Miles Davis' 1969 In A Silent Way album comprises two extended songs, each just under 20 minutes in length. This, the second of the pair, is made up of two pieces: "In a Silent Way," an atmospheric work penned by Austrian keyboardist Josef Zawinul, who recorded with Miles Davis during 1968-1970, and "It's About That Time," a louder and more energetic track written by Miles Davis.
"In a Silent Way" was titled at the suggestion of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley when the two were in the same band. According to an interview with Mojo magazine, Zawinul played it at a soundcheck, and Adderley said, 'Oh, man, that's so beautiful, it sounds like 'In A Silent Way.'"
There was some conflict going on as Nat's older brother, the alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, who was the band leader, wished to use the piece for his own recording. However, Zawinul refused as he'd given Davis his word that he could use it.
The song features an extended solo by John McLaughlin. The English guitarist had been a longtime fan of Davis, and was nervous about the prospect of recording with his idol. He recalled to Mojo magazine: "Miles didn't like the way Joe Zawinul's original tune was going, so he asked me to play it on the guitar - even though I only had a piano score.
Sweat was pouring off me. Of course the famous thing he told me next was, so play it like you don't know how to play the guitar... I have no idea what he meant, but in that situation it's kind of do or die, so I closed the score and just played it in E - no tempo, no chords, no nothing, but the others followed me, and that performance is the one that's on the record."