Stories of Standards: "So What"

Aug 28, 2017

Tune in to "Jazz with Victor Cooper" - weekdays from 6-9 a.m. MT - for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long!

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The best-selling jazz record of all time, “Kind of Blue” (“So What” is the opening track) still sells 5,000 copies per week.

Here’s a deep dive into the musical pedigree of the iconic song.  Miles Davis wrote “So What” (1959) in the modern Dorian mode (example: D Dorian - white keys of the piano from treble clef D above middle C to D). Noted authors on jazz theory Lawn and Hellmer describe the Dorian usage in “So What” as an “AABA form with the ‘A’ sections in D Dorian and the ‘B’ section in E♭ Dorian”. Here Davis brought together views of modality ranging from late-19th/early 20th-century classical music to George Russell’s “Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization” and the scale-based non-chordal Indian classical music into an extension of cool.

Miles Davis (1926-1991) led a life of constant creativity, from cool to hard bop and beyond. While his playing style was always melodic and introspective, he led the way in innovations and stylistic changes from the 1940s through the 1990s.  While his quintet of the 1960s is still regarded as one of the most influential jazz bands ever, he was not a fan of nostalgia. “I don’t want you to like me because of Kind of Blue,” he insisted. “Like me for what we’re doing now.”

Miles Davis