This jazz standard is the first tune on Miles Davis’ classic record, “Kind of Blue.” It’s the top jazz album of all time as measured by sales. It’s sold over 20 million copies, and still sells about 5,000 copies a week. And it was recorded in 1959. You should listen to it. A lot. It’s one of the most important jazz albums in existence, perhaps the most important. It even made Rolling Stone’s list of top albums (at #12 all-time). Rolling Stone can hardly be known for paying attention to jazz, and so it’s an amazing testament to Miles’ album that it would rank at all. Especially at #12.
Bill Evans starts this tune out with a nice intro on this tune, but in practice most groups don’t play it exactly like the record. That would be an interesting thing to do, since most groups don’t seem to go to that effort. The bass player plays the melody of this tune. So What has the same changes as John Coltrane’s tune “Impressions,” the latter having a faster tempo and melody. It makes sense that Coltrane would steal the changes for his own tune, having cut his teeth in Miles’ band and performing So what regularly.
This is perhaps the first recorded example of modal jazz. It has very few chord changes. It’s an AABA form, using Dorian minor harmony. The B section is a half-step up from the A section. Most pianists and guitarists, including Bill Evans, like to use diatonic fourth chords when comping. For example, DGCFA up to EADGB up to FBEAC is a nice progression on the D-7 using diatonic fourth stacks with a third on top. Play around with it, and LISTEN! Even non-guitarists and non-pianists should experiment with this idea on the piano to help understand this idiomatic harmonic movement even when the chord doesn’t change.
I’m including both choruses of Miles Davis’ solo on this post. I hope you enjoy! Learn to play along with the recording, which is also posted.
Miles So What Solo Transcription (pdf)