Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Miles Davis

Don Cheadle's character study of Miles Davis in the 2016 film, "Miles Ahead" has brought the music of Miles to a new generation of fans, though the film limits itself to the non-productive years of Miles's life: the late 1970s.  He had outlived many of his creative collaborators, becoming an "icon" rather than the revolutionary innovator he had been throughout his career.   Critics disagree about the film, but nobody questions Davis's complex character or his contribution to jazz.  Every list of "best" or "most iconic" or "most ground-breaking" or "must-hear" jazz albums includes at least one by Davis.

In the 1950s Miles was one of the foremost performers of bebop.  His Quintet and Quartet recordings remain some of the definitive bebop releases.  He headlined two quintets, the first with John Coltrane on saxophone, would release iconic bebop albums.  The second, starting in 1963, included players who would be the stars of the fusion movement that combined electrified other timbres and beats with jazz improv techniques.   The movement is known for combining rock music, but also brought in Brazilian percussion and other elements.

For more on Miles Davis, check out these books from the Music Collection.

Miles Davis Quintet (with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums)  This is the original bebop quintet that defined the genre.

  • Round About Midnight:  Recorded in 1955 by the Quintet for Columbia but released in 1957.  This album is considered by many to be the essential album from Davis's original Quintet.
    Compact Disc 15862

Miles as an innovator:
  • Miles Ahead features Miles soloing on flugelhorn with a big band directed by Gil Evans.  The same collaboration would result in Sketches of Spain in 1960.
    Compact Disc 13263
  • Birth of the Cool, one of the most highly regarded jazz albums of all time.  "Hot" jazz of the 1920s was defined by up-tempo, intensely rhythmic pieces meant for dancing.  "Cool" jazz would be known for softer sounds and more languid tempos.  The album was released in 1957, but was recorded in 1949 and 1950 by a nonet consisting of Davis and other innovators of the "cool" sound including Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz.
    Compact Disc 16121

  • At Newport (issued in 1964) was recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival. Cannonball Adderley plays alto sax and Bill Evans is featured on piano
    Compact Disc 19012

  • Kind of Blue, #1 on the Village Voice's list of "Ten Jazz Albums to Hear before you die," this album features John Coltrane, Bill Evans on piano, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).
    Compact Disc 16525
  • Sketches of Spain. Davis and Gil Evans reworked classical composer Joaquin Rodrigo's guitar concerto, "Concierto de Aranjuez," as a jazz piece highlighting Davis in a soloist role with accompaniment.
  • Compact Disc 7833
    Compact Disc 4927 (1997 reissue)

Fusion Years
In 1963 Miles assembled a new Quintet, with George Coleman
on tenor sax (soon to be replaced by Wayne Shorter, later of
 Weather Report fame), Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter
on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.  Several albums include
this new combination of talent:
  • Seven Steps to Heaven, with the same group but with Victor Feldman replacing Hancock on some tracks.
    Compact Disc 19006

  • My Funny Valentine, recorded live in New York in 1964 at the same benefit concert that resulted in "Four & More"  The concert was dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy and raised money to support the Civil Rights Movement.
    Compact Disc 15596
  • Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965, Chicago) is a seven-disc set that features 10-20 minute versions of the Davis's best known  pieces from both the early days and the new group.
    Compact Disc 13227
  • Miles Smiles, with the new quintet, was recorded in 1966 and released in 1967.
    Compact Disc 18991
Read about this album's impact on jazz history:  Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, and the Invention of Post Bop, by Jeremy Yudkin
ML 419 .D39 Y83 2008

  • Nefertiti, recorded in 1967, is considered "hard bop" but hints at the future direction of the members as creators of the fusion movement.
    Compact Disc 19435
  • Bitches Brew was a ground-breaking album that paved the way for experimental cross-over groups of the 1970s "fusion" movement.
  • Compact Disc 18300
    Compact Disc 3612 (1980s reissue with updated liner notes)
  • The Cellar Door Sessions:  Recorded at The Cellar Door in Washington, DC in 1970.  With Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto Moreira. 
  • Compact Disc 18253
  • On the Corner features funky bass, electric sitar and synthesizer among other new sounds not usually associated with Jazz.  With Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette.
    Compact Disc 17959

  • Tutu is a rather experimental album, with Davis as a soloist over dubbed performers.  He won a grammy award for this album.
    Compact Disc 7883
  • Amandla pairs Davis with a variety of performers, and the result is a multi-faceted album with influences from funk, African music, and electronic composition.
    Compact Disc 19520

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