For those dipping a first toe into jazz, the Miles Davis
classic Kind of Blue
(Columbia, 1959) is a common initial purchase or listen for many plausible reasons. Web searches for "best jazz albums of all time," or the like, bring up numerous lists that put it at the top and on newcomers' radars. Prominent placement on the Amazon (US) page for jazz CDs and vinylwith high sales continuously propping it upalmost begs people to try it. The frequency with which those who proselytize for the music recommend or gift it further makes it a first jazz album for many.
Its preeminence as a "first" jazz album raises the inevitable question: "What next after Kind of Blue
?" The question becomes especially intriguing when considering the multiple directions an answer could go based on its place in history and as a listening experience. One of several albums of 1959 heralded as game- changing, Kind of Blue
brought together groundbreaking innovation and what could be called Hall of Fame-level improvisation. Lore and awe surround its creation. For the first-time listener, there is a subtle but profound "wow" factor to it. It's like butter. It has a certain je ne sais quoi. Between its artistry and musicianship and its ability to captivate with an approachable and seeming effortlessness, it is no wonder that it is a common gateway jazz album and the genre's all-time best seller.
What follows imagines its audience, first, as those who come to All About Jazz to learn more after collecting a few albums, with Kind of Blue
among them. To answer the titular question, it posits different ways to consider it and suggests one album per entry point. For the most part, none of the suggested "next" albums fall out of the scope of what mainstream criticism might suggest or appreciate, but the entry points through which to filter the question may refract answers in surprising ways. Apart from imagined ones, actual readers are invited to suggest alternative albums or additional entry points for consideration in the comments section.
Classic albums with Hall of Fame improvisation
Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus
Much has been written about the making of Kind of Blue
. Similarly, critics have spilled a lot of ink on the improvisation on Sonny Rollins
' Saxophone Colossus
with Gunther Schuller
's analysis of the closing track, "Blue 7," driving many discussions. Starting with "St. Thomas," a calypso and contender for best jazz song ever, followed by an aching ballad, a hard bop burner, and a swinging show tune, Saxophone Colossus
may be a better first jazz album than Kind of Blue
Albums that influenced Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue
Ahmad Jamal At the Pershing: But Not for Me
Davis is famous for asking his pianists to "play like Ahmad Jamal
." While not a singular linchpin for understanding Kind of Blue
's magic, this classic piano trio date exemplifies key inspirations for Davis as he moved from hard bop to modal, especially a characteristic spaciousness.
Albums led by Kind of Blue band members
Cannonball Adderley Something Else
Albums led by and with Kind of Blue
band membersCannonball Adderley
(alto saxophone), John Coltrane
(tenor saxophone), Bill Evans
(piano, except on "Freddie Freeloader"), Wynton Kelly
(piano on "Freddie Freeloader"), Paul Chambers
(bass), and Jimmy Cobb
(drums)offer an ocean's worth of possible choices. For the presence of Davis as a side player so far into his career and its definitive rendition of "Autumn Leaves," the Adderley classic gets the nod.
Game-Changing albums released the same year as Kind of Blue
Ornette Coleman The Shape of Jazz to Come
With the release of classics like Dave Brubeck
's Time Out
(Columbia, 1959), Charles Mingus
' Mingus Ah Um
(Columbia, 1959), and this initial Atlantic offering from Ornette Coleman
's revolutionary piano-less quartet, some see 1959 as a highpoint in jazz history. Providing contrast and context for Davis' modal innovations, Shape of Jazz to Come
today has a surprisingly approachable lyricism relative to the furor that met Coleman's entry on the New York City jazz scene.
Albums in the Miles Davis / Kind of Blue stylistic lineage
Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage
Davis went through various personnel changes before the eventual coalescence of what is commonly known as his Second Great Quintet with Herbie Hancock
(piano), Wayne Shorter
(tenor saxophone), Ron Carter
(bass) and Tony Williams
(drums). With this band, he fully realized Kind of Blue
's unique potential for imagining a post-hard bop jazz. And while the adjective "great" aptly describes that quintet and their recorded output, Maiden Voyage
made by three fifths of the quintet along with Freddie Hubbard
(trumpet) and Davis alum George Coleman
(tenor saxophone)is an undisputed high point for Kind of Blue
's impact for a Davis-related ensemble and possibly the apogee.
