Kind of Blue is a studio album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released August 17, 1959, on Columbia Records n the United States. Recording sessions for the album took place at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio (and nicknamed “The Church”) in New York City on March 2 and April 22, 1959. The sessions featured Davis’s ensemble sextet, which consisted of pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. After the inclusion of Bill Evans into his sextet, Davis followed up on the modal experimentations of Milestones (1958) and 1958 Miles (1958) by basing the album entirely on modality, in contrast to his earlier work with the hard bop style of jazz.
Though precise figures have been disputed, Kind of Blue has been cited by many music writers not only as Davis’s best-selling album, but as the best-selling jazz record of all time. On October 7, 2008, it was certified quadruple platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It has been regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz album of all time and Davis’s masterpiece. The album’s influence on music, including jazz, rock, and classical music, has led music writers to acknowledge it as one of the most influential albums of all time. In 2002, it was one of fifty recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. In 2003, the album was ranked number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Kind of Blue is based entirely on modality in contrast to Davis’s earlier work with the hard bop style of jazz and its complex chord progression and improvisation. The entire album was composed as a series of modal sketches, in which each performer was given a set of scales that defined the parameters of their improvisation and style. This style was in contrast to more typical means of composing, such as providing musicians with a complete score or, as was more common for improvisational jazz, providing the musicians with a chord progression or series of harmonies.
Modal jazz of this type was not unique to this album. Davis himself had previously used the same method on his 1958 Milestones album, the ’58 Sessions, and Porgy and Bess (1958), on which Davis used modal influences for collaborator Gil Evans’s third stream compositions. Also, the original concept and method had been developed in 1953 by pianist and writer George Russell. Davis saw Russell’s methods of composition as a means of getting away from the dense chord-laden compositions of his time, which Davis had labeled “thick”. Modal composition, with its reliance on scales and modes, represented, as Davis called it, “a return to melody.” In a 1958 interview with Nat Hentoff of The Jazz Review, Davis elaborated on this form of composition in contrast to the simple chord progression predominant in bebop, stating “No chords … gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes and you can do more with the [melody] line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically innovative you can be. When you’re based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there’s nothing to do but repeat what you’ve just done—with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords… there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.