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What Next After Kind of Blue?


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For those dipping a first toe into jazz, the Miles Davis classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) is a common initial purchase or listen for many plausible reasons. Web searches for "best jazz albums of all time," or the like, bring up numerous lists that put it at the top and on newcomers' radars. Prominent placement on the Amazon (US) page for jazz CDs and vinyl—with high sales continuously propping it up—almost begs people to try it. The frequency with which those who proselytize for the music recommend or gift it further makes it a first jazz album for many.

Its preeminence as a "first" jazz album raises the inevitable question: "What next after Kind of Blue ?" The question becomes especially intriguing when considering the multiple directions an answer could go based on its place in history and as a listening experience. One of several albums of 1959 heralded as game- changing, Kind of Blue brought together groundbreaking innovation and what could be called Hall of Fame-level improvisation. Lore and awe surround its creation. For the first-time listener, there is a subtle but profound "wow" factor to it. It's like butter. It has a certain je ne sais quoi. Between its artistry and musicianship and its ability to captivate with an approachable and seeming effortlessness, it is no wonder that it is a common gateway jazz album and the genre's all-time best seller.

What follows imagines its audience, first, as those who come to All About Jazz to learn more after collecting a few albums, with Kind of Blue among them. To answer the titular question, it posits different ways to consider it and suggests one album per entry point. For the most part, none of the suggested "next" albums fall out of the scope of what mainstream criticism might suggest or appreciate, but the entry points through which to filter the question may refract answers in surprising ways. Apart from imagined ones, actual readers are invited to suggest alternative albums or additional entry points for consideration in the comments section.

Classic albums with Hall of Fame improvisation

Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus

Much has been written about the making of Kind of Blue. Similarly, critics have spilled a lot of ink on the improvisation on Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus—with Gunther Schuller's analysis of the closing track, "Blue 7," driving many discussions. Starting with "St. Thomas," a calypso and contender for best jazz song ever, followed by an aching ballad, a hard bop burner, and a swinging show tune, Saxophone Colossus may be a better first jazz album than Kind of Blue.

Albums that influenced Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue

Ahmad Jamal
At the Pershing: But Not for Me

Davis is famous for asking his pianists to "play like Ahmad Jamal." While not a singular linchpin for understanding Kind of Blue's magic, this classic piano trio date exemplifies key inspirations for Davis as he moved from hard bop to modal, especially a characteristic spaciousness.

Albums led by Kind of Blue band members

Cannonball Adderley
Something Else
Blue Note

Albums led by and with Kind of Blue band members—Cannonball Adderley (alto saxophone), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Bill Evans (piano, except on "Freddie Freeloader"), Wynton Kelly (piano on "Freddie Freeloader"), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums)—offer an ocean's worth of possible choices. For the presence of Davis as a side player so far into his career and its definitive rendition of "Autumn Leaves," the Adderley classic gets the nod.

Game-Changing albums released the same year as Kind of Blue

Ornette Coleman
The Shape of Jazz to Come

With the release of classics like Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia, 1959), Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um (Columbia, 1959), and this initial Atlantic offering from Ornette Coleman's revolutionary piano-less quartet, some see 1959 as a highpoint in jazz history. Providing contrast and context for Davis' modal innovations, Shape of Jazz to Come today has a surprisingly approachable lyricism relative to the furor that met Coleman's entry on the New York City jazz scene.

Albums in the Miles Davis / Kind of Blue stylistic lineage

Herbie Hancock
Maiden Voyage
Blue Note

Davis went through various personnel changes before the eventual coalescence of what is commonly known as his Second Great Quintet with Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). With this band, he fully realized Kind of Blue 's unique potential for imagining a post-hard bop jazz. And while the adjective "great" aptly describes that quintet and their recorded output, Maiden Voyage—made by three fifths of the quintet along with Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) and Davis alum George Coleman (tenor saxophone)—is an undisputed high point for Kind of Blue's impact for a Davis-related ensemble and possibly the apogee.

