Miles Davis Plays Music from Kind of Blue Live in 1959, Introducing a Completely New Style of Jazz

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue broke new ground in the world of jazz in a year that saw an unusu­al num­ber of ground­break­ing jazz releas­es, 1959. Fol­low­ing up his exper­i­ments on 1958’s Mile­stones, Davis’ move from bop to modal jazz impro­vi­sa­tion­al tech­niques shift­ed the terms of the genre, and, as many crit­ics have argued since, the terms of West­ern music, pop­u­lar and clas­si­cal. Released in August of ’59, Kind of Blue was record­ed in New York by Davis’ famous sex­tet in March and April of that year, and before lis­ten­ers had a chance to hear the record, those few peo­ple lucky enough to be in atten­dance at the April per­for­mance above—at CBS’s Stu­dio 61—got a chance to hear what Davis was up to. Doubt­less those lucky atten­dees were few indeed, but one of them, pro­duc­er and pre­sen­ter Robert Her­ridge show­cased the per­for­mance for a July, 1960 broad­cast of his show The Robert Her­ridge The­ater.

The Davis sex­tet play a few ver­sions of “So What” from Kind of Blue, pre­view­ing the album Quin­cy Jones would call his “orange juice” for its dai­ly jolt of inspi­ra­tion. The remain­der of the per­for­mance con­sists of com­po­si­tions by Dave Brubeck, Gil Evans, and Ahmad Jamal. See the full track list below.

1 So What
2 Intro­duc­tion (Robert Her­ridge)
3 The Duke
 (D. Brubeck)
4 Blues for Pablo 
(G. Evans)
5 New Rhum­ba
 (A. Jamal)
6 Announce­ment (Robert Her­ridge)
7 So What (reprise)
8 So What (reprise)
9 Orches­tral frag­ment

The style of “So What” and the oth­er com­po­si­tions from Kind of Blue have been cred­it­ed with cre­at­ing, in Chick Corea’s words, “a new lan­guage of music.” But Davis can­not take all of the cred­it. He must share it with pianist and edu­ca­tor George Rus­sell who pub­lished a the­o­ret­i­cal account of a new way of impro­vis­ing in 1953 called Lydi­an Chro­mat­ic Con­cept of Tonal Orga­ni­za­tion. Davis was great­ly influ­enced by Russell’s the­o­ries and found in them a way out of the man­ic style of bop that had begun to tire him. Russell’s “modal” jazz moved away from bas­ing jazz impro­vi­sa­tion on chords and tra­di­tion­al major and minor scales. Though the the­o­ry was new, its basis, the Lydi­an mode, is as ancient as the Greeks. In the video above, see Rus­sell in an inter­view dis­cussing his modal the­o­ry, which Ben Ratliff in Russell’s 2009 New York Times obit describes as “sim­ple”:

[Rus­sell] believed that a new gen­er­a­tion of jazz impro­vis­ers deserved new har­mon­ic tech­niques, and that tra­di­tion­al West­ern tonal­i­ty was run­ning its course. The Lydi­an chro­mat­ic con­cept — based on the Lydi­an mode, or scale, rather than the famil­iar do-re-mi major scale — was a way for musi­cians to impro­vise in any key, on any chord, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the music’s blues roots.  

With­out Rus­sell, we’d have no Kind of Blue, but it’s prob­a­bly safe to say that with­out Davis’ bril­liant appro­pri­a­tion of modal the­o­ry, Russell’s ideas may have fad­ed into obscu­ri­ty. The col­lab­o­ra­tion between the hum­ble the­o­rist, the flam­boy­ant com­pos­er and band­leader, and his tremen­dous­ly tal­ent­ed 1959 ensem­ble pro­duced one of the most endur­ing musi­cal doc­u­ments of all time, and in the archival footage above, we can see some of its crit­i­cal pieces come togeth­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Miles Davis Sto­ry, the Defin­i­tive Film Biog­ra­phy of a Jazz Leg­end

Miles Davis and His ‘Sec­ond Great Quin­tet,’ Filmed Live in Europe, 1967

Rare Miles Davis Live Record­ings Cap­ture the Jazz Musi­cian at the Height of His Pow­ers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • dogfox says:

    I enjoyed anoth­er look at the MilesnDavis/Gil Evans ses­sion on Open Cul­ture. But Josh’s piece does­n’t­nac­knowl­edge that the Gil Evans large group arrange­ments were from his­nground-break­ing album, “Miles Ahead.” Interestingly,nGunther Schuller, among oth­er big-name musi­cians, played horn in thatns­es­sion. nnOn New Years Day in 1970, I was wait­ingn­for bag­gage at San Fran­cis­co air­port. I was whistling — rath­er­nac­cu­rate­ly, with all the back­up riffs u2013 Gil Evans’ arrange­ment ofn“The Duke” from Miles Ahead. I was aston­ished when Dav­en­Brubeck grabbed my arm in pass­ing, ask­ing, “Hey man, what’s that­ny­ou’re singing?” Belat­ed­ly rec­og­niz­ing him, I stam­merednsome­thing like, “Er, that’s a Gil Evans arrange­ment from…“nwhen he stopped me. “Yeah, I know.” he said with a broad­ngrin. “I wrote that!”

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