Trumpeter Miles Davis’ “All Blues” was recorded on April, 22, 1959, during the second session of his Kind of Blue album, still one of the best-selling jazz albums of all times. In fact Eric Nisenson devoted an entire book to its creation: The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece.
Pianist Bill Evans, who had influenced Davis’ interest in classical music and the use of modes, was instrumental in developing the concept of the album. Evans left Davis’ group in 1958 and was replaced by Wynton Kelly; however, he returned for the Kind of Blue session. The more deeply blues-oriented Kelly played on only one cut, “Freddie Freeloader,” during the March session and was not present during the second session in April.
In order to capture the spontaneity of the sessions, Davis did not write out the compositions, bringing in only harmonic sketches for his sextet which included Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
NPR’s Jazz Profiles web site further describes the composition: “For the tune ‘All Blues’ Miles again played with the simplest of elements. He took a standard 4/4 time blues and gave it a waltz feel in 6/8. Evans said this was again part of Davis’ genius--creating a simple figure that becomes much more.”
In Miles: The Autobiography by Miles with Quincy Troupe, Davis says that he was influenced by the dancers, drummers, and a finger piano player with the Ballet Africaine and was trying to bring that feeling to Kind of Blue. “I didn’t write out the music for Kind of Blue, but brought in sketches for what everybody was supposed to play because I wanted a lot of spontaneity in the playing just like I thought was in the interplay between those dancers and those drummers and that finger piano player with the Ballet Africaine. ....When I tell people that I missed what I was trying to do on Kind of Blue, that I missed getting the exact sound of the African finger piano up in that sound, they just look at me like I’m crazy....But that’s what I was trying to do on most of that album, particularly on ‘All Blues’ and ‘So What.’ I just missed.”
Gary Giddins in Visions of Jazz: The First Century says, “The dark flowing introspection of Kind of Blue...is so accessible few people recognized the album as the insurrection it was. He remodeled the blues in ‘Freddie Freeloader’ and ‘All Blues,’ introduced modulating tempos in ‘Blue and Green,’ supplanted chords with modes while retaining the AABA song format in ‘So What,’ and improvised form itself in ‘Flamenco Sketches.’”
In 1965 Davis revisited “All Blues,” recording an up tempo version with his energetic young quintet which included saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams for his Live at the Plugged Nickel album.
Several vocalists, including Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ernestine Anderson, and most recently Mark Murphy (2004) and Judy Niemack (2007), have performed the song with the Oscar Brown, Jr. lyric which cleverly fits the repetitive mood of the tune: “The sea, the sky, and you and I, sea and sky and you and I, we’re all blues, all shades, all hues, all blues.”
In addition to earlier recordings of “All Blues” by such jazz stalwarts as Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Tal Farlow, Bill Mays, Freddie Hubbard, and Al Grey, many artists have recorded the tune since 2000: the gospel group Take Six (2000); guitarist Mimi Fox and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc (2001); saxophonists Donald Harrison (2002) and Frank Morgan (2004); pianist Marian McPartland (2005); drummer/vocalist Grady Tate and pianist Milcho Leviev (2006); and in 2007 saxophonist Harry Allen, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and pianist Marc Copland.