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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

4 comments:

  1. tip? check out lucky chops. all brass funky band playing world cafe live soon.

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    1. Hi, John! Thanks for reading and for your comment. I hadn't heard anything about these guys before now. Just checked them out on YouTube. Not sure if I'd call this jazz, but they do seem to be having fun with it. They all seem like good players. Your recommendation is much appreciated. Thanks for sharing! -JFWD

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    1. Thanks for reading, Oliver! Hope to have some more posts up soon. Time flies. It's been a while...

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