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Interviews

1959: The Year Classic Albums Were Born

By Published: November 2, 2009

To Blumenthal's point, Brubeck explains in a very insightful DVD documentary included in the Legacy package that he did, indeed, influence and encourage Desmond in regard to "Take Five," the idea for which confused Desmond for a time. It would almost seem that Brubeck could have claimed co-authorship, though he did not. The package also contains a CD of live music played by the group after the making of the album. It's a good representation of the band and a great treat for the listener.

"Dave Brubeck was a mathematician of time and space," says the young singer/saxophonist known as Jessy J

Jessy J
Jessy J

saxophone
. "His complex meters and bouncing swing had us all guessing, what's next? And where's one? I love his compositions and his signature sound of beautiful complexity, mixed with that soft West Coast swing."

Outtake from 1959 TV special, The Sounds of Miles Davis

And then there was Miles.

At two recording sessions in 1959, with a group of jazz giants—John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
, Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
1935 - 1969
bass, acoustic
, Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
b.1929
drums
and Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
Wynton Kelly
1931 - 1971
piano
—he recorded a jazz album for the ages, that has been called by many the greatest album ever. Qualifying anything as "greatest ever" seems an impossible task, but certainly its reputation as being at the highest echelon is proper. It has sold more copies over the decades than any other jazz album. But that developed over time. At first, it didn't grab the public right away. Many musicians, however, have recounted stories of being immediately intrigued, at once confused, and straight away influenced.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
calls it "a cornerstone record, not only for jazz, but for music," Ashley Kahn writes in "Kind of Blue; The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece" (DaCapo Press, 2000) that "In the church of jazz, the album 'Kind of Blue' is one of the holy relics."

"It brought to the fore "modal" playing, in which musicians improvised on a series of scales, not frequent and frantic chord progressions that were the basis of modern jazz in the 1940s and 1950s. People weren't writing like that in jazz in 1959 and it caused a revolutionary stir—not the last that Miles would bring about in his legendary career. "So What," "All Blues" and "Freddie Freeloader" are significant standards in jazz and its ballads; "Flamenco Sketches" and ""Blue and Green" maintain their beauty and continue to fascinate a half-century later.

"You can listen to that record and not open your eyes, know what I mean? It's crazy like that," the excellent trumpeter Jeremy Pelt

Jeremy Pelt
Jeremy Pelt
b.1976
trumpet
told All About Jazz a few years back. Adds Jessy J, "Miles Davis was ahead of his time. His style, technique, improvisations, and desire to stand out from the crowd really affected me growing up. When I first heard Kind of Blue, I knew he has created his own world. A world where blue meets green and the colors of the music became the main focus, not the notes. Just the sound. He is supreme master of style and his concept originality will continue to challenge the conformity of music as we see it today."

"I think it had a consistent idea behind it and a consistent mood," says Blumenthal. "Somebody said, 'OK we've got 40 minutes of music. How can we put the 40 minutes together so it'll be something from beginning to end you'd want to listen to?' That's about as good an example as any that are around. So that had a lot to do with its longevity. Then the particular mood it evoked is the kind of thing where people who don't necessarily feel passionate about jazz can still respond to it. All of that's in there."

He points out that Coltrane a short time later recorded one of his great albums, Giant Steps in 1959, a short time after Kind of Blue, also using the modal form. But Coltrane's album is "very complex music and very intellectual music, in a way. That is challenging musicians to respond with that level of complexity and that kind of thinking. Kind of Blue is very different. It simplified everything. Whereas Giant Steps made the harmony much more complex, Kind of Blue makes it much more simple. So now the challenge is to respond to that kind of direction, based on what the standard was at the time. Sometimes, simplifying can be a greater challenge than complicating it."

He adds, "You don't have to learn the fingering to play those substitute chords. You just have to learn how to play a melody that is going to retain interest over a long period of time. Not so much virtuosity in terms of speed and execution, as much as virtuosity of thought and creative process."

"I don't know how it happened, but it happened. I'm glad it happened," says Cobb, who at 80 is the only surviving member of that band. In 2009, he toured with a superb band playing the music of Kind of Blue to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The band's appearance at Freihofer's Jazz Festival in June 2009 was excellent.



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