What does a fish tank with no water, a watch without hands a vinyl record collection without a jazz album all have in common? They’re all hopelessly incomplete! Hollow shrines of what could be. Sure, they may look nice, but they are missing an essential element that would make them significantly better. Jazz is made for vinyl, the light scratching of the needle on the record spinning underneath is the instrument the listener gets to add to every jazz song they listen to.
And when it comes to jazz albums that deserve a spot in any proper record collection there’s one that stands out above all others. If is consistently ranked as the most influential, best-selling, and best over-all work by the best jazz musician to ever live. Of course, we are talking about “Cracked Rear View” by Hootie and the Blowfish. Just joking, of course not, we will never talk about that. We are actually talking about Miles Davis and his magnum opus, “Kind of Blue.”
Remarkably, this album was recorded in just two days, March 2 and April 22, 1959. The short recording time gives this album a done-in-one-take feel, that makes the listener appreciate the incredible raw talent the musicians brought to this album. The ensemble is a sextet, that’s a group of six musicians for those not in the know. The ensemble consists of Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane on alto and tenor saxophone respectively, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers slapping bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, and Miles on his infamous trumpet. The first two names alone are giants in jazz, and the others were no strangers to success all being hand-picked by Miles.
One of the reasons Miles Davis is consistently considered the greatest jazz musician ever was his ability to change the direction of the genre many times. He was a disruptor of the status quo, constantly changing what was heard on a jazz record. One of the reasons he was able to do this was his willingness to bring in young musicians who played things differently than those that came before them. There is no better example of this than on “Kind of Blue.”
For this record, Davis brought in a young piano player named Bill Evans. Evans’ unconventional piano playing allowed Davis to experiment in a newer version of jazz called “modal.” To keep it short, modal jazz focuses more on musical modes, rather than musical scales as it was normally done before. Giving musicians more liberty with the notes and chords they play in a song. This allowed the musicians much more room for improvisation. Creating a setting in the studio where there were six incredibly gifted musicians and no rules. The results speak for themselves.
The album begins with one of the most instantly recognizable of Davis’ songs, “So What.” One of the first things that strikes the ear is the double bass that starts the main riff of the song. Evans. finishes the distinctive bass line with two piano chords that sound like they scream the words “So What!” By the time the sax and drums fall into place you are hooked on the album.
After this, the album takes a slightly faster tempo with “Freddie Freeloader.” Drummer Jimmy Cobb plays the high hats brilliantly on this one, as Evans goes rouge on the piano. But it’s around the four minute and thirty-three second mark when Davis jumps in with his trumpet that makes the song. This is followed by “Blue in Green” a low-tempo song that emphasizes Davis’ mastery of both the blues and jazz. This goes on to “All Blues” a song that stands out on the record for its opening piano riffs. The album ends with “Flamenco Sketches.” A terrific song with each horn player getting a chance to riff freely over Evans’ piano, and Chambers’ sinister bass line. The album finisher highlights these six men’s incredible abilities to play off each other.
To sum up, it’s not a record collection without a jazz record, and there is no jazz record like a Miles Davis jazz record. Vinyl is the delivery method of choice for jazz, the uniqueness of every record player and needle highlight the uniqueness and spontaneity of every jazz record, and this applies doubly to “Kind of Blue.”