So What Intro

What they all had for breakfast that day...

What they all had for breakfast that day… But seriously, this is a great read.

The Miles album Kind of Blue really was one of a kind. A fascinating, confident adventure that came back with the treasure in abundance – and the whole story is documented really well in a book by Ashley Khan (see here). (Khan has also written an excellent book dealing with A Love Supreme.)

Of the tunes from this album that are still played regularly, So What has to be the king. To this day, some wonder “what can you do with it?” and others wonder “what can’t you do with it?” We played it recently and I suggested we use the intro, as originally done by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers – when do you ever hear that?

Someone has asked if I had a transcription, and as luck would have it, I do:

This beautiful moody scene-setting passage seems to me to somehow hang in the air, perhaps like pollen drifting in sunlight or smoke in a spotlight. Shame it isn’t played more often.

It has Gil Evans’ fingerprints all over it, with the DNA evidence possibly suggesting Bill’s paws too. The album hype was all about how loose and last-minute the recording session was, but without wishing to knock Miles or his amazing sidemen, I really don’t think this intro was just pulled out of the air in a moment of inspiration…

Incidentally, perhaps someone who knows about this kind of thing could get on Wikipedia and correct the statement “Freddie Freeloader is a standard 12-bar blues form”. It isn’t quite – it deliberately, slyly, sourly goes to a step below the expected final chord. Which to me is rather the whole point of the tune.

Almost to invoke the character – vacillating, promising a straight deal but falling short when payday comes. In the same vein of characterisation of a sponging hanger-on, the whole tune is really an accompanying riff without a melody…

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Posted in b) Harmony & Comping, h) Transcriptions, i) Reviews
3 comments on “So What Intro
  1. pisackson says:

    Freddie was one of series of quasi blues that Miles liked to play with, like No Blues (sometimes called Pfrancing) which is nevertheless closer to a classic blues.

    Yeah, Freddie has no melody. It’s Wynton who provides the riffs that turns it into a tune. Interesting to note that when Bill Evans finally recorded it in trio (I guess to show that he could play every tune on Kind of Blue!) he played it straight — without Wynton’s bouncing riffs — and the damn thing sounds dull.

    I bought the album as a 14 year old in 1961 thinking it was a bluesy trumpet thing and for about a week found it weird, challenging everything I believed jazz and Miles to be (which wasn’t a lot). But have been listening to it over and over again for more than 50 years, even heard Jimmy Cobb’s Kind of Blues remake band live in Paris, well after the demise of all the others., And of course have been playing all the tunes… except Flamenco Sketches… certainly the most complex and haunting track and the one that best demonstrates the depth of melodic and modular harmonic invention of all the soloists.

    Thanks for the transcript.

    • Jason says:

      I suppose there might have been an element of “I can do it, honest” to Bill doing Freddie. Strikes me as an odd choice of tune for his style though, and I’d have thought surely he (of anyone) would have got the “non-tune” concept of the tune.
      I guess some situations must rankle with players and they feel like setting the record straight. In the same spirit, Tommy Flanagan had to prove that he could actually play Giant Steps after not exactly nailing it first time round.
      Interesting that no-one ever seems to do Flamenco Sketches. Perhaps the possibility for chaos in the “this scale for as long as you like” approach puts people off teaching and performing it.
      Also interesting that having broken fresh ground with this album, Miles pretty much immediately abandoned the territory. It was Trane that really went on into modality and not-quite blues.
      Incidentally, the story is that Miles wrote down Gm A7+, handed it to Bill and asked “what would you do with that?” Bill allegedly said “dunno”, but went off and wrote Blue in Green. Don’t think there was any rancour about it, but Miles was notoriously good at getting his name on other people’s stuff…
      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Adam Cole says:

    You said some things I always thought but never thought to say.

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