GCSE Music Area of Study 3 - Miles Davis: 'All Blues' from Kind of Blue

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 3: Popular Music in Context

  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 05-05-12 12:10

Origins of Jazz - Ragtime

  • Piano became increasingly popular in American homes in the early 20th century
  • Ragtime offered an exciting way of making the piano sound like a full ensemble on its own, with the strict, on-the-beat rhythm in the left hand jumping from low bass notes to mid-range chords working alongside the syncopated melody lines played higher up in the register by the right hand
  • Scott Joplin (1868-1917) is probably the most famous and popular of all the ragtime composers, his works include Maple Leaf Rag (1897) and The entertainer (1902)
  • Popularity of ragtime prepared the ground for the coming of New Orleans Jazz
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Origins of Jazz - New Orleans

  • New Orleans, thriving trade centre in early 1800s when steamboats were the main way to transport goods, this brought many different people from different cultures through the city
  • African slaves brought their own style of music, including rhythmic, pentatonic music and work songs developed while in slavery. African-American people soaked up the music around them, including the hymn songs they were taught
  • Fusion of the pentatonic scales of Africa and the seven-note Western scales produced a performance technique where the performer would 'bend' a note that was just in between (blue notes)
  • Singers would lament their poor situation in life in the songs they sang, giving the music its title - the blues
  • Blues include elements of call and response, improvisation, using musical instruments that were easily available or could be made from objects to hand, had a strong rhythmic content and was part of the social life of the people who performed it
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Miles Dewey Davis (1926-1991)

  • Born in Illinois in 1926 to a wealthy family
  • Had a number of trumpet teachers, but the one he felt he learned the most from was a jazz trumpeter called Elwood Buchanan who introduced him to a variety of jazz music
  • Parker took him on as a sideman and recorded some songs for the Dial record label. Parker was only a few years older than Davis, but acted like a father figure or mentor, introducing him to many of the big names of the time and helping him to develop his talents
  • In 1948, he left Parker's band to form his own ensemble
  • Began to look for a new way of playing jazz, feeling there was more to be found in the music than the bebop 'quest for speed'
  • Struggled with addiction, negatively affecting his musical output
  • In 1955 he put together a new ensemble featuring some of the top musicians of the time and eventually became the ensemble he used for the recording of Kind of Blue
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Kind of Blue - Background

  • The musicians worked very well together 
  • Adderley and Coltrane pushed each other to new heights in their soloing with Davis's more laid back, 'less is more' approach balancing out their flashy, many-note extravaganzas 
  • Bill Evans' understated piano style was perfectly suited to the sound Davis wanted to achieve in this album, providing the perfect chordal backing to the soloists' explorations 
  • Davis wanted to explore the concept of modal jazz as he felt that jazz was becoming too dependent on complex chord sequences, with soloists restricted to 'playing over the changes', even in a 32-bar structure, the soloist played over the changes for 32-bars and then had to go back and do it again with variations. If the soloist was freed from the restriction of sticking to the chords by giving them a scale or mode to use, more or less ignoring the changes underneath, he felt this would lead to longer, freer improvisations. The result is that modal jazz songs are significantly longer than the shorter songs of bebop and cool jazz, suiting Coltrane's love of extended soloing. 
  • The album was recorded in three 3-hour sessions in 1959 in New York.
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Line-up for the album Kind of Blue

  • Miles Davis: trumpet
  • Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley: alto sax
  • John Coltrane: tenor sax
  • Bill Evans: piano
  • Paul Chambers: bass
  • Jimmy Cobb: drums
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12-bar Blues Sequence

'All Blues' is based around a repeated 12-bar blues sequence with a four-bar linking riff in between each section. The main melody (the head) and the solos are all played over the 12-bar sequence (the changes). The 12-bar sequence is repeated 19 times in total. Altered chords used.

