Skip main navigation

Playing “So What”

Playing "So What".
“So What” is the opening track on the album “Kind of Blue”. But before the tune actually starts there’s an introduction which lasts about half a minute which is a kind of tone poem really that sets up the spirit of the ensuing piece. A number of authors think that this was possibly due to Gil Evans - not Bill Evans - Gil Evans. Gil Evans was a Canadian pianist, arranger, band leader, composer and he had been working with Miles on a collaboration – an “Orchestral Jazz” collaboration - “Miles Ahead” was the first of them. He was a friend of Miles and it was thought that he was at the recording session and suggested this tone poem introduction.
Whether he did or not, I certainly don’t know, but certainly it is his sort of style. When eventually we get to the tune it’s a straightforward 32 bar sequence - AABA. The A structure’s completely in D Dorian - all the white notes. The E flat section is exactly the same as the A section - sorry, the B section’s exactly the same as the A section - but it’s in E flat Dorian, not D Dorian. E flat Dorian is … E flat major with a flattened seventh, or D flat major … rooted on E flat. So it’s all the black notes plus C and F.
It’s a “question and answer” tune and, strangely enough on the album, the questioner is the bass player. So the bass player gets to play … and the rest of the band answer it with … most people now refer to that as “So What” and the chord … is called the “So What” chord. Then that repeats - no, it’s a slightly longer phrase.
Now that repeats - the first phrase. Then a new phrase. By the way when I play this I sometimes play the first “So What” chord with a grace note - F sharp going to G - in the right hand. I didn’t notate it. Similarly, when I get to that last phrase, I often play it as … so that’s got a grace note in as well. Then that repeats. Then we get to the middle 8, which is, as I say, exactly the same thing up a semitone … and then back to A. Let’s try it with the Aebersold playalong.
A couple of warnings: first of all the Aebersold playalong is far too fast compared to the original. I’m playing mine at 75% of the Aebersold speed to get it back to the speed of the album. The other warning is, as I said, the question part of the tune is played by the bass player typically. So if you’re in a jam session and they call “So What” then find out whether the bass player wants to play the question phrase on their own.

We illustrate how to play the tune of Miles Davis’s seminal modal composition “So What”.

You can download the “So What” chart in PDF format at the bottom of this step. Click here for a playalong for “”So What””.

This article is from the free online

Learn jazz piano: Improvising on Jazz Standards

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education