Classic Rock Corner: Kind of Blue is 50

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According to a recent appreciation in Newsweek, if an American household has just one jazz record on the shelf, chances are it's Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. And we were thinking it was Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream & Other Delights.

Kind of Blue contains only five tracks. But those songs would define jazz for millions and represent - according to many fans and critics - the absolute pinnacle of artistic achievement for the mercurial trumpet player and composer. Kind of Blue is also the best-selling jazz record of all time, recently reaching quadruple platinum. And it was the subject of an entire book, Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of a Miles Davis Masterpiece.

For the 50th anniversary of its release, Columbia has done its usual stellar job in adding the album to its Legacy Edition series. A two-CD version includes the entire original record with additional studio, alternate and live tracks. A pricier Collector's Edition adds a vinyl pressing, book, poster and memorabilia. There's also a digital booklet with extended liner notes. 

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Though jazz nerds may wax rhapsodically about "hard bop" and "modal composition," the fact is that Kind of Blue crossed over so many musical boundaries and tastes, it achieved a rare dual appeal in both critical and popular circles. The hipsters and the housewives cold have it on their turntables. As rapper Q-Tip said in an interview, "[Kind of Blue] is like the Bible - you just have one in your house."

Interestingly, given its place in jazz history, the tracks were put down with little to no rehearsal in just two sessions - March 2 and April 22, 1959. Davis simply provided the sidemen with the barest of lead-sheet sketches for the songs, then asked them to improvise. But what a band of "sidemen": Saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.

All of them (especially Coltrane and Evans, the latter of whom would openly state he should have received greater composing credit for the record) would later go on to great individual fame. Hardcore jazz fans argue whether a finer group of players ever came together inside the confines of a recording studio.

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Evans (right) was always a naturally muted, understated player, and that fit perfectly with the record's overall mood. The fact that reed-ripping fireballs Coltrane and Adderley could reign in the their sonic ebullience - and create something so fine in the process - speaks volumes to Davis' direction (or perhaps the horn men's fears).

The liner notes here mention the record's "artful simplicity," as good and accurate summary of Kind of Blue as any. From the lush, gorgeous sounds of "So What" and Davis' signature blowing on "Blue in Green," to the funky coolness of "Freddie Freeloader," the distinctive cadences of "All Blues" and the minimalist visions of "Flamenco Sketches," Kind of Blue is the definition of All Killer, No Filler.

Recent years have seen an embarrassment of riches for Davis fans in terms of new and reissued material, from single CDs like The Broadcast Sessions 1958-1959 and Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival to the incredibly detailed box sets The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, The Complete On the Corner Sessions and The Cellar Door Sessions 1970. This 50th anniversary edition fits nicely into The Dark Prince's pantheon.

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