The Creative Process: Kind of Blue

In March 1959 Miles Davis and his sextet consisting of pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, got into the Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York City to record Kind of Blue.

Left to right: John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Bill Evans in studio, 1959

They had no rehearsals. The band had no idea what they were going to play, other than what was on some notes with sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise, he handed them just before they got in the studio.

Davis was trying to find a way out of bebop and its complex chords, which he believed were restraining creativity. Influenced by pianist George Russel’s publication Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, he avoided using chord progression as a means for improvisation typically used by bebop musicians, using instead a series of scales or modal sketches, that defined the parameters of their improvisation and style.

This led to the birth of Modal Jazz. Davis implemented his first modal composition with the title track of his studio album Milestones (1958), and his first sessions with Bill Evans, 1958 Miles.

This was the first entire album based on modality.

Liner notes from the LP cover by Bill Evans

“There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.

This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician.

Group improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result. This most difficult problem, I think, is beautifully met and solved on this recording.

As the painter needs his framework of parchment, the improvising musical group needs its framework in time,. Miles Davis presents here frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary to stimulate performance with sure reference to the primary conception.

Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances. The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a take.”

Bill Evans


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