World Music Day: a beauty in Kind of Blue

Jun 28, 2019

Especially for World Music Day last week, we asked the talented staff from our composition team to share the tracks, artists or moments that sparked their passion. Senior In-House Composer Bobby Turner spoke about his admiration for legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans, who had a unique ability to take complex ideas and present them in the most elegantly simple way. Following on from this, he’s given us his unique take on the iconic Miles Davies’ album ‘A Kind of Blue’ – on which Bill Evans showcases his inimitable skills. 

2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the iconic album Kind Of Blue. This bestselling jazz record not only revolutionized the genre, it became a spearhead for artistic approach. This is down to not only the skill of Miles, but the supporting supergroup behind the masterpiece.  

Miles Davis - Trumpet
John Coltrane - Tenor Saxophone
Cannonball Adderley - Alto Saxophone
Bill Evans - Piano
Wynton Kelly - Piano
Paul Chambers - Bass
Jimmy Cobb - Drums

Miles Davis took a new approach to jazz using an idea developed by music scholar George Russell. An idea that wasn’t based on chordal changes, but on scales or ‘modes.’ This theory was a groundbreaking discovery that opened the realm of possibility in musical creativity, allowing improvisers to freely travel to any note in the scale. In Russell’s own words:

‘You’re free to do anything, as long as you know where home is.’ (George Russell, Music Scholar)
I could talk all day about every track on this LP and the individual genius of each musician involved, however I’ve selected just three of my favorite tracks to take a closer look at. 

So What
Miles' opening improvisation on this opening track sets an agenda for the entire album. A gentle, meandering flow combined with perfectly placed moments of silence, Davis’ gracious and elegant solo focuses on simplicity. Much like many of his initial solos in this body of work, Miles offers a framework in which the other musicians can operate. This is the first point at which we hear the musical chemistry between Davis and his pianist Bill Evans. Evans takes a less-is-more approach to the accompaniment, offering a subtle, refined supporting role that perfectly counters Miles’ free-flowing horn. Despite its seemingly simplistic sound, there are huge levels of complexity to Evans’ approach, a recurring theme of the entire LP. 

Blue in Green
The ballad of the album is one of most the iconic jazz records in history. Although accredited to Davis, the piece was actually composed by Bill Evans (The Miles Davis estate finally admitted this in 2002 on their official website, accrediting Evans with full compositional rights.) Despite the controversy that surrounds this track - which may have later led to the eventual parting of Evans and Davis - there is no denying its beauty and elegance - heard especially in Evans’ intro. The opening melody is simple and evocative. With every delicately held note, Davis instills both feelings of pain and joy making this piece perfectly poised between passion and sentiment. The undeniable feeling of emotion that spills from Miles’ performance is felt with every single listen, cementing this particular improvisation as one of music’s finest. And we can’t ignore John Coltrane. His short, bittersweet solo is worthy of multiple rewinds – proving why he was a true master of his instrument and a jazz extraordinaire in the making. 

Flamenco Sketches
Resoundingly similar to Bill Evans composition ‘Peace Piece’ from two years earlier, Flamenco Sketches’ brilliantly combines Bill’s Impressionist approach to the piano with modal movements - used to create a jazz interpretation of late classical music that succeeds in expressing a variety of moods. The unpredictable changes in the atmosphere again offer complexity in a simple, digestible format. This is the most obvious point in which we hear the merger of minds between Evans and Davis. Then steps up Cannonball Adderly, whose alto saxophone solo stands out as one of jazz’s finest improvisations. The lighter tone of his alto places the listeners in a serene, picturesque environment, gliding and soaring effortlessly like a gentle summer breeze. 

Without all these musicians, Kind of Blue would be nothing. Miles’ unrestrained guidance and faith in the players’ abilities sends this album into the stratosphere of masterpieces. This album reaches far beyond the realm of jazz, introducing modal theory to the wider world. It inspired the next 60 years of music as we know it and allowed musicians creative freedom they’d never felt before. Without this record and the work of George Russell, the music we listen to today might sound very different indeed.

Read more:
In celebration of World Music Day, PHMG Founder Grant Reed shared his thoughts on the importance of music to all – along with the musical inspirations of our talented composers. Click here to take a look.