So What
Miles Davis

date: 1958
style: modal jazz
form: 32-bar AABA

personnel:

Miles Davis, trumpet; John Coltrane, tenor sax; Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

What to Listen For:

Introduction

0:00
The bass ascends, prompting a two-note response from the piano: this prefigures, in slow tempo, the main head (see 0:33). The chords drift ambivalently, fitting no particular key area.

0:13
The piano and bass play a melody together.

0:20
Over plucked bass notes, the pianist plays a series of elusive, rubato chords.

0:30
The bass rumbles in its lowest register.

Chorus One (head)

A
0:34
In a steady tempo, the bass plays a repetitive riff. It is answered by a two-note chord from the piano, supported by the drums: "So what!"

A
0:48
When the A section is repeated, the response is now voiced by the three wind instruments. The drums intensify, playing the backbeat on the high-hat cymbal.

B
1:02
In a subtle but noticeable change, the pattern is transposed a half-step higher.

A
1:16
Everything drops back down again to the original key.

1:29
The trumpet enters one bar early, his entry announced by fills from the drums.

Chorus Two

A
1:30
Miles Davis plays a few short phrases, the pianist comping in response.

1:36
Davis follows with a longer phrase: the piano is silent.

1:38
As Davis's melodic line reaches its peak, he pulls slightly behind the beat.

A
1:42
Davis plays a few repeated notes; the piano returns.

B
1:57
To signal the bridge, the piano moves to a chord cluster up a half step. He holds the dissonant cluster underneath Davis's solo.

A
2:11
The shift downward to the original key is signaled by a sharp drum accent.

Chorus Three

A
2:25
Davis plays a lyrical, sustained passage over a static but rhythmically active bass line.

A
2:43
The bass shifts back to a walking bass pattern.

B
2:52
Davis enters the bridge one beat early with an unexpected dissonance.

A
3:06
Another drum crash marks the return back to the original key; Davis reprises the lyrical passage from the beginning of the chorus.

3:17
At the peak of his last phrase, Davis plays with a bluesy timbre.

Chorus Four

A
3:20
While the drums continue to play strong accents to round up Davis's solo, Coltrane echoes Davis's restrained melodic statements with a few of his own.

A
3:34
Suddenly, Coltrane switches to a more intense style of improvising with flurries of fast notes. Evans responds with a peculiar comping pattern: holding out a few notes, releasing others.

B
3:47
The drummer plays more actively on the snare drum, matching the soloist in intensity.

3:57
As Coltrane reaches the upper limits of his phrase, his timbre coarsens.

A
4:00
Coltrane plays a phrase in his lower register, repeating it with extensions.

4:12
The drummer plays a Latin polyrhythm.

Chorus Five

A
4:14
As in chorus three, the bass moves to a repeating pattern.

A
4:28
The bass returns to a walking bass pattern.

4:35
Coltrane plays a motive, then repeats it in sequence (starting on a different pitch).

B
4:41
Coltrane's improvisations are built around a single note.

A
4:55
His last phrase begins in his highest register.

Chorus Six

A
5:08
The rhythm section quiets down to allow the new soloist, on alto saxophone, to enter.

5:08

A
5:21
Adderley alternates brief motives with lengthy, bebop-style 16th-note runs.

5:33
Adderley signals the bridge two beats early by playing notes from the upcoming scale.

B
5:35

5:46
Adderley bridges the return to the original mode by playing a short, four-note motive in sequence.

A
5:48

Chorus Seven

A
6:02
Adderley's phrases interact in call-and-response with the piano.

6:02

6:09
His next phrase contains a trill that blends seamlessly into his faster bebop lines.

A
6:15
A simple phrase situated firmly on the beat is followed by a sensuous swirl.

B
6:29
On the bridge, Adderley suddenly plays with an intense bluesy edge.

6:35
Underneath him, Evans hits his chords quickly, sustaining only a single note.

A
6:42
A short bluesy phrase elicits a high-pitched piano chord.

6:51
On his last phrase, Adderley expressively bends a note.

Chorus Eight

A
6:56
The horns enter with the "So What" riff, now displaced into a new rhythmic position. In response, the pianist plays dense, dissonant chords.

A
7:09
The pianist plays single-note lines, recalling Davis's lyrical phrases.

B
7:23
On the bridge, the pianist returns to short, dissonant chord clusters.

A
7:37
Back in the home key, the pianist plays thinner clusters: a melody harmonized by the note immediately below it.

Chorus Nine (head)

A
7:51
The pianist shifts the "So What" riff back to its original position. The bass continues to walk.

A
8:04
The bass plays the call, with the horns joining the piano in responding with the "So What" chords.

B
8:18

A
8:32

Coda

8:45
The piano continues to respond to the bass, while the other instruments drop out. The music fades into silence.

Copyright W.W. Norton