Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue is widely proclaimed to be the best jazz album of all time. To me, such a declaration seems to downplay so many other jazz records that are phenomenal and hugely influential in their own ways. If I were able to take only one Miles album — much less any jazz album — to that mythical desert island, I'd probably go with this one instead.
Maybe it's more pertinent to ask: Which jazz album should be the cornerstone of any jazz record collection?
Such a jazz album should have a cool, confident swagger: "So What"
Such a jazz album should swing: "Freddie Freeloader"
Such a jazz album should have a whimsical, emotional quality to it: "Blue In Green"
Such a jazz album should maintain a reverence for the blues: "All Blues"
Such a jazz album should incorporate exotic flavors: "Flamenco Sketches"
And most of all, a cornerstone jazz album should be performed by musicians who have the wherewithal, creativity and commitment to render all of the above: Miles Davis (trumpet), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano) and Wynton Kelly (piano)...every one of these legends at or near their towering peaks.
However, Kind Of Blue incorporates all these attributes because of its reverence to great jazz of the past: the pioneering, improvising nature of Armstrong; the elegance and sophistication of Ellington; the modernist harmonics of Parker; and the reserved cool of Miles' own music that he introduced a decade earlier. By using these building blocks, a new form of jazz was forged; one where the songs and solos are built around an overarching key, not the chord changes. That form became known as modal jazz, which would dominate much of the jazz in the Sixties and remains a major part of the overall genre today.
These historic sessions, recorded on March 2 and April 22 of 1959, are now approaching a milestone birthday. In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Kind Of Blue sessions, the Sony imprint Columbia/Legacy, this past Tuesday, released a special 2-CD edition of this album.