Released August 17, 1959, on Columbia Records, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue is a stone-cold classic. 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, which consisted of pianist Bill Evans (Wynton Kelly on one track), drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.
As was Miles Davis’s penchant, he called for almost no rehearsal and the musicians had little idea what they were to record. As described in the original liner notes by pianist Bill Evans, Davis had only given the band sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise. Once the musicians were assembled, Davis gave brief instructions for each piece and then set to taping the sextet in studio. While the results were impressive with so little preparation, the persistent legend that the entire album was recorded in one pass is untrue. Only “Flamenco Sketches” yielded a complete take on the first try.
Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posseses such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius… It’s the pinnacle of modal jazz — tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality… It may be a stretch to say that if you don’t like Kind of Blue, you don’t like jazz — but it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection.
—Stephen T. Erlewine, Allmusic
The album’s influence has reached beyond jazz, as musicians of such genres as rock and classical have been influenced by it, while critics have written about it as one of the most influential albums of all time. Many improvisatory rock musicians of the 1960s referred to Kind of Blue for inspiration, along with other Davis albums, as well as Coltrane’s modal records My Favorite Things (1961) and A Love Supreme (1965). Guitarist Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band said his soloing on songs such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” “comes from Miles and Coltrane, and particularly Kind of Blue. I’ve listened to that album so many times that for the past couple of years, I haven’t hardly listened to anything else.” Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright has said that the chord progressions on the album influenced the structure of the introductory chords to the song “Breathe” on their landmark opus The Dark Side of the Moon (1973). In his book Kind of Blue: The Making of a Miles Davis Masterpiece, writer Ashley Kahn wrote “still acknowledged as the height of hip, four decades after it was recorded, Kind of Blue is the premier album of its era, jazz or otherwise. Its vapory piano introduction is universally recognized”. Producer Quincy Jones, one of Davis’ longtime friends, wrote: “That [Kind of Blue] will always be my music, man. I play Kind of Blue every day—it’s my orange juice. It still sounds like it was made yesterday”. Pianist Chick Corea, one of Miles’ acolytes, was also struck by its majesty, later stating “It’s one thing to just play a tune, or play a program of music, but it’s another thing to practically create a new language of music, which is what Kind of Blue did.”
One significant aspect of Kind of Blue is that the entire record, not just one track, was revolutionary. Gary Burton noted this occurrence, stating “It wasn’t just one tune that was a breakthrough, it was the whole record. When new jazz styles come along, the first few attempts to do it are usually kind of shaky. Early Charlie Parker records were like this. But with Kind of Blue [the sextet] all sound like they’re fully into it.” Along with The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out (1959) and Coltrane’s Giant Steps (1960), Kind of Blue has often been recommended by music writers as an introductory jazz album, for similar reasons: the music on both records is very melodic, and the relaxed quality of the songs makes the improvisation easy for listeners to follow, without sacrificing artistry or experimentation. Upon the release of the 50th anniversary collector’s edition of the album, a columnist for All About Jazz stated “Kind of Blue heralded the arrival of a revolutionary new American music, a post-bebop modal jazz structured around simple scales and melodic improvisation. Trumpeter/band leader/composer Miles Davis assembled a sextet of legendary players to create a sublime atmospheric masterpiece. Fifty years after its release, Kind of Blue continues to transport listeners to a realm all its own while inspiring musicians to create to new sounds—from acoustic jazz to post-modern ambient—in every genre imaginable.” Later in an interview, renowned hip hop artist and rapper Q-Tip reaffirmed the album’s reputation and influence when discussing the significance of Kind of Blue, stating “It’s like the Bible—you just have one in your house.”
In selecting the album as number 12 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone magazine stated “This painterly masterpiece is one of the most important, influential and popular albums in jazz”. On December 16, 2009, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring the fiftieth anniversary of Kind of Blue and “reaffirming jazz as a national treasure”. It is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, described by reviewer Seth Jacobson as “a genre-defining moment in twentieth-century music, period.”