Monday, March 2, 2009

Kind of Blue Fifty Years Later: Adderley's Alto

The Penguin guide points out that Kind of Blue was the first widely acknowledged example of 'modal jazz.' The music must have seemed strikingly new when it was released, but looking back on it now every note seems familiar and right where it should be. As the Penguin Guide puts it, Miles' innovation has been thoroughly absorbed.

The only surprise in the personnel Miles chose for KOB was alto sax player Julian Cannonball Adderley. Adderley was a music teacher who was persuaded to try professional music. It worked. He played with Miles between 1957 and 59. It was Miles who inadvertently gave Julian his nickname. He called him "cannibal" Adderley. Julian was a big fellow, and I gather he would eat a lot of food at one sitting. A reporter misheard it, fortunately. Cannonball is a great nickname for this great musician.

About a year before KOB, Adderley recorded an album as leader, with Miles in the unusual role of sideman. There is some doubt about who was really in charge. We do hear Miles say, at the end of 'One for Daddy-O': "was that what you wanted, Alfred." He would be speaking to Producer Alfred Lion. I don't know enough to have an opinion, but Somethin' Else is a magficient recording, maybe one of the ten best in era.

Who was in charge may matter a great deal, because I think that the mood and motion of KOB is first evidence on this Adderley issue. Everyone remembers the first track, 'Autumn Leaves," but the title track is most evocative. Here it is. Give it a listen, and then compare it to KOB.
Cannonball Adderley/Somethin' Else/Somethin' Else
I think you find that Miles' horn sounds pretty much the same on both discs.


  1. Hi Ken,

    I recently linked to your KOB posts but I also wanted to comment on how much I enjoy your site.

    KOB was my introduction to Miles and jazz but it took a while to find other albums, especially albums that were accessible for a novitiate. Eventually I started listening to Horace Silver, Kenny Burrell and went from there but your recommendations and samples have opened up a lot more 50s and 60s jazz - stuff that I would not have discovered otherwise!

    I've been going through your Christmas lists and I still have to hunt down Loose Blues.



  2. James:

    What a nice comment. I had a very similar experience when I first started buying jazz albums, back in the ancient seventies. I knew a handful of artists I liked, but had no sense of what recordings were best or how to find jazz that I wanted. One reason I do this blog is to provide some tips for collectors starting out.

    Thanks again for the comment,

  3. Whilst appreciating the pivotal role of Miles Davis in the development of modern jazz, I must confess that I have never been a great fan of his trumpet style; much preferring Dizzy, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro . Maybe it's his tone, too much mute, too cool ...
    Miles made it possible, but for me “Kind of Blue” is a special recording because of the sublime playing of Coltrane, Adderley and Evans.
    My favourite part is Addereley's solo on 'Flamenco Sketches', but it is interesting to listen how 'Flamenco Sketches' itself developed out of Bill Evans' 'Peace Piece' (Dec 1958), which takes part of the theme from Evans' version of Leonard Bernstein's 'Some Other Time' from the same date. Follow this on with the Evans/Tony Bennett version of 'Some Other Time' from 1975.
    Staying with Bill Evans, is his 1977 trio version of 'Freddie Freeloader' a hint of what he might have played if Wynton Kelly had not taken over the keyboards on KOB?


  4. Derek:

    Thanks much for the comment. I feel differently about Miles playing, but there has to be a lot of accounting for tastes here. Miles would never have achieved the fame he did on the basis of any virtuosity, I suspect. I like his tone, his mute, and his cool very much, but maybe that's just me. There was a TV show back in the 80's, "Midnight Caller." Not very memorable, but it had a Miles-like trumpet soundtrack, and I dug it.

    I about Adderley's solo on 'Flamenco Sketches.' I also suspect that Bill Evans' subtle, penetrating soul might be the secret to KOB. He did, after all, play on all the numbers except 'Freddie the Freeloader.' I can't wait to listen to the tracks you suggest. That's the kind of hunting I love!

    Miles may not have been a virtuoso on trumpet, but he was a virtuoso as a leader. He played other jazz geniuses like Evans and Adderley as they played their instruments. So KOB is still his album.

    Thanks again,

  5. ps. James: I don't know if you know about eMusic. They have a fantastic collection of classic jazz available for pennies, depending on the plan you choose. Bill Evan's Loose Blues is there. If you are interested, send me an email, and I can get you started. In the interest of disclosure, I would get some free downloads for it. Or you could just Google eMusic and sign up independently. I have built about half my jazz collection from this one source. You can't beat it.