A way out of the complexities of bebop, thanks, in great part, to Miles Davis (and his friend Gil Evans), with the "title track" ("Miles") of his 1958 Milestones LP, the entirety of Kind of Blue (1959), and the 1959/1960 Miles/Evans Sketches of Spain LP. By basing a composition on a set of modes, it gave the improvisor a chance to shape his/her melodies and phrases instead of wrestling with a complex set of chord changes (John Coltrane was becoming the "Olympic wrestling champ" at the time, in his "Sheets of Sound" period) -- echoing Miles' previous use of pedal point sections in tunes, in lieu of explicitly stated changes.

The idea slowly caught hold in the jazz world, and the 60's were, in part, about expanding on the ideas expressed in Kind of Blue, with generous helpings of 1) George Russell's textbook The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (though it had roots -- and applications -- dating back to the 40's, it wasn't published, IIRC, until the early sixties), 1a) Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, 2) Coltrane's 1959 Giant Steps, a combination of modal, modal-influenced blues, and a chord sequence later to be known as "Coltrane Changes", and 3) Ornette Coleman's new-at-the-time notions of a "free jazz", which became, for many young musicians, a continuous bazaar-in-progress vis-à-vis the cathedral, audience, and industry of bop.

The "problem" with Kind of Blue was that, for the most part, the chromaticism of bop was lost; the meal was still great, but it was missing a lot of the spicyness to which one had grown accustomed. At best, you could freely, and nicely, spin fairly-diatonic melodies from the sequence of modes; at worst, you treated it -- as many older bop musicians did over the years -- as a bop tune with a severely reduced chord progression, minus the familiar resolutions through a sequence of keys, mandated by the given chord progression.

Compare Wes Montgomery's mid-60's rendition of Coltrane's 1961-penned "Impressions" with Coltrane's own; Wes virtuosically (bop-wise) spins his wheels, lost with a tune that goes, harmonically, from Point A to Point B and back, over and over, while Coltrane (and his quartet/quintet) had incorporated the aforementioned new elements, defining the modern definition of modal jazz. The torch, both for "King of Jazz" and definer-of-modal-jazz passed from Miles to Trane in the year or two after Kind of Blue -- compare, again, two different recordings: Trane's solo on the studio version of "So What" hews, as did everyone else's, to the limits of the modes (the "A to B and back" that was, in fact, the basis for "Impressions"). The next year (1960), you can hear the difference, in a live version recorded in Stockholm, as he had found a way to incorporate both the emerging polytonality of his pre-modal "sheets of sound" approach and the real polytonality of superimposing extended "Giant Steps" sequences over the modal underpinning.

0) From Bill Evans' comping on parts of Kind of Blue: the use of quartal harmony in his piano voicings, providing a more harmonically-ambiguous backdrop for the soloists. This approach became a staple of Coltrane's group, and a signature sound associated with their pianist McCoy Tyner.

1) From Russell: polytonality -- in this context, the notion of superimposing other modes on top of the implied mode(s) of the tune. By the time his book was first published, 1953, he could only anticipate polytonal jazz; his own groups, later in the decade, featuring people like Evans and Eric Dolphy among its ranks, used a programmatic sort of polytonality in the compositional approach, with soloists asked to use certain modes in certain sections....



Rewrite in progress.

I would have to say that modal jazz is just as complex as bebop, if not more. While bop solos tend to be difficult phrases over quick chord changes, good modal solos pile on layers of chords over the base chord. Having tried both, it is a lot easier to fake your way through bop changes than to put together a cogent modal solo.

This concludes my $0.02.

I would have to include Wayne Shorter's FootPrints, John Coltrane's Impressions and Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage in this list as supreme examples of landmark modal tunes. These are the kinds of tunes that everyone has played and have managed to do incredible substitutions on, as well as mode shifts and lend themselves to spectacular heights of musical expression. There is so much you can do with a modal tune it's astounding.

I'm really surprised to see Giant Steps in that list, however. That tune is a landmark in its own right as it manages to move through ton of key centres in bullet time. Personally, i wouldn't mark it as modal whatsoever. This was where Trane really made his mark on the world, inventing the "Trane style" whose idea is to move through all of those different centres coherently.

Modal tunes tend to be simplistic in their ideas, placing a lot more work on the musician to actually create a spontaneous idea that is cohesive, thoughtful and musical. In a way, they are much more difficult in that the band has to actually listen to each other in order to create music. You're much more vulnerable to the listener when playing a modal tune. They aren't just listening for right notes, but are listening for notes that are played in a line that is interesting enough to make them sit back and smile.

In the great words of Brandford Marsalis (egotistical bonehead that he is), "The music tells you" what is available. And that goes for a modal tune just as much as it goes for Giant Steps or I've got rhythm. It's one of the only things that Branford ever said that I truly agree with -- pop culture as it is. But in a modal tune you really have to listen to what it's telling you because the subject matter is simple. You're not paraphrasing the dictionary (like you might be in Giant Steps) but trying to make a great novel using nothing but a Bank's advertising pamphlet.

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