Listening Log – [Pt. IV]- ‘So What’ from Miles Davis’ 1959 ‘Kind of Blue’ album


‘So What’ from Miles Davis’ 1959 ‘Kind of Blue’ album

Listening Log – [Pt. IV]- ‘So What’ from Miles Davis’ 1959 ‘Kind of Blue’ album. Throughout March- April 2020 Listened (download) to digital audio CD 2019: ‘Kind Of Blue (Full Album 1959) On: JB Production. Performers: Band Leader/ Trumpeter: Miles Davis. Tenor saxophonist: John Coltrane. Alto saxophonist: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Pianist: Bill Evans. Bassist: Paul Chambers. Drummer: Jimmy Cobb .

Music video by Miles Davis performing So What (Audio). Originally released 1959. All rights reserved by Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.

‘So What’ from Miles Davis’ 1959 Kind of Blue album opens with composed riff used for interplay between the double bass and the band in the intro leading up to the main sections. In the main section, which is in the D Dorian mode Miles Davis plays a very unusual improvised solo. Placing notes with great intuition in a way, that quite frankly defies description. John Coltrane’s solo is equally as impressive, but in a more agile and busy way. All the players in this band were pretty much at a genius level of musicianship.

 It is the intro however which most resembles Debussy’s ‘Voiles’, owing to the use of aparallel chord sequence in the bass moving in parallel 4ths with the bottom note outlining the whole tone scale.

Parallel chords used in “So What”

There is some debate as to who had actually written this portion of the theme. Some suggest that it was Gil Evans, who was working with Miles Davis who wrote it for piano player Bill Evans. Gil Evans was working as an orchestrator and arranger and was a fan of Manuel de Falla’s Impressionistic music. Bill Evans the pianist was himself classically trained and had played in George Russell’s orchestra. Russell wrote the 1953 book ‘Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization; which went on to be instrumental in inspiring Miles Davis and others to develop modal jazz. Hence, there seems to a few converging influences via several band members which could have resulted in any of them writing the parallel chords outlining the whole tone scales. They were actively searching for ‘cool’ new tones, creating new extended chords and using different modes, like the D and Eb Dorian in So What, to come up with a new sound. All these techniques had very much in common with Impressionistic music in general and Debussy in particular.