Other gateway jazz albums by Miles Davis
Miles Davis with the Gil Evans Orchestra Sketches of Spain
The third collaboration with composer/arranger Gil Evans
for Columbia, Sketches of Spain
was the first release of newly recorded music from Davis after Kind of Blue
. A suite of orchestral pieces built around traditional Spanish music, the album envelopes listeners in a soundscape that leads them further on the path to becoming a fan of Davis and jazz. To break with the limit of one album per category for a moment, Davis' In a Silent Way
(Columbia, 1969) could go here, too, for the same reasons as Sketches of Spain
Renditions of individual Kind of Blue tracks
John Coltrane Impressions
Stanley Jordan Magic Touch
"Sky and Sea (Blue in Green)"
Cassandra Wilson Traveling Miles
Miles Davis My Funny Valentine
Joe Henderson So Near, So Far: Musings for Miles
Approaching Kind of Blue
track-by-track, opens up even more avenues for new-to-jazz fans of it to experience each composition and the music itself. Based on "So What," John Coltrane
's "Impressions" from the 1961 Village Vanguard dates presents an impassioned contrast to Hancock's impressionistic approach to modal jazz on Maiden Voyage
. Stanley Jordan
's finger-tapping guitar technique accentuates the blues imbedded in "Freddie Freeloader." Cassandra Wilson
's rich contralto showcases "Blue in Green" as a lyrical ballad. "All Blues" from the 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert reminds how Davis would return to and reinvent the album's material throughout the 1960s. Played by alums from Davis bands spanning decades, this "Flamenco Sketches" honors the mood of the original as well as the sonic range of his career.
Albums that attempt to recreate Kind of Blue note for note
Mostly Other People Do the Killing Blue
Dividing critics when released, Blue
by Mostly Other People Do the Killing
may be more about asking questions of jazz and repertory music than enhancing Kind of Blue
's legacy. To possibly marvel at the attempt and results, Blue
may be worth the listen for those so inclined.
Albums with Hall of Fame improvisation, production / performance lore, and huge sales
Keith Jarrett Köln Concert
While not top of mind as Kind of Blue
-adjacent, Keith Jarrett
's solo piano triumph shares many of its characteristics as a listening experience and cultural phenomenon. Despite the flaws of his instrument, Jarrett improvises undulating swaths of sound, seemingly ex nihilo, holding listeners rapt for a full hour that does not let them go. As one of the biggest sellers in jazz history, it could also be one of the handful of jazz albums, along with Kind of Blue
, in collections of those more invested in other genres.
Potential classics and gateway jazz albums of recent vintage
Maria Schneider Orchestra The Thompson Fields
Recommendations for those new to jazz often gravitate to long-acknowledged classics that predate the 1970s. While we live in a cultural context that may never agree on new "classics," the broad acclaim that meets each release from Maria Schneider
cannot be denied. Copeland-like in its imagining of her Minnesota home, The Thompson Fields
manifests all the composing and arranging gifts for which she was recognized as a NEA Jazz Master in 2019.
Audiophile LP reissues for fans of Kind of Blue
Art Pepper Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section
1957; RSD 2022 mono release by Craft
The LP format is resurgent, including among those building jazz collections. As tempting, or not, as a $100 UHQR LP edition of Kind of Blue
may be to its legion of fans, a steady stream of audiophile reissues provides less expensive options for follow-ups to it. The mono version of this Art Pepper
date with the rhythm section of Davis' First Great Quintet almost makes too much sense.
Albums that lead down yet another rabbit hole
Henry Threadgill Sextet Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket
One answer to "What next after Kind of Blue
?" may be the same as an answer to what next after Miles Davis, considering his career of innovation. With formative experiences among the Chicago avant-garde of the 1960s and the New York City loft scene of the 1970's, Henry Threadgill
may best represent a "next thing." Blending experimentalism with tradition, composition with improvisation, and elements from classical, jazz, and blues, Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket
makes for a compelling introduction to Threadgill and the many ways in which jazz remains an ever-evolving art with new surprises and "wow" moments that make us what to hear more.
Of course, after discovering Kind of Blue
, the best recommendation may be to take in a live show. Patience or persistence may be required, depending on where one lives, but jazz pops up everywhere eventually.