Chula Vista, California
1959. A huge year for jazz. On The Shape of Jazz to Come, Ornette Coleman presents a new form, free jazz, essentially asking whether jazz needed any form or structure at all. Charles Mingus arrived with his Grammy Hall of Fame album Ah Um; Dave Brubeck's Time Out with its West Coast Jazz coolness and odd time signatures sold a million copies mostly due to its hot single Take Five.
Then, in August of '59 Columbia released Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. The Davis quintet, made up of what will become a Mt. Rushmore of Jazz greats, produced the iconic jazz album. Even people who didn't listen to jazz owned a copy. Every year it's the number one seller in jazz. Over two sessions Davis, with saxophonist Cannonball Adderly, bassist Paul Chambers, Bill Evans on piano (with Wynton Kelly on piano for Freddie Freeloader), Billy Cobb on drums and the soon to be great John Coltrane on sax turned out a masterpiece for Columbia Records.
Ashley Kahn's rather concise book, Kind of Blue: the making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece delves into the history, production and aftermath of the Davis masterpiece. The last surviving member of the group, drummer Jimmy Cobb, provides the Foreward and in it looks back on those Spring days at Columbia's 30th Street Studio.
Take One: Kahn goes thru each track on the album using the master tapes and It's interesting when he relates what went on during these recording sessions--everything from the types of tape used (Ampex or Sony) to the back and forth commentary between musicians, engineers and producers.
Fun Fact: During the first session (April 22nd) an unnoticed motor problem on the master tape machine caused the tape to record slightly slower than 15 inches per second. The mistake was transferred to hundreds of thousands of album pressings over thirty years. In 1992 engineer Mark Wilder decided to use the 'safety' copy as it would have been fresher than the overly used master. He noticed a difference in tone when he compared it to the album and brought in a trumpet player he knew to verify. It was confirmed that the album was just a quarter tone off. No one, not even Davis recognized it. All copies since have been cut from the safety reels so if you have a newer version you're okay. If you have an LP from the 70s it may be fun to buy a new copy and see if you can tell a difference. I doubt I could.
Another Interesting factoid for the photographer's reading this: The album cover was made by a young Jay Maisel who goes on to a fame all his own.
Give Kind of Blue a listen. Even if you've never heard the album you may recognize the first track, So What. I'm not in love with Kind of Blue though I feel I understand its status and can recognize its greatness. I listen once or twice a month perhaps but what I am thankful for is that it introduced me to pianist Bill Evans whose music I've grown to truly enjoy.