You know, some guys are still playing all that shit we did years ago, things I did with Bird and stuff; theyre still using those clichs and calling it jazz. Black guys as well as white guys. I hear it over and over againshit Ive even forgotten. Miles Davis, 1972 vii

What drove Miles Davis? In part, the masculine sense of competition that always characterized the life of the working jazz musician who wanted more than just a gig at the corner bar. The jazz musician had to have his own voice, survive jam sessions and cutting contests, tolerate long trips on the road and playing in uncongenial, sub-standard venues, and endure withering criticism from colleagues and critics without being fazed by it. In short, a successful jazz musician with a national reputation had to be a fairly tough or fairly stoic s.o.b. (More so, if a woman.) For Davis in 1959, for instance, was surrounded by more living and working jazz musicians than any comparable figure is today, if only because jazz is less listened to and less performed today and fewer people, from necessity, practice the craft as once did. But in the late 1950s, old heads from earlier eras were still around and still playing well and working regularly like Harry James and Henry Red Allen. The great Louis Armstrong, the inventor of modern jazz trumpeting and modern jazz singing, had released two years earlier his Musical Autobiography, which revealed that Pops was still the master of the realm and remained an extraordinarily compelling soloist. There were Daviss influences and teachers like Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, and Buck Clayton, still alive and kicking. There were

Daviss contemporaries like Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker (the blonde bombshell, the James Dean of jazz, who could also sing languid ballads), Shorty Rodgers, Maynard Ferguson, the teenage wonder, Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and the ghost of the recently and tragically deceased Clifford Brown. By the end of the 1950s, Davis eclipsed them all, had thoroughly stamped the age of post-war jazz, had made himself a leader in the way the other great trumpeters, indeed, other jazz musicians of comparable skill, had not: as a virtuoso who did not have the skills of the virtuoso but had the virtuosos feelings, sense of flair for the dramatic, sense of risk and brinksmanship. He was also, by 1959, the hero and the villain of his own self-constructed myth: the bad, uncouth

BIRDLAND, NYC, 1959

black man and the brooding black genius. That he was able to do this as a black man was a sign of his will and a sign of the changing times. The idea that the 1950s were some tranquil time of We Like Ike and the white suburban pastoral, of the nuclear family and traditional values, is largely a thought clich. It was more a time of jittery transition: a bloody three-year war in Korea that ended in a stalemate opened the decade (and lasted nearly as long as our time in World War II); McCarthyism cast a long shadow of fear, loathing, and mistrust over the land and made un-American a common expression in our language; Atomic bombs were tested in the desert as nuclear war seemed imminent; the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 and started the space race; Fidel Castro seized Cuba in 1959 and for the next several years the United States tried unsuccessfully to assassinate him as it fought communism with a half-crazed foreign policy; and juvenile delinquency raged across the nation. Race relations began to change as both blacks and liberal whites challenged Jim Crow segregation and the state-sanctioned political and economic degradation of blacks. Just five years before Kind of Blue was recorded, the United States Supreme Court declared statesponsored segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 made Martin Luther King, Jr. a household name and was the beginning of the end of white southern privilege. The horrific murder of 14-year old Emmitt Till in 1955 galvanized blacks and

shocked the nation in the way no other racial lynching had. The southern white reaction to the integration of Central High School in Little Rock outraged even Louis Armstrong, not known for public expressions of militancy or racial displeasure. Blacks were now actively and publicly protesting their second-class status. But it was also the time of stunning crossover for blacks as their talents for the first time were recognized by the guardians of high culture: poet Gwendolyn Brooks won the

Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for Maud Martha, novelist Ralph Ellison won the National Book Award for fiction in 1952 for Invisible Man, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry won the Drama Critics Circle Award in 1959 for A Raisin in the Sun. In other realms, Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for an Oscar for playing the title role in Carmen Jones (1955); singer Nat King Cole had a television show (briefly); and blacks organized to have the televised version of the famous radio program

54th PRECINCT, NYC, AUGUST 1959 Miles Davis with wife Frances Taylor

Amos and Andy taken off the air. Miles Davis emerged as a national figure during this time as something like a militant race man but also a firm integrationist. And he was never, fortunately, a doctrinaire leftist but he shrewdly cultivated an image of himself as something of an iconoclast who valued establishment, Playboy magazine-type ideas of masculine success: a nice home with modern art and more modern gadgets; lovely women as trophies; expensive, well-tailored clothes, and fast, foreign cars. Davis was always a man who was fascinated by his own hunger, as he fascinated the public with how he fed his appetites and rages. He had no sentiment. He had no nostalgia. Nothing he had done would ever be a reference for what he would do: that was the definition of modernity and that was what jazz was supposed to be. Nothing more, nothing less.

