If you're reading this, chances are you already own a copy (or copies) of Kind Of Blue, widely acknowledged to be the best-selling jazz record of all time. The funny thing, and what makes it a phenomenon, is how many people who don't visit All About Jazz own a copy of the record. It's usually the first jazz title someone buys and it's probably the one record that has appeal to listeners regardless of their prevailing tastes.
Just what accounts for this album's enduring popularity is the central question raised by Columbia Legacy's 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition, a lavishly packaged LP-sized box set that includes: a CD of the original release (plus the session's lone alternate version and some brief snippets of studio chatter); a second CD of the only other recordings from the Kind Of Blue sextet (as well as a live "So What"); a beautiful hardcover book of photographs and essays by Francis Davis, Gerald Early and Ashley Kahn (Early and Kahn have both written books on the subject); a wax paper envelope of black and white stills and reproductions of a Columbia Records promo brochure and pianist Bill Evans' hand-written liner notes; a poster, a DVD documentary and, perhaps of most interest to completists and/or collectors, a 180-gram blue vinyl LP that brings myriad versions of this recording full circle.
Label parent company Sony has come a long way from the neglect Kind Of Blue had suffered by the 1980s. Its then-current Columbia Jazz Masterpieces version was released with a different cover (Davis in a post-1950s floral print shirt) and even more outrageously, the music had been transferred at the wrong speed. The reissue prepared for CD restored the original cover, corrected the pitch and added the alternate version of "Flamenco Sketches". Unfortunately, the short bits of studio dialogue tacked on here don't add much to the picture. If anything, what you hear is Davis as affable as he was ever likely to be at a session, audibly upbeat about the proceedings.
And why not. Davis, along with significant collaborative input from Evans, was about to rewrite the rules of jazz, moving away from the speedy intricacies of bebop toward modal-based improvisation, an approach that endures to this day. Everything seems to have come together at the right moment to have made this record a masterpiece (Evans, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley were all only a year or two away from leading bands that cut their own paths through jazz history). The opening piano notes of "So What" establish a mood of thoughtful reflection before bassist Paul Chambers enters with his cool wooden bass and engages in a call and response with the horns. It's a beginning as familiar as anything in jazz. Followed by the relatively jaunty "Freddie Freeloader" (characteristic of Wynton Kelly, the pianist on this track), the record gets so quiet you lean in for "Blue in Green," so easy-going on "All Blues" you begin to relax and so arresting and still on "Flamenco Sketches" you almost stop.
All of this is well known to listeners, but it's a joy to hear the likes of the late Ed Bradley, Bill Cosby, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Q-Tip and, at his most eloquent, Herbie Hancock, talk about jazz in the 1950s, the effect Davis has had on jazz and American culture, and about the music on Kind Of Blue itself. The DVD's hour-long documentary combines photos and radio interviews with comments from Davis' admirers, as well as clips from a 1959 television special that featured Davis, Coltrane, drummer Jimmy Cobb, Chambers and Kelly augmented by a jazz orchestra conducted by Gil Evans. This program appears in its entirety on the DVD and the music and conversation reward repeated viewing.
Ironically, if you want a digital copy of Kind Of Blue as it first appeared you have to recreate it yourself. If you never junked your record player, however, and you spring for the Kind Of Blue - 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition, you can put the LP on the turntable, page through the book and browse the essays and the photos or flip through the 8x10s and handle Evans' liner notes as if getting acquainted with a secret dossier, all while the music plays. But this is bad music for the background. It draws you in and holds you as only the highest art can. There aren't too many recordings that demand such attention and appreciation. This package does: a towering achievement for past, present and future listeners to pass along and cherish.
Tracks: CD1: So What; Freddie Freeloader; Blue In Green; All Blues; Flamenco Sketches; Flamenco Sketches (alternate take); Freddie Freeloader (studio sequence 1); Freddie Freeloader (false start); Freddie Freeloader (studio sequence 2); So What (studio sequence 1); So What (studio sequence 2); Blue In Green (studio sequence); Flamenco Sketches (studio sequence 1); Flamenco Sketches (studio sequence 2); All Blues (studio sequence). CD2: On Green Dolphin Street; Fran-Dance; Stella By Starlight; Love For Sale; Fran-Dance (alternate take); So What. CD3: So What (vinyl side A); Freddie Freeloader (vinyl side A); Blue In Green (vinyl side A); All Blues (vinyl side B); Flamenco Sketches (vinyl side B).
Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane: tenor sax; Cannonball Adderley: alto sax; Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums.
Track Listing: Disc 1: So What; Freddie Freeloader; Blue In Green; All Blues; Flamenco Sketches; Flamenco Sketches (alternate take); Freddie Freeloader (Studio Sequence 1); Freddie Freeloader (False Start); Freddie Freeloader (Studio Sequence 2); So What (Studio Sequence 1); So What (Studio Sequence 2); Blue In Green (Studio Sequence); Flamenco Sketches (Studio Sequence 1); Flamenco Sketches (Studio Sequence 2); All Blues (Studio Sequence). Disc 2: On Green Dolphin Street; Fran-Dance; Stella By Starlight; Love For Sale; Fran-Dance (alternate take); So What. Disc 3: So What (vinyl side A); Freddie Freeloader (vinyl side A); Blue In Green (vinyl side A); All Blues (vinyl side B); Flamenco Sketches ((vinyl side B).
Personnel: Miles Davis: trumpet; John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley: saxes; Wynton Kelly or Bill Evans: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Jimmy Cobb: drums.