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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Miles Davis Is Not My Favorite Trumpet Player

To call Miles Davis a trumpet player is almost insulting. Yes. He played the trumpet. The sound of his horn is one of the most beautiful sounds my ears have ever heard. The trumpet was much more than an instrument. It was his voice. It's always in my head. "Trumpet player" just doesn't come anywhere close to defining him. He was one of the most influentual driving forces in music in the latter half of the 20th century. He was an alchemist. No one could put a band together like Miles. He never stopped moving forward, and he never looked back, except for 1 time, which was right before he died. I can't say I blame him. If Gil Evans wrote arrangements for me, I'd want to go back and play them again one more time before my time was up too. That's a no brainer.

Around the time of Miles' death, there seemed to be quite a few jazz legends that passed about the same time.  There was Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Woody Shaw, and a few others as I recall.  We actually got the entire jazz department together at William Paterson to have a listening party. Don't get me wrong. I loved all of these great musicians, but none of their deaths hit me quite as hard as Miles. It felt like for a week or more after I heard the news, that the world had ended.

When I listen to these recordings, it's like home to my ears. Something about these recordings always sounds brand new to me, and I'm still learning from each and every one of them. If you have to pick only 10 Miles Davis records to own, this is my personal list of what I think you'll need.

Kind Of Blue, 1958

OK. Let's just get this one out of the way first. Please tell me that you already own this. Kind of Blue is still to this day, the number 1 best selling jazz album of all time. There have been thousands of reviews of this record, multiple re-releases, remasters, box sets, anniversary editions. I'm not going to get overly long winded trying to reinvent the wheel with another review here. This record is about stretching out. It's about freedom. This isn't easy listening, but it is easy to listen to, at least on the surface. This might seem like a great recording to put on in the background during a dinner party. Don't do that. Try putting it on, telling everyone around to be quiet, and actually listen to it. This album changed everything. It was groundbreaking. Dig deeper, and you'll get it. I will be listening to this one until the day I die, and it will always have something to teach me.

Seven Steps To Heaven, 1963

This record is about transition. Miles has 2 different lineup's of musicians on this studio session. He had been searching for the right personnel for a while at this point. His "first great quintet" as the critics refer to is, had been disbanded for a few years at this point. His "second great quintet", minus Wayne shorter was introduced here on this recording. Wait until you hear what these guys can do. They're going to turn everything inside out over the next few years. Miles would go on to release 6 or more live recordings with this lineup before going back into the studio, only replacing the saxophone spot until finally stealing Wayne Shorter from Art Blakey's band.

Listening to this record requires shifting gears a couple times, as the personnel pretty much alternates from old to new on each track. Although this isn't what I would call Miles' most cohesive album, it's important because it shows the beginning of what he would accomplish over the next 5 years.

Milestones, 1958

This is the first great quintet, with the addition of Cannonball Adderly on alto saxophone. Milestones isn't revolutionary by any means, but everyone just plays their asses off on this recording. Miles doesn't even take a solo on every song, and there's even a piano trio only track, Billy Boy, which is just delightful. Great arrangements and great playing all around. There is just a hint of what's to come of Miles' "modal" period, which is fully explored on Kind of Blue. You know what? I don't like that whole "modal jazz" term. I prefer "melodic". Without all of the complicated chord changes, you can really get a sense of what these guys are all about. Anyone can learn a few licks to navigate through some standard chord changes. Take that away, and it's like being naked. You got something to say? Nothing in the way? Let's see what you got now.

The next 5 records, I'll admit is kind of cheating. These are from Miles' "Prestige Records era", and feature the 1st great quintet in all of their glory. These were all recorded between 1955-1956, and there were a few recordings that were released inbetween. All were recorded by the great Rudy Van Gelder, who recorded pretty much everything on the Prestige and Blue Note labels in the 50's and 60's. More recently, he's gone back and remastered most of these recordings with state of the art recording equipment, so these sound better than ever.

