By late 1958, Miles Davis employed one of the best and most profitable working bands pursuing the hard bop style. His personnel had become stable: alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Bill Evans, long-serving bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. His band played a mixture of pop standards and bebop originals by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tadd Dameron; as with all bebop-based jazz, Davis's groups improvised on the chord changes of a given song. Davis was one of many jazz musicians growing dissatisfied with bebop, and saw its increasingly complex chord changes as hindering creativity.
In 1953, the pianist George Russell published his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, which offered an alternative to the practice of improvisation based on chords and chord changes. Abandoning the traditional major and minor key relationships of Western music, Russell developed a new formulation using scales or a series of scales for improvisations; this approach led the way to "modal" in jazz. Influenced by Russell's ideas, Davis implemented his first modal composition with the title track of his studio album Milestones (1958) and his first sessions with Bill Evans, the '58 Sessions. Satisfied with the results, Davis prepared an entire album based on modality. Pianist Bill Evans, who had studied with Russell but recently departed from Davis's sextet to pursue his own career, was drafted back into the new recording project—the sessions that would engender Kind of Blue.
(l. to r.) John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Bill Evans in studio
Kind of Blue was recorded in two sessions at Columbia Records' 30th Street Studio in New York City, on March 2 for the tracks "So What," "Freddie Freeloader," and "Blue in Green," composing side one of the original LP, and April 22 for the tracks "Flamenco Sketches," and "All Blues," making up side two. Teo Macero, who had produced Davis’s previous two LP’s, and Irving Townsend handled production.
As was his penchant, Davis called for almost no rehearsal and the musicians had little idea what they were to record; as described in the original liner notes by pianist Bill Evans, Davis had only given the band sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise. Once the musicians were assembled, Davis gave brief instructions for each piece and then set to taping the sextet in studio. While the results were impressive with so little preparation, the persistent legend that the entire album was recorded in one pass is untrue. Only "Flamenco Sketches" yielded a complete take on the first try. That take, not the master, was issued in 1997 as a bonus alternate track. The five master takes issued, however, were the only other complete takes; an insert for the ending to "Freddie Freeloader" was recorded, but was not used for release or on the issues of Kind of Blue prior to the 1997 reissue. Pianist Wynton Kelly may not have been happy to see the man he replaced, Bill Evans, back in his old seat. Perhaps to assuage the pianist's feelings, and also to take advantage of Kelly's superior skills as both bluesman and accompanist, Davis had Kelly play instead of Evans on the album's most blues-oriented number, "Freddie Freeloader." The live album Miles Davis at Newport documents this band. However, the Newport Jazz Festival recording on July 3, 1958 reflects the band in its hard bop conception, the presence of a Bill Evans only six weeks into his brief tenure in the Davis band notwithstanding, rather than the modal approach of Kind of Blue.
Miles Davis: trumpet
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: alto saxophone (except #3)
John Coltrane: tenor saxophone
Wynton Kelly: piano (#2)
Bill Evans: piano (all others)
Paul Chambers: bass
Jimmy Cobb: drums
Original Recording Produced by Irving Townsend
Recording Engineer: Fred Plaut
Recorded at Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City
March 2, 1959 (#1-3) and April 22, 1959 (#4-6)
Note: For most Columbia sessions of the 50s and 60s, the music was taped simultaneously on two different machines. At the first Kind of Blue session, which produced the three songs that appeared on side one of the LP, one of the three-track machines was running slightly slow. As it happens, the master takes used on the LP were pulled from the reels recorded on that machine. As a result, the first three tunes always appeared in sharp pitch until the gold Mastersound edition of this album, which included the music as the musicians played it (newly remixed), and the complete alternate takes from these historic sessions.