Miles Davis. Kind Of Blue. This is one of those seminal moments in the history of 20th century music. In jazz, this was certainly one of those before/after things. Many of the concepts popularized by Kind Of Blue were not new, but after this record, they immediately began to be adopted by many other jazz musicians. It’s impact on music beyond jazz is also far reaching. I don’t think it would not be incorrect to say that without Kind Of Blue, there would be no Dark Star or Whipping Post or even Free Bird.
Kind Of Blue was recorded in March and April, 1959. The video below is from a television broadcast entitled “The Sound Of Miles Davis”, that was made right in the middle of the time that Kind Of Blue was recorded, April 2, 1959. The band here is slightly different from the one on the record, most notably the use here of pianist Wynton Kelly instead of Bill Evans (the large orchestra you see in the video is really a non-presence on “So What” and were used more prominently on the other pieces played on the program).
The really, really, really cool thing about this video is the transcription of the music and the way it is synched to the recording. Obviously, music is primarily an audio experience but people largely process information in a visual manner. So I always find it fascinating to follow music with a score or transcription. As you follow the transcription with the music, you can see the contour of melody as well as hear it. I also thinks it helps one visualize the use of space in a solo. With that in mind, you can see the difference in how Coltrane and Miles used space. In Miles’ solo, you’ll often see there are whole measures where Miles plays nothing or is just sustaining a note from the previous measure. Also notice how Miles often is just repeating one note but it sounds cool because that note swings. Coltrane’s solo is much denser. It doesn’t take long before you can hear and see the runs of 32nd notes that just seem to cascade out from his horn. If Coltrane was a contemporary guitarist, he would definely be labeled a shredder.
Needless to say, this video transcription also gives one the chance to cop some great lines from some of the true masters. And don’t forget to check out the playing of Wynton Kelly. The vast majority of jazz nerds identify “So What” with the brilliant Bill Evans from the classic studio recording but Wynton’s playing here is great. More blues inflected than Bill Evans, less floating and more “old school” swinging than Evans’ solo. This transcription only has Wynton’s right hand melody lines (mislabeled “left hand only”) but it’s definitely worth examination.