[Dixielandjazz] More on So What by Miles? was Mystery Blues by Ray Ellington.

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 29 14:46:35 PST 2007

If we agree that the mystery blues is So What, or vice versa, the following
will be interesting to musicians. Many of us probably heard Miles' version
since it is the featured song on one of the best selling jazz albums ever.
"Kind of Blue". No wonder the tune sounded familiar. <grin>

My vote is that the foundation was a traditional blues figure like Ellington
plays it, that Miles turned into a "modal" blues. Or then (see last
paragraph) did Gil Evans adapt it?

Steve Barbone

Richard Cook, author of It¹s About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record
is the editor of Jazz Review.  In the following excerpt Cook looks at the
song, ŒSo What¹ off the album, Kind of Blue.

Š¹So What¹Šactually opens the completed album. It is far and away the most
famous piece on the record - the most famous piece of music Miles Davis was
ever involved with.

Structurally, there is nothing very radical about the piece. The track opens
deceptively, with Evans seemingly noodling through a few chords, as if
warming up at the piano, with Chambers behind him. They play a unison figure
before a couple more piano phrases, a bass arpeggio; then Chambers suddenly
picks up the melody line which introduces the tune proper. The eight-note
figure is answered by a two-note tag, an Œamen¹ sound, played at first by
the piano alone; then on the second eight bars Evans is joined by the horns.

The bridge repeats the trick, but this time it is played up a semitone,
landing on the D flat major scale; then on the final eight bars they revert
to the tonality (a C major scale) they began with. That is basically all ŒSo
What¹ is concerned with. It broods on for a little over nine minutes, taking
in solos from each of the horns as well as Evans before going back to the
original theme. So we have a thirty-two-bar AABA format -an invincible part
of standard songwriting - which obliges the musicians to fashion statements
from a field which is constructed out of two simple scales.

The mystery of the piece is its air of elusive, almost secretive
possibility. One feels that the solos could go anywhere, could follow any
path, could drift on without stopping, and not feel Œwrong¹. It is a
definition piece of jazz, if one identifies that music as something played
by intuition and living on its instincts. For once, there seems to be no
contrast in the solos played by Davis, Coltrane and Adderley: they move
seamlessly together, as if each man were playing his part in a predetermined
plan. Evans¹s accompaniments are handsomely shaded, although one has to
strain to follow him: the ear is drawn irresistibly to the horns and what
they are saying. On his own solo, which features some surprisingly dissonant
voicings that he plays on the bridge, the horns riff behind him. In the end,
the music drifts back towards Chambers and his ostinato melody, Jimmy Cobb
ticking impassively at his ride cymbal, Evans playing the so-what tag, and
the entire piece fading away into silence. In the studio, preserved on the
master tape but not on the record, Cannonball Adderley broke everyone up by
suddenly crooning the first line of ŒWith A Song In My Heart¹.

Who actually wrote ŒSo What¹? As with everything else on the record, Davis
claimed credit for it, but the mysterious hand of Gil Evans may have played
a part: several of those involved, including Jimmy Cobb, Gil¹s widow Anita
and Teo Macero, have all suggested that Evans was the one who wrote the
little prelude which prefaces the melody, and as Cobb remarks, ŒMan, it
sounds like Gil¹s stuff.¹

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