1959 april

Don Hunstein
Miles Davis & John Coltrane, NYC, 1959
In 1959, trumpeter/band leader/composer Miles Davis assembled a sextet of legendary players, Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Bill Evans (piano) (Wynton Kelly plays piano on “Freddie Freeloader”) to create “Kind of Blue,” a sublime atmospheric masterpiece which continues to transport listeners a half century since its release. These photographs of Miles and Trane in the studio were snapped during the April 1959 session that yielded “All Blues” and “Flamenco Sketches.” D.H.
Photographs: Black and White Type: Archival Digital Print


February 16th 1959: Fidel Castro becomes Prime Minister

On this day in 1959, Fidel Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. Born to a wealthy Cuban family in 1926, Castro attended university in Havana. In 1952, he witnessed the overthrow of the government by the forces of General Batista, leading Castro to call for full-scale revolution. After serving some time in prison for an attempted uprising against the dictatorial Batista, Castro fled to Mexico where he met Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara. In 1956, Castro and Guevara began a guerrilla war against the U.S.-backed government, which was ultimately successful and caused Batista to flee in early 1959. Upon becoming Prime Minister, Castro inaugurated a Marxist-Leninist plan for Cuba, which caused some conservative Cubans to emigrate to the United States. Though initially trying to establish normalised relations with the United States - which included Castro meeting with Vice President Richard Nixon in April 1959 - tensions soon escalated between the two nations. In 1960, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Cuba, and in 1961 the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion occurred, in which CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles launched an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba. The U.S. distrusted Castro’s communist leanings and feared an alliance between Cuba and the Soviet Union - America’s Cold War rival. This fear appeared well founded, as in 1962 the U.S. discovered that Castro had secretly allowed the Soviets to plant missiles in Cuba. This led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where tensions over the missiles escalated to a point where many thought nuclear war was imminent. Castro became President in 1976, though his leadership was controversial, for while he ruled dictatorially and repressively, he was generally popular among Cubans for his education and healthcare programmes. Castro stood down in 2008, and was succeeded by his brother Raúl. Last year saw a momentous normalisation of U.S.-Cuba relations, ending a fifty year trade embargo and establishing diplomatic relations.


Miles Davis in his own television special The Sound of Miles Davis, which aired April 9, 1959 on CBS. It was directed by Jack Smight, who also directed the iconic television special The Sound of Jazz, which premiered two years earlier in 1957.

Davis featured songs from his upcoming album Kind of Blue, which was slated to be released in August of that year. It would go on to be the best-selling jazz album in history, being certified quadruple platinum in 2008. It is regarded by critics to be the greatest jazz album of all time and made it to #12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest 500 albums of all time.

The television special featured Davis’quintet which included John Coltrane, Jimmy Cobb and Wynton Kelly and arranger Gil Evans and his orchestra. Davis and Evans previously collaborated on the critically acclaimed albums Birth of the Cool, recorded between 1949 and 1950, Miles Ahead in 1957, and Porgy and Bess in 1958. They would both go on to record two more critically acclaimed albums with Sketches of Spain in 1960 and Quiet Nights in 1964.


Kind of Blue was released on 17 August 1959.

Produced by Teo Macero and Irving Townsend, and recorded in 2 sessions (2 March and 22 April 1959), with almost no rehearsals and little preparation (Davis provided each musician scales and melody lines he wanted them to improvise from), Davis and his quintet created what has been called not only “jazz’s greatest record,” but one of the greatest albums of all time.

1. So What
2. Freddie Freeloader
3. Blue in Green
1. All Blues
2. Flamenco Sketches

Miles Davis - trumpet
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley - alto saxophone
Paul Chambers - bass
Jimmy Cobb - drums
John Coltrane - tenor saxophone
Bill Evans - piano
Wynton Kelly - piano on “Freddie Freeloader”