Fifty Years Ago Today: "Freddie Freeloader" and the Start of "Kind of Blue"
Musicians arrived at Columbia 30th Street Studios in New York fifty years ago today to begin working on the new Miles Davis album. Present that day were saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Kelly would record just one tune that day, before leaving and being replaced by Bill Evans.
What was missing that day were lead sheets or anything substantive as to what they would play. As Bill Evans wrote in the album's liner notes, Miles only supplied sketches of scales and melody lines to improvise, along with verbal cues.
The album would be Kind of Blue, and the tune in question is Freddie Freeloader.
Why did Wynton Kelly only play on that one track? Kelly had been behind the ivories when the Davis sextet played at Birdland in January, having ironically succeeded Evans in that spot. Kelly, a noted blues performer, was Davis' pick for the tune, probably due to his abilities on such material - Freddie Freeloader" is a 12 bar blues. A veteran of Hank Mobley and Billie Holiday sessions, Kelly was clearly the man for the job. The remaining material recorded that day - So What" and Blue in Green" - are far more modal in their structure,and called for a different touch.
Kelly would go on to record a number of fine albums with Chambers and Cobb under the name The Wynton Kelly Trio. The three joined guitarist Wes Montgomery for some of his most up tempo sessions.
And just who was Freddie Freeloader?" Most believe the song gets its name from a hanger-on named Freddie who would constantly try to sneak into Davis' gigs without paying. Others say it's a nod to Red Skelton's television character Freddie the Freeloader," but I find it highly unlikely that Davis would have memorialized that role in a song title.