Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
Shirley Griffith. If one album had to explain jazz, a strong candidate
would be "Kind of Blue" by the trumpet player and bandleader Miles
Davis. This week on our program, Steve Ember and Gwen Outen tell the
story of "Kind of Blue."
of Blue" has influenced musicians for more than forty years. It is
also a favorite of listeners. The Recording Industry Association of
America marked the sale of three million copies in the United States as
of two thousand two.
Like many other albums,
"Kind of Blue" was made in two recording sessions. These took place
for Columbia Records in New York City in March and April of nineteen
Stories about the making of "Kind
of Blue" say there was nothing unusual about the project. When the
musicians arrived, Miles Davis gave them some short, simple
descriptions of the music they would play. He is said to have written
these notes just a few hours earlier. His piano player, Bill Evans,
helped him write some of the music that would get the musicians
Miles Davis did not want to tell them too much about
what to play. He wanted the music to flow naturally. Such
improvisation was nothing new for musicians. Yet the five songs on
"Kind of Blue" represented a perfect mix of improvisational talent and
The first song is called "So What."
Davis played trumpet and led the group. Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
played alto saxophone; John Coltrane played tenor saxophone. Paul
Chambers was on the bass, and James Cobb played drums.
Davis had a talent for bringing together great musicians. But it also
meant that he had to form new bands again and again. Band members
would become successful enough as individuals to form their own
groups. The band that Miles Davis put together for "Kind of Blue" was
This song is called "Freddie Freeloader." On this song, Wynton Kelly plays the piano; he replaced Bill Evans.
to how the band works as a team, but also how the musicians play
individually over the music. Listen especially to the competing
saxophones of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
Davis and his band were experimenting with a new kind of sound on "Kind
of Blue." This is the sound of a traditional jazz chord progression:
Miles Davis designed the music on "Kind of Blue" around a modal form.
This kind of system permitted the musicians more freedom. After "Kind
of Blue," jazz musicians used the modal form more and more.
Here is another song from "Kind of Blue." This one is called "Blue in Green."
Davis and his band were not the only artists testing new ways to do
things. There was, for example, the painter Jackson Pollack. His
experiments in form and color were playful but went against tradition,
just like "Kind of Blue."
Pianist Bill Evans himself saw
similarities between the music and a form of Japanese art. Some
compared the album to the ideas of Zen Buddhism. At that time, a lot
of Americans were becoming interested in Asian spirituality.
This song is called "All Blues." Listen how naturally the music appears to develop from one point in the song to the next.
Davis was born into a wealthy family in Illinois in nineteen
twenty-six. He received a trumpet for his thirteenth birthday and
began jazz lessons.
In nineteen forty-four, he moved to New
York. He entered the Julliard School of Music. But he left the school
the next year to work with great musicians like Billy Eckstine and
In nineteen forty-nine Miles Davis released
"Birth of the Cool." This recording also had a big influence on jazz.
At that time, listeners were used to the often forceful, fast-moving
beats of Louis Armstrong and others.
Cool jazz became especially popular on the West Coast.
the nineteen fifties and sixties, the civil rights movement grew in the
Untied States. Here was a tall, talented, good looking -- and very
strong-willed -- African American man. He wore Italian suits and
drove European cars. There were many women in his life, although he
was violent with women.
Still, many people saw Miles Davis as
someone who stood up to a system that often kept African Americans from
Miles Davis died in
nineteen ninety-one in California, at the age of sixty-five. He is
remembered most as one of the best trumpet players ever. Miles Davis
played more softly than many of those who came before him. He also did
not work as hard to hit as many high notes or low notes. He found his
unmistakable sound somewhere in the middle. There was also his sense
of timing and the use of silence in his music.
Davis had a talent especially for sad love songs. This one is called
"Flamenco Sketches," the final song on "Kind of Blue."
Our program was written by Robert Brumfield and read by Steve Ember and
Gwen Outen. Internet users can download MP3 files and transcripts of
our shows at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Shirley Griffith, hoping you
can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.