2019, the significant anniversary year of so much. Auspicious things happened in years ending in 9. For instance, we will commemorate the great Depression of 1929 with our own depression after the end of March. All hell broke loose in 1939. “1984” was published in 1949. 1969 – wow, what a year. Led Zeppelin, Woodstock and a moon landing. ’79 the “Thatch” ascends the throne, Sony Walkman – woo hoo ! ’89 – Berlin Wall, and so on.
In 2019 will see the 60th anniversary of one of the most influential collections of music ever recorded. Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” . An exploration of music modality which, as Davis was championing, allowed for melody to return to the fore in jazz music after the recent years of bee-bop dominance. A band including Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane and “Cannonball” Adderley is not just going to trot out mind numbing nonsense. It is going to kick ass. And so, with the knowing recognition of the passing of time, we can still indulge in an album that took music in another direction. And let’s face it – it wasn’t the first time or going to be the last time that Mr. Davis would do this.
Get out your old copy, or stream it, or whatever, but for now let’s look at the opening track. One which everybody probably recognises even if they don’t know who or what – “So What” . Dah- dap…do-dum-do-dum-da-do-dum- Dah-dap…Apparently this tune was inspired by “Voilés” by Debussy. This tune went to No.12 in the “favourite tunes by Claude” list which his Mum had pinned by a magnet to her fridge. Bill Evans picked up that two note shift even though Miles is credited with the tune. It wasn’t unusual at the time for band leaders to be credited with a support players music. It’s just the way that it was done. Benny Goodman was a great exponent of this.
Nevertheless, you take the inspiration and run with it. Miles Davis didn’t rehearse his musicians much and on this occasion apparently simply gave the players a rough chart shortly before getting together. Everyone gets into the studio without much notice and plays. There is no restriction on spontaneity.
During my “learning to play guitar properly” years a teacher said to me that he thought modal music was boring and that chord progressions are the main flavour. I see his point, but I also see the room for exploration too.
Listen to these examples. Treat yourself to a few minutes listening to how each musician improvises on the theme and you will connect with the freedom of expression that this form affords musicians and why improvisation has to be the goal for everyone who aspires to play.
When Jerry Garcia and David Grisman hooked up again after 20 years or more they would jam on “So What” to warm up backstage till it eventually made it’s outing on their “Garcia/Grisman” album.
Ronnie Jordan’s version begins with a much more melodic feel.
And then there’s the Master’s version. Much more considered and thoughtful.
The plan was create a framework that would allow for melodic exploration around the feel of a tune.
“Bitches Brew”, “Jack Johnson” , “Amandla”, “Tutu” all were to come. All hail, Miles Davis.