August 17: Kind Of Blue

Kind of Blue55 years ago today, one of the all time great records was released, featuring a murderers’ row of jazz greats. Miles Davis’ 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blue has one of the greatest assemblage of musicians to ever appear on a single record: Davis on trumpet, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Paul Chambers on double bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums, John Coltrane on tenor sax and Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly on piano.

Prior to Kind Of Blue, Davis and his band had been playing the popular hard be-bop style of jazz. However, Davis was starting to get dissatisfied with bop and wanted to move the band in a different direction. Davis’ band had been doing chord improvisation for years, so when Davis heard about the new “modal jazz” movement based around improvising on musical harmonies and scales, he knew it would be just right for his band. When the time came to record the album, Davis gave the musicians no rehearsal time, and kept them in the dark about what they were going to perform. When the sextet arrived at the recording studios, Davis gave them instructions on the mood of each piece and a brief outline of the scales and melody lines to improvise around for each song.

The sound of Kind of Blue influenced the next generation of jazz and rock musicians. When Coltrane started his own band, he kept playing around with modal jazz and headed into even more adventurous directions. Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright cited the record as an inspiration for the group’s landmark album Dark Side Of The Moon. Even Rolling Stone magazine, which typically doesn’t know jazz from a hole in the ground, named Kind Of Blue the 12th greatest album ever when they released their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.  Perhaps former A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip said it best about the record’s status as an essential piece of music: “It’s like the Bible—you just have one in your house.” In later years, after moving away from modal jazz, Miles Davis would dismiss the album as of its time, and not something he revisited often. In 1990, when jazz singer Shirley Horn asked Davis to revisit his Kind Of Blue style, he declined saying “Nah, it hurts my lip.”

Since I could not find a “Kind of Blue” cocktail, I had to go with a drink that would be more appropriate for the earlier days when the King of Cool would cover standards. So, I present to you the delightful Blue Moon. No, not the beer, but a nice floral cocktail with a pale blue shade.

Blue Moon

  • 2 ounces Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Crème de Violette
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Tomorrow: The original “anchor baby.”

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