Let me know if you can pick a favorite among them. I love them all equally. I wore out my cassette tape versions of these long ago.

Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet, 1955

Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1956

Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1956

Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1956

Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1956

Sorcerer, 1967

It's difficult to pick just 1 recording from the 2nd great quintet era. Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams played together like they all shared the same brain. If you listen to some of the live recordings from this group, it's scary how much they take the music apart and put it back together again. The reason for this pick? Track #7: Nothing Like You. This track was recorded back in 1962, when Columbia Records had the great idea of making a Christmas album. I would have loved to have been in the room to see Miles' reaction to selling out like this. It's not so bad. Gil Evans did the arrangements for this track, as well as Blue Christmas, which was released on the aforementioned holiday record. Featured on vocals, none other than Bob Dorough. That's right. The Schoolhouse Rock guy. Obviously, this track was just thrown in because... who the hell knows. They already recorded it, and they needed a filler. If you're listening to the entire album, it's so out of place, but it's a fun little break for your ears at the end of the album. (It was originally the last track on the album before they reissued it with alternate takes/bonus tracks.)

Miles Ahead, 1957

I'm not going to even bother saying "last, but not least" for this one.  When it comes to Miles Davis, there is no last album that you can listen to that gets you anywhere near the point of being done.  This is Miles playing in a large group setting, with arrangements by Gil Evans.  The 2 of them would do a few projects together, and like I said earlier in this post, this is the only music that Miles revisited later in his career.  The arrangements are nothing short of stellar, and Miles is just singing over top of the other 19 musicians.

This is the first project Miles and Gil Evans did together.  Unlike the others, there wasn't any real theme to the album, other than featuring Miles in front of a large ensemble.  Don't confuse this with a big band.  Not the same thing.  This isn't music for some dance hall.  This is sit down and listen music.

So, what are you waiting for?  Sit down.  Listen.

Thanks for reading!  -JFWD

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Debunking Wine Gizmos

There's pretty much only 3 things you need to enjoy a good glass of wine.  Granted, there's all of these high tech, newfangled, Sharper Image, Brookstone type gadgets that claim to do all sorts of wonderful things.  I can personally guarantee you that pretty much all of them are useless.  I'd like to take this opportunity to make sure that all of you know the essentials, and what you shouldn't waste your money buying.

The essentials:

Double hinged waiter's corkscrew


You've probably seen one of these.  Millions of waiters and sommeliers worldwide manage to open plenty of bottles successfully with these.  There's a knife blade for cutting through the top of the capsule.  You know, that piece of foil that is wrapped over the top of the bottle.  I bet most of you don't even know what it's used for.  It's simple.  1.  It's decorative.  2.  It keeps the dust off of the top of the cork.  I don't even have the patience to watch someone do this.  I just grab the bottle, yank off the capsule, and pull out the cork.  No time for fancy schmancy around here.  Give me the wine!  Feel free to use the provided link to Amazon if you need to get one of these for less than $3.  It's the only wine opener you'll ever need.  I have dozens of them, as I keep getting free ones from my sales reps.  I even keep a couple in my glove compartment.  You never know when you'll need one.

There are all kinds of crazy different types of wine openers.  There are some that will attach to your countertop, some that are battery operated or rechargeable, some that use little gas cartridges to suck the cork out of the bottle.  There's the classic "winged" corkscrew, that my wife insists on using.  This one is the worst!  More often than not, the screw has too large a thread, or is just a big spike with a spiral going around it.  You'll wind up breaking more corks in half with this one than with any other type of wine opener.  Most people that use these wind up sticking the screw right through the foil capsule and pulling the cork right through it.  Appaling.  If you're going to drink wine, please take 5 minutes out of your life and have someone that knows what they're doing show you how to use a waiter's corkscrew so you don't embarass yourself.

Can't handle the pressure?  Don't worry.  Screw caps are cool.