Kind of Blue was recorded in two sessions: March 2 and April 22, 1959. It was released on August 17. A week later, on August 25, Davis was beaten and arrested by white New York City policemen while standing around in front of the nightclub where he was playing, enjoying a cigarette between sets, after escorting a white woman from the club to catch a cab. This made him an instant civil rights hero and, as much as anything, legitimatized him with blacks and with the young as something of a rebel with a cause. That image of himself may have been tarnished and a bit battered over the years, but Davis was never to lose it.

T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays,

1909-1950, p. 145
ii

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, (New York: Schirmer Books, 1996), p. 153
iii

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, p. 94


iv

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, p. 122


v

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, p. 89


vi

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, p. 155


vii

Gary Carner (ed.), The Miles Davis Compan-

GERALD EARLY, June 2008


Gerald Early is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis. His liner notes have been nominated twice for Grammy Awards. He is currently the series editor for Best African American Essays and Best African American Fiction. Both volumes will debut in the spring of 2009.

ion: Four Decades of Commentary, p. 120

BETWEEN THE TAKES


oday at Sony, an official request to review the reel-toreel tapes from the typical, late 50s session at 30th Street StudioJohnny Mathis or Doris Day, Duke Ellington

star cast of improvisers. The cool confidence of a star bandleader. To Miles and his men in 1959, Kind of Blue was another day at work. The closest we may come to witnessing such a melodic, masterpiece of a workday follows.

or Miles Davisbrings up boxes upon boxes of reels. But the Kind of Blue sessions hardly dented the tape budget. Three reels of Scotch 190, at the time a workhorse product of the recording industry, hold all that was recorded at those two historic dates in 1959. One reel is the assembled master, spliced together from two master session reels to create the original release of Kind of Blue in its familiar sequence. It is this reel from which successive editions of the album were created for almost forty years; despite the estimable shelf life of the tape brand, it was retired as splices fell apart and the tape began to deteriorate. Then there is a safety master from each of the sessions. It is on these two reels that one can hear what is normally dismissed as record-

ing detritus: a few false starts, a number of take breakdowns, and the studio chatter that took place when the record button was lit. Its not much, but it reveals a lot. Beyond the mere novelty of hearing Miles Daviss hoarse voice, much can be gleaned through focused listening: the innovative methods used to create the unusual styles and exceedingly simple structures on Kind of Blue. The analog recording process in the heyday of high-fidelity. The camaraderie and comedy shared by an all-

FIRST SESSIONMARCH 2, 19592:30 PM


FREDDIE FREELOADER studio sequence 1
Irving Townsend: The machines on . . . Miles Davis: Him, me, him, you . . . IT: Here we go: CO 62290, no title, Take 1 . . . Unidentified: . . . B-flat on the end? MD: Hey Wynton, after Cannonball, you play again and then well come in and end it. enough to bring even the most laid-back bandleader to a boil. Miles Daviss short-fuse reputation was well established by 1959, yet from the outset of the first of two sessions that yielded Kind of Blue, all seems easy-going and . . . fun. Out of the public eye and in his circleamong familiar sidemen and studio staffDavis was in his element. He and the producer Irving Townsend share a laugh when he moves a microphone, both Adderley and Freddie Freeloader, Take 1Davis whistles after the eighth bar, cutting off the take. Townsend pointing out that maneuvering equipment in Columbias studio was exclusively a union responsibility. MD: It was too fast. IT: Miles, where you going to work now? MD: Right here. IT: OK, cause if you move back we dont get you. You were right when you played before . . . MD: When I play Im going to raise my horn a little bit. Can I move this down a little bit? (moves microphone) Cannonball Adderley: The unions gonna bust you. IT: Its against policy to move a microphone . . . (laughs) Fred Plaut: Just remain . . . (Townsend releases the talk-back button, cutting off the engineers German-accented remark) IT: Here we go. Ready? Number 2 . . . Daviss dialogue also revealed a flexibility in restructuring music in the moment. As the Between production budgets, the studio clock, technical snafus, and other unforeseen pressures, recording sessions can be intense tape started rolling, Davis was caught instructing Wynton Kelly to return for one chorus after Cannonball Adderleys statement on Freddie Freeloader, which effectively creates an energy-shifting buffer between the cycle of solos and the closing theme of the tune. In choosing to first record Freddie Freeloader that afternoon (it would become the second track on Kind of Blue) Davis even seems mindful of his sidemen. It would be the sole album track featuring Wynton Kelly, who was then holding the piano chair in Daviss group vacated the previous November by Bill Evans. Kelly had been informed of the recording session, but not that his predecessor was playing on most of the tracks. Wynton used to come to the gigs from Brooklyn by cab because he couldnt stand the subway, Jimmy Cobb remembers. So he saw Bill sitting at the piano and was flabbergasted! He said, Damn, I rushed all the way over here and someone else is sitting at the piano! I said, Hold it before you go off, youre on the date too. Whether to minimize Kellys time at the session, reassure him of his continuing position at Daviss side, or both, Davis helped matters by calling on Kelly first. When the clock is ticking, a smart bandleader knows the value of avoiding dramaor of fueling it, as Davis was also wont to do.