Other gateway jazz albums by Miles Davis

Miles Davis with the Gil Evans Orchestra
Sketches of Spain

The third collaboration with composer/arranger Gil Evans for Columbia, Sketches of Spain was the first release of newly recorded music from Davis after Kind of Blue. A suite of orchestral pieces built around traditional Spanish music, the album envelopes listeners in a soundscape that leads them further on the path to becoming a fan of Davis and jazz. To break with the limit of one album per category for a moment, Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) could go here, too, for the same reasons as Sketches of Spain .

Renditions of individual Kind of Blue tracks

John Coltrane

"Freddie Freeloader"
Stanley Jordan
Magic Touch
Blue Note

"Sky and Sea (Blue in Green)"
Cassandra Wilson
Traveling Miles
Blue Note

"All Blues"
Miles Davis
My Funny Valentine

"Flamenco Sketches"
Joe Henderson
So Near, So Far: Musings for Miles

Approaching Kind of Blue track-by-track, opens up even more avenues for new-to-jazz fans of it to experience each composition and the music itself. Based on "So What," John Coltrane's "Impressions" from the 1961 Village Vanguard dates presents an impassioned contrast to Hancock's impressionistic approach to modal jazz on Maiden Voyage . Stanley Jordan's finger-tapping guitar technique accentuates the blues imbedded in "Freddie Freeloader." Cassandra Wilson's rich contralto showcases "Blue in Green" as a lyrical ballad. "All Blues" from the 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert reminds how Davis would return to and reinvent the album's material throughout the 1960s. Played by alums from Davis bands spanning decades, this "Flamenco Sketches" honors the mood of the original as well as the sonic range of his career.

Albums that attempt to recreate Kind of Blue note for note

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Hot Cup

Dividing critics when released, Blue by Mostly Other People Do the Killing may be more about asking questions of jazz and repertory music than enhancing Kind of Blue's legacy. To possibly marvel at the attempt and results, Blue may be worth the listen for those so inclined.

Albums with Hall of Fame improvisation, production / performance lore, and huge sales

Keith Jarrett
Köln Concert

While not top of mind as Kind of Blue-adjacent, Keith Jarrett's solo piano triumph shares many of its characteristics as a listening experience and cultural phenomenon. Despite the flaws of his instrument, Jarrett improvises undulating swaths of sound, seemingly ex nihilo, holding listeners rapt for a full hour that does not let them go. As one of the biggest sellers in jazz history, it could also be one of the handful of jazz albums, along with Kind of Blue, in collections of those more invested in other genres.

Potential classics and gateway jazz albums of recent vintage

Maria Schneider Orchestra
The Thompson Fields

Recommendations for those new to jazz often gravitate to long-acknowledged classics that predate the 1970s. While we live in a cultural context that may never agree on new "classics," the broad acclaim that meets each release from Maria Schneider cannot be denied. Copeland-like in its imagining of her Minnesota home, The Thompson Fields manifests all the composing and arranging gifts for which she was recognized as a NEA Jazz Master in 2019.

Audiophile LP reissues for fans of Kind of Blue

Art Pepper
Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
1957; RSD 2022 mono release by Craft

The LP format is resurgent, including among those building jazz collections. As tempting, or not, as a $100 UHQR LP edition of Kind of Blue may be to its legion of fans, a steady stream of audiophile reissues provides less expensive options for follow-ups to it. The mono version of this Art Pepper date with the rhythm section of Davis' First Great Quintet almost makes too much sense.

Albums that lead down yet another rabbit hole

Henry Threadgill Sextet
Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket
About Time

One answer to "What next after Kind of Blue?" may be the same as an answer to what next after Miles Davis, considering his career of innovation. With formative experiences among the Chicago avant-garde of the 1960s and the New York City loft scene of the 1970's, Henry Threadgill may best represent a "next thing." Blending experimentalism with tradition, composition with improvisation, and elements from classical, jazz, and blues, Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket makes for a compelling introduction to Threadgill and the many ways in which jazz remains an ever-evolving art with new surprises and "wow" moments that make us what to hear more.

Of course, after discovering Kind of Blue, the best recommendation may be to take in a live show. Patience or persistence may be required, depending on where one lives, but jazz pops up everywhere eventually.


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