Bar 1                        2                        3                        4

G7                           G7                     G7                     G7 

5                                6                        7                        8 

C7                           C7                      G7                     G7

9                              10                      11                      12 

D7♯9                E♭7♯9 D7♯9           G7                     G7

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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure


  • Piece begins with drums (played with brushes), bass playing riff 1 and piano playing a trill in thirds (A-G and E-F♮). 
  • Trill causes dissonance 
  • Riff 1 is played by the bass almost throughout the whole piece 
  • Time signature is 6/4 with a tempo of 156 crochet bpm. Although it may seem rather fast, the bar feels like it is split into two slow beats (two dotted minims) 
  • At bar 5, alto and tenor saxophones join in with a harmonized riff (riff 2) 
  • All parts are played quietly with a rather breathy tone in the saxes
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Head 1

  • Davis plays main melody for the first time 
  • Trumpet is muted and has the distinctive Davis 'vulnerable' tone 
  • Melody based on a simple motif - leap of a major sixth, with the long high note slightly ornamented (adding a mordent), rest of the melody made up of stepwise movement 
  • Over the C7 chord the sax parts are more legato than the slightly chopped phrasing over the G7 chord 
  • Altered chords D7♯9 and E♭7♯9 are highlighted by a change in texture and the bell-like piano chords replace the trill 

Section - Head Link 

  • Link section punctuates whole piece - breaks up what would otherwise be 19 straight repetitions of the 12-bar sequence 
  • Section same as bars 5-8 of intro
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Head 2 

  • Same as Head 1, but melody developed slightly 

Section - Head Link 

  • Piano trill drops out (dramatic effect on texture), Evans switches to riff 2
  • Ride cymbal introduced with subtle hits before playing major role in solos

Section - Solos: Davis 

  • First solo focuses on band leader, other two frontline instruments dropping out to emphasize this. Davis removed mute to allow for tone to come through clearer 
  • Four choruses (four repeats of the 12-bar sequence). No link between repeats - choruses are played back to back 
  • Solo, modal - improvises over changes using G mixolydian mode over G7 chords and C mixolydian over C7 chords, diminished scale over altered chords
  • Evans (piano) comps chords underneath solo based on riff 2 
  • Cobb keeps time on ride cymbal with flourishes and highly syncopated
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Solos: Link 

  • Davis drops out (almost reluctantly), handing spotlight to Adderley 
  • Music same as link before, but without two saxophones
  • Each link seems to be anticipating the solo to come, sounding quite eager to hear what the new soloist can do 

Section - Solos: Adderley 

  • Four choruses, solo more angular, including more leaps and shorter phrases, more chromatic notes 
  • Rhythmic quality, placing strong accents on beats 
  • Thick tone, making alto sax sound more like tenor sax than Coltrane's tenor 
  • Few technically difficult bursts of fast notes thrown in 

Section - Solos: Link 

  • Similar to previous link, Adderley drops out
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Solos: Coltrane 

  • Tone very different to Adderley's, with almost no vibrato (or adding it late on in the note) compared to Adderley's wide vibrato 
  • Four choruses, first chorus quite simple, with some ideas exploring the mode
  • Second chorus, plays three- and four-note, short ideas and develops them using sequence and clever rhythmic development 
  • Third and fourth choruses successfully combine blindingly fast passages with long, sustained phrases. Phrases different lengths, come in at different places in the bar, giving solo the impression of being as natural as speech 

Section - Solos: Link 

  • Coltrane drops out, leaving spotlight for Evans 
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Solos: Evans 

  • Continues comping in the left hand, but becomes slightly more intricate 
  • Two choruses; first chorus right hand plays melody line, very much like a frontline instrument, second chorus combines two hands into a chord-based solo, with some alternate motion in bars 213 and 215 to add some variation 
  • Uses fairly limited range of notes around the middle of the piano in typically understated fashion, slipping seamlessly into the link 

Section - Solos: Link 

  • Evans starts with chords of riff 2, but drops back into trill idea after two bars
  • Two saxes begin playing harmonized riff again 
  • Cobb fades the ride cymbal down considerably 

Section - Head 3 

  • Same as Head 1, melody slightly developed. Trumpet played with mute
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'All Blues' from Kind of Blue - Structure (cont.)

Section - Head Link 

  • Saxes continue to play through link, along with piano trill 

Section - Head 4 

  • Further minor developments of melody 

Section - Head Link 

  • Drums back down quite a lot, contributing to an overall drop in volume 


  • Final (nineteenth) repeat of 12-bar pattern with Davis playing short solo, mostly on tonic note of G over riff 2 in the saxes and piano trill 
  • Song fades out towards the end of final chorus
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Thank you so much! I have to write a 10 mark question for homework about this piece and was completely stuck until I came across this! Thank you!




Samuel Richardson


Some excellent detailed background and analysis on 'All Blues' by Miles Davis is included in these revision cards - an all round resource full of essential information. 

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