FREDDIE FREELOADER false start


Take 3 of Freddie Freeloader makes it through the familiar theme (loosely based on the melody of Soft Winds) and makes it into

Wynton Kellys solo. Before the second chorus of the piano ends, Miles whistles off the take.

muffled voice: . . . last 4 bars? MD: No. Wait a minute . . . its the last 12 bars.

ing, he was all for it. This is the first time the only Insert take for Freddie Freeloader has been available.

MD: Hey look Wynton, dont play no chord going into the A-flat . . .

Chambers solos for one chorus, and the horns join in for the closing theme.

SO WHAT studio sequence 1


The door to the control room closes and footsteps approach the talkback microphone.

Three points of interest here: first, even after the third take of Freddie, Miles is still tinkering, making small structural changes after calling off the performance with a whistle rather than a shout (made necessary by the permanent damage he caused his vocal chords in 1955 after getting into a shouting match with a club manager). Second, despite Daviss general compulsion to simplify harmonic rigidity using a modal approach on most of Kind of Blue, he was still a stickler for structural precisionwilling to call off a take as Kelly misses an unusual, but significant structural twist during his solo. Davis created Freddie as a 24-bar blues rather than the standard 12-bar formand he wanted that form followed. And third, as a bandleader, Davis gave minimum instruction. He never told anyone what to play but would say, Man, you dont need to do that, Adderley recalled in a 1972 radio interview. Miles really told everybody what not to do. I heard him and dug it.

MD: All right? IT: Yeah. MD: Lets hear a little bit of it. IT: Right.

IT: Here we go. MD: Wait a minute. IT: CO 62291, number 2, Take 1.

Yes, in the studio or on the stage, Davis followed a first idea, best idea philosophy. He once famously admonished George Coleman, one of a string of renowned saxophone players, when he heard him practicing in his hotel room; the bandleader wanted him to save his freshest ideas for that nights gig. Of more than 30 albums in the Davis discography, Kind of Blue is one of the strongest examples of that aesthetic. Yet, that Davis felt the need to rerecord the closing theme of Freddie with the intent of later splicing it onto the end of the first complete take (hence Townsend dubbed it an Insert) shows Davis also felt a priority in the final product. He was never the puristneither in jazz styles nor record making. Tape splicing created almost all of the tracks on Miles Ahead, his first collaboration with Gil Evans,

MD: Wait one minute Cannonball Adderley: One short second . . . PC: Gimme a D, Bill.

Bill Evans plays a note on the piano to help Paul Chambers tune his bass, which he checks, playing with the bow.

IT: Number 2, Take 1.

Chambers plays the opening sequence to the So What prelude and Evans answers with a series of haunting chords. A voice calls off the take in the studio.

IT: Start again please.

FREDDIE FREELOADER studio sequence 2


IT: Here we go. This is Insert 1, Take 1

in 1957. Echo made his lonely trumpet sound all the lonelier on Kind of Blue (an echo chamber had been built into the basement at 30th Street Studio). Synthesizers and MIDI technology helped Davis update the sound of fusion

Sound of finger-snapping

thirty years later. If it created a better record-

With deliberate focus and at an even more languid tempo than the released take, Evans and Chambers played the So What prelude. The bassist ended the section with a long, low note that edged toward distortion (begging the question why Townsend did not halt the take at this point). Chambers played the familiar So What theme, Evans added punctuation, and as they completed the first chorus the rustle of paper is heard.