Wine glasses


I am a firm believer in using proper glassware, or better yet, high quality crystal stemware.  There are different styles of glasses for all types of wines, designed to capture the nose of the wine, or even to place the wine on a different part of your tongue.  That's great.  I don't know about you, but I really don't have time for this either.  Most of the bottles I drink are $20 or less.  As long as it's clean, and I have enough room in the glass to swirl it around a bit, I'm pretty satisfied with something relatively basic.  Stems or stemless?  Depends on my mood, I guess.  I have both, and I honestly don't believe that it makes a difference one way or another.  Some of my sales reps have stemless polycarbonate wine glasses that they bring with them for tasting.  Meh.  The polycarbonate material won't make the wine taste funny, but they will melt in the dishwasher, even on the top shelf.

Some people swear that you shouldn't wash wine glasses in the dishwasher, or even use soap.  Agreed.  Soap can leave a residue.  I like to handwash with just a little bit of dish soap, in very hot water, and rinse thoroughly.  Nothing worse than finding lipstick on the rim of a glass when you pull it out of the cabinet, especially if it's not your wife's color.  I suppose that if my wine budget were to go up significantly, I might get nicer glasses too.  In the meantime, basic will do nicely.


I had this exact one in the picture, until I broke it.  My wife found another one for me at a yard sale a couple years ago, and it's pretty heavy duty lead crystal.  It weighs about the same as a bowling ball, so I hope I never drop it on my foot.

In any case, this is not an essential accessory, but it can help if you have older bottles of wine that may have sediment, or younger wines that will need to "open up" or breathe before you dive in to drinking them.  The idea is that since the decanter has a wide base.  This increases the surface area of the wine that is exposed to air, therefore allowing the tannins to break down more quickly than just opening the bottle for a while, or even swirling in the glass.

As far as sediment goes, wine bottles are designed for that already.  "Bordeaux" bottles have those shoulders for a reason.  That reason is to catch sediment as your pouring.  Same deal as the ridges on the inside of the punt or "kick up" on the bottom of the bottle.  Some people will argue that the punt on any bottle is just a leftover from a long time ago when bottles were blown by hand.  It is NOT a thumb hole for all of you pretentious sommeliers out there that insist on holding a bottle by the punt while pouring at a fancy event.  I've seen so many of you drop the bottle, and I can assure you, the sight of that,  it's just priceless.

Burgundy style bottles with the sloped shoulders are typically used for wines that are already filtered, or don't contain much sediment to begin with.  Makes sense.  I actually like getting a bit of sediment in my wine glass.  It's just grape must and dead yeast cells.  It can't hurt you.

I have used my decanter on occasions when I feel that a particular wine needed it, but I always pour a small sip of the wine first, right out of the bottle, just to see what's going on.  This will usually tell me whether or not I should decant it, and for how long.  I don't know if any of you reading this have picked up on the fact that I'm a bit impatient.  I'm not impatient.  I'm efficient.  Decanting is usually for a more special wine, on a more special occasion, and can take anywhere from 30-40 minutes to achieve desired results.  My dinner's getting cold by then.  I most often like to drink a bottle immediately after opening it over the course of an hour, and see how it evolves.  Besides, If I bust out my decanter, I'm going to have to wash it.

Of course, there are all kinds of other wine realted accoutrements available.  There are wine aerators, and special pourers that claim to oxygenate your wine by the glass.  They do make a funny noise, but that's about it.  Oxygenating a wine is a chemical process that simply takes time.  Pouring wine through a little plastic doohickie doesn't do a thing except waste your money and give you 1 more thing to wash at the end of the evening.  There is another device that a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page, that claims to remove sulfites from your wine.  Seriously?  This thing cost about $120.  That's about a case worth of wine for Mrs. JazzFoodWineDude's rack.  Guess what.  Every bottle of wine I bring home is small production, organic, biodyamic, or sustainably produced, and for the most part, no additional sulfites are added.  Bottom line, even if this thing works, we don't need one.  Stop buying bad wine, and you won't need one either.

Happy Wine Wednesday, everyone, and cheers!  -JFWD