"So What" is one of the best known examples of modal jazz, set in the Dorian mode and consisting of 16 bars of D Dorian, followed by eight bars of E♭ Dorian and another eight of D Dorian. This AABA structure puts it in the thirty-two bar format of American popular song. The piano-and-bass introduction for the piece was written by Gil Evans for Bill Evans (no relation) and Paul Chambers on Kind of Blue.
Kind of Blue is a studio album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released on August 17, 1959, by Columbia Records. Recording sessions for the album took place at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City on March 2 and April 22, 1959. The sessions featured Davis's ensemble sextet, with pianist Bill Evans, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. After the entry of Evans into his sextet, Davis followed up on the modal experimentations of Milestones (1958) by basing Kind of Blue entirely on modality, in contrast to his earlier work with the hard bop style of jazz. Music video by Miles Davis performing So What. (C) 2008 SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.
For nearly six decades, Miles Davis has embodied all that is cool – in his music (and most especially jazz), in his art, fashion, romance, and in his international, if not intergalactic, presence that looms strong as ever today. 2006 – The year in which Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on March 13th – is a landmark year, commemorating the 80th anniversary of his birth on May 26, 1926, and the 15th anniversary of his death on September 28, 1991. In between those two markers is more than a half-century of brilliance – often exasperating, brutally honest with himself and to others, uncompromising in a way that transcended mere intuition.
In carrying out what always seemed like a mission, Miles Dewey Davis III – musician, composer, arranger, producer, and band leader – was always in the right place at the right time, another defining aspect of cool. Born in Alton, Illinois, and raised in East St. Louis, where his father was a dentist, Miles was given his first trumpet at age 13. A child prodigy, his mastery of the instrument accelerated as he came under the spell of older jazzmen Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and others who passed through. He accepted admission to the Juilliard School in 1944, but it was a ruse to get to New York and hook up with Bird and Diz. Miles was 18. Cool.
In 1948 Davis grew close to the Canadian composer and arranger Gil Evans. Evans' basement apartment had become the meeting place for several young musicians and composers such as Davis, Roach, pianist John Lewis, and baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan who were unhappy with the increasingly virtuoso instrumental techniques that dominated the bebop scene. Evans had been the arranger for the Claude Thornhill orchestra, and it was the sound of this group, as well as Duke Ellington's example, that suggested the creation of an unusual line-up: a nonet including a French horn and a tuba (this accounts for the "tuba band" moniker that became associated with the combo).
Davis took an active role in the project, so much so that it soon became "his project". The objective was to achieve a sound similar to the human voice, through carefully arranged compositions and by emphasizing a relaxed, melodic approach to the improvisations.
The nonet debuted in the summer of 1948, with a two-week engagement at the Royal Roost. The sign announcing the performance gave a surprising prominence to the role of the arrangers: "Miles Davis Nonet. Arrangements by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan." It was, in fact, so unusual that Davis had to persuade the Roost's manager, Ralph Watkins, to word the sign this way. He prevailed only with the help of Monte Kay, the club's artistic director.
The nonet was active until the end of 1949, along the way undergoing several changes in personnel: Roach and Davis were constantly featured, along with Mulligan, tuba player Bill Barber, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had been preferred to Sonny Stitt (whose playing was considered too bop-oriented). Over the months, John Lewis alternated with Al Haig on piano, Mike Zwerin with Kai Winding on trombone (Johnson was touring at the time), Junior Collins with Sandy Siegelstein and Gunther Schuller on French horn, and Al McKibbon with Joe Shulman on bass. Singer Kenny Hagood was added for one track during the recording.