IT: Watch the snare toowere picking up some of the vibrations on it. MD: Well that goes with it. IT: What? MD: All that goes with it. IT: All right (chuckles)not all the other noises though . . . Take 2.

That Davis answers Townsends chiding about studio noise certainly stems from a need to respond with wit or feigned challenge. But what a perfect and revealing reply: One need only think of Daviss embracing of electronics in the 60s, and rhythmic layering in the 70s, to know Davis was not one to pass up the chance to exploit an unexpected sound or mu-

By 1959, the relationship between producer and artist was rapidly moving away from the former in total charge, determining all (song

sical flavor.

SO WHAT studio sequence 2


The final take of So What ends somewhat jaggedly; a gentle fade out was eventually used on the album.

IT: Hold it . . . sorry . . . listen, we gotta watch it because if theres noise all the way through this. This is so quiet to begin with, that every click sounds . . . MD: (unintelligible, to a sideman) Unidentified: All right . . .

selection, final takes) to a more equal-minded approach. Instructions were no longer simply barked from control room to studio. Producers were becoming careful to make decisions jointly and to speak more as a partner over the talkback.

CA: (singing) With a sooong in my heart . . . Probably PC: (singing the So What theme)

Dik-dik-du-gong . . . dit-dit . . .

IT: CO 62292Number 3, Take 1 The take ends almost immediately. Evans ab-

tained meeting of Davis and Evans, the two architects behind Kind of Blue. At the last minute, the bandleader informs John

Why Adderley chose a Rodgers and Hart composition with which to express himself, and dispel the sobriety of So What, who knows? Perhaps a certain melodic or harmonic similarity between the two triggered the choice. Perhaps it was simply Adderleys sense of humor: juxtaposing the old and the newa slightly mushy lyric (With a song in my heart/I behold your adorable face/Just a song at the start/But it soon is a hymn to your grace) with the hip, bittersweet elegance of So What. Speaking of hip: how finger-snappingly effective is the primary theme to So What? It is certainly the most instantly recognized melody on Kind of Blueand arguably one of the most easily recalled in modern jazz. Its easy-going yet strong enough to leave its imprint no matter the fidelity: a high quality studio recording, a whistle heard from a passing stranger. The voice singing the theme probably belongs to Chambers, who, after playing it for the first time, apparently could not get it out of his headthe magical, melodic quality every songwriter strives to create.

breviates the introduction, leading to a brief confirmation of the form.

Coltranewhose talent at imbuing a downtempo ballad with heart-breaking delicacy was

Bill Evans: We better do that again . . . PC: Can we start on the last four bars? BE: Thats what I thought . . . MD: Last four bars, but then you repeat it. BE: Oh, do it twice. MD: So its eight. BE: All right . . .

then gaining renownthat he should play as well. Note Daviss standard protocol: he informs the producer first, then asks, or rather tells Coltrane to play on the tune.

In 1986, keyboardist and journalist Ben Sidran asked Davis about Kind of Blue: Does the success of that record surprise you, Miles?

Finger snaps

It seems to have been such a simple record in a lot of ways. Not back then, Davis replied.

IT: Take 2

Because Bill Evans, his approach to the piano brought that . . . out. He used to bring me

Evans plays the introduction, and Miless muted trumpet is heard as Cobb starts playing the snare, using only one brush to achieve a lighter feel than normal. Chambers hits a wrong note and the take breaks down.

pieces by Ravel . . . and Bill used to tell me about different modes, which I already knew.

It seemed to require effort at times, but Davis never denied Evanss contribution to, or the collaborative heart of Kind of Blue. Nowhere is

Unintelligible studio chatter

their teamwork more evident than in the rampup to the final take of Blue in Green. Evans

MD: Use both hands, Jimmy. Jimmy Cobb: Huh? MD: Just use both hands and play it the best

took an active role for the first time during the session as the two speak and work out the structure of the tune.

BLUE IN GREEN studio sequence


IT: Just you four guys on this, right Miles? MD: Five . . . No, you play.

way you can. You know, itll be all right. Jimmy Cobb remembers when recording Theres a wealth of details evident in the dialogue preceding the last tune that day: Blue in Green Daviss instruction was simple. I want a floating sound. Uhhh, OK. Cobbs response was to try a one-handed ap-

Faintly perceptible in the background is Evanss voice, directing the structure of the tune.

As Townsends question seems to suggest, Blue in Green may have been originally intended as a quartet performancea more con-

proach to the brushes. After hearing the result, Davis urged him to play the brushes normally.

SECOND SESSIONAPRIL 22, 19592:30 PM


FLAMENCO SKETCHES studio sequence 1
CA: Damn thing, right? MD: Hey Cannon . . . produced music for Kind of Blue. The feeling must have been infectious. In reference to Davis insisting on keeping the rattle from the open snare on So What at the last session, Townsend announced (or slated as its known in studio parlance) the first take of the afterStudio chatter and bass playing is heard. noon as Surface Noise. The good humor persisted: Davis pointed IT: Take 2. MD: Wait a minute Irving . . . wait. IT: OK. MD: (to CA) Hey when you raise up off the stool man you get . . . oh yeah! (laughter) MD: (to IT) You know your floor squeaks, you know. You know what I mean? Can you hear me? IT: Yeah! Unidentified: unintelligible out to Adderley that his chair would make a noise if he stood up during the take, to which the alto saxophonist responded with a zinger that made Davis chuckle, who then baited Townsend by complaining about the studio floor squeaking. The producer acknowledged the ribbing, as Adderley dismissed the concern, calling it surface noise. Unable to resist a quick pun, Evans chimes in with his own zinger and Coltrane mimics Daviss contention that any studio noise is part of the performGeneral laughter. ance. Adderleycatching Evanss pun a beat MD: Youre not watching, Bill. BE: I know. Im sorry. MD: Try it again Irving. IT: Right, 6! At the first modal transition, Evans comes in early. MD: Lets try it again Irving. IT: Ready . . . Take 5, Miles. laterlaughs and repeats his line. Not a high point of improvised comedy, but an amusing snapshot of the bonhomie often in play at Daviss sessions back then.

FLAMENCO SKETCHES studio sequence 2


Miles cuts off Take 4 with a long trill.

MD: Lets go! CA: Thats surface noise you know.

PC wipes bass.

BE: . . . surf-ass noise. JC: Its all part of the tune, man. CA: (laughs) Surf-ASS noise! IT: Here we go. Take 2 . . .

The members of the Miles Davis group arrived in jolly spirits for the second session that

ALL BLUES studio sequence


Unidentified: Ssshhhhooooooo! Probably PC: (panting) Damn thats a hard mother! BE: Boy, if I didnt have coffee . . . IT: What?

At 11:36, All Blues was the longest performance on Kind of Blue. After struggling a bit with Flamenco Sketches at the start of the session, recording two nine-and-a-half minute Flamenco Sketches was one of two highly unusual musical structures on Kind of Blue (the other being the 10-bar circular form of Blue in Green). Amazingly, the sextet produces a relatively smooth, complete take on the first try. Convinced they can do better, Davis directed the group through a few more attempts before nailing the final master with Take 6. Essentially a series of five harmonies with no opening or closing themeSketches relied heavily on the roles of the pianist and bassist to define structure and guide solos. Apparently, this was accomplished visually as well as musically, the soloists signaling as they switched from one mode to another. At one point before Take 3, Chambers commented I forgotI thought I could close my eyes . . . and Take 5 ended as Evans anticipated Daviss first transition early while not looking at the trumpeter. Davis chided Evans, who apologized, and the next take proved to be the master. takes of the tune, and then All Blues? If the session had not been over, it would have been time for a serious break. As easy-rolling as All Blues may sound, the discomfort of repeatedly playing the same musical phraseeven for veteran musicians became apparent as the tune ends. Fingers and lips finally relaxed. One musician breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief, Chambers panted like a dog and used one of Daviss favorite terms to describe the tune. Evans noted the performance-enhancing effect of caffeine. One other indicator of the unusual length of the tune is discernible in the liquid rasp of Daviss trumpet. It had been awhile since he had the opportunity to clear the instruments spit-valve. Even thatas the maestro would saygoes with it. ASHLEY KAHN, JUNE 2008
Ashley Kahn is a music journalist and author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, and other books on jazz. His voice is often heard on NPRs Morning Edition.

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PHOTOGRAPHY: cover, pages 6, 11: Chuck Stewart; pages 5, 12-13, 15: Don Hunstein/Sony Archives; page 7: Vernon Smith; page 9: Beuford Smith/Cesaire; page 10: Vincent Lopez, New York Journal American Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas; pages 14, 16, 18-19: Teo Macero Collection: Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations