He was not from the poor sided of town, but from relative affluence; his father was a dentist and a year after Miles Dewey Davis III was born in May 1926, in Alton, Illinois the family moved to East St Louis. For his thirteenth birthday Miles was given a trumpet and lessons with a local jazz musician named Elwood Buchanan. By the age of fifteen he had already got his musicians' union card allowing him to play around St. Louis with Eddie Randall's Blue Devils.
In 1944 the newly formed Billy Eckstine Band arrived in St Louis, their third trumpet player was unwell and so Miles was able to sit in with the band for their two week engagement. The Eckstine band was already creating a proto-be-bop sound, thanks to two of its members, alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, who was also the band’s musical director. The experience for eightee-year-old Miles was life changing. He decided to move to New York, the epicentre of the be-bop revolution, to immerse himself in their dogma. Having persuaded his less than enthusiastic parents that a career in music was what he wanted he enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music and began studying classical music in September 1944. Meanwhile, Miles spent his evenings and nights in the clubs of Harlem and 52nd Street studying jazz and playing whenever he could find a band to sit in with.
He made his first recording at WOR studios, two blocks from Times Square, on April 24th 1945 backing a singer named, Rubberlegs Williams, on what were more pop songs than jazz. In the autumn he joined Charlie Parker's quintet, which included Dizzy Gillespie; they recorded in November when they were billed as the Bee-Boppers. This also coincided with the end of Miles’ sojourn at the Julliard; he left to become a fully-fledged jazzman, a fact that his parents, apparently, accepted somewhat reluctantly.
The November session yielded the single, ‘Now's the Time’ coupled with ‘Billie’s Bounce’; the first fully formed be-bop record. In the early part of 1946, Davis headed out to Los Angeles with the Parker band and they recorded a number of sides for the Dial label, as well as playing clubs that included The Finale in Hollywood. Miles also played with Charles Mingus’s band on a session and worked with Benny Carter and Billy Eckstine’s orchestras.
By the beginning of 1947 Miles was back in New York recording with Illinois Jacquet, but he also continued to work with Charlie Parker as well as playing a session with Coleman Hawkins’ All Stars. Having gained a good deal of experience with others he made his first recording as a leader on August 14th 1947, with a quintet that included Parker on tenor sax, John Lewis on piano, bassist Nelson Boyd and Max Roach on the drums.
By the middle of 1948, after numerous sessions with Parker’s band, Miles was showing the restless side of his musical character and wanted to try new things, moving away from what he perhaps saw as the constraints of be-bop. What Miles did next was the genesis of what we’ve come to call, ‘cool jazz’. It was also the start of Davis working with the arranger Gil Evans, who would become a frequent collaborator throughout his career. Evans was thirty-six and already had a reputation for adventurous arranging. It was his ability to arrange skillfully so as to create the impression of a big band, while still maintaining the dexterity of a small group, that particularly appealed to Miles.
The Miles Davis Nonet or Orchestra, as it was sometimes billed, got a residency at the Royal Roost in New York, which also enabled them to broadcast on the radio. With future MJQ member, John Lewis on piano and Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax among the guiding spirits of this band it proved to be a highly creative unit. When they finally went into the studio in January 1949 to record for Capitol Records it was Lewis’ arrangements that they recorded. A few months later they were back, this time with Gil Evans’ arrangements. Another session in March 1950 were all that the band managed but this really was the ‘Birth of the Cool’.
The importance of these sessions, and the records they produced, are immense. They really were the epitome of cool, intimate records that oozed sophistication for an audience that was looking towards a new world order after the austerity of war. These recordings created the West Coast cool jazz sound from which so many sub genres became the direct descendants.
While musically these records were not as well received at their first release they set Davis on a musical course that he stuck to over the rest of the decade. In the immediate aftermath of these sessions while Miles continued to record he did so with some lesser sidemen for the next three years or so. He had become a heroin addict, which meant that he performed much less often than he had before.
In 1954 he kicked his habit and began working on what would become the first phase of his small-group recordings. He worked with Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Kenny Clarke, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk; it was a sign that Miles was back. One of the foremost releases from this period is the album, Bags Groove which displayed Miles’ brilliance alongside Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver. It’s been described as a cornerstone of any jazz collection and it richly deserves its place in the Davis canon, although it sometimes gets overlooked for some of the later albums.
The following year Miles appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival where his playing was rapturously received by both the fans and the press. In the wake of this performance Miles established a quintet that included pianist Red Garland, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on drums and John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. This is the group that made the Round Midnight album and reestablished Miles’s reputation as a live performer throughout the best jazz venues in America.
In autumn of 1956 Miles worked with the Jazz and Classical Music Society on an interesting collaboration arranged by John Lewis. Miles not only played trumpet, but also the flugelhorn showing a side of his playing that had hitherto been largely hidden. It was like a clarion call for what followed in May of 1957. Gil Evans created some stunning arrangements for a jazz orchestra and these would eventually become the album, Miles Ahead. It includes, 'The Maids Of Cadiz', a piece written by Delibes; this was the first piece of classical music that Miles recorded. In 1958 he made an album of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, following this with Sketches of Spain in 1959; here he plays works by Rodrigo and De Falla. It includes the 'Concerto de Aranjuez' a tour de force by Miles against a sumptuous Gil Evans setting.
Just Prior to recoding the 'Concerto de Aranjuez', the Miles Davis Sextet recorded what for just about everybody is his greatest album and arguably one of the half dozen most important records of the twentieth century, Kind Of Blue. Besides Miles, Coltrane and Chambers there were his new pianist Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and Jimmy Cobb plays drums. The album was recorded over two sessions and pivots not only around Miles’s brilliant playing, but also that of classically trained Bill Evans. From its opening track, 'So What', it heralds a new kind of jazz. According to Evans, "Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates."
For the next five years Miles worked with many of the same musicians, although Bill Evans had left to pursue his own kind of exploratory jazz and Wynton Kelly was at the piano, along with Sonny Stitt on alto sax on a very successful European tour in 1960. In the early Sixties others who appeared with the various incarnations of the Davis’ group included, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter on Tenor sax, Victor Feldman and Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. As well as playing with the band, Shorter also contributed some standout compositions, including 'Nefertiti' and 'Footprints'.
The Shorter, Hancock, Carter, Williams group is known as the ‘second great quintet’; it was also the last of Davis’s purely acoustic line-ups. By the late Sixties Miles was including electric bass and piano as well as guitar on his recordings, which were a much freer form of jazz. Everything was pointing towards the fusion sound that would come to dominate his playing. In 1969 for the In A Silent Way album the band included John McLaughlin on guitar, Chick Corea on keyboards, Joe Zawinul on organ and Dave Holland on bass, along with Shorter, Hancock and Williams. This proved to be something of a stepping-stone towards what happened next.
Bitches Brew was an historic break though with its jazz-fusion, in which elements of rock were meshed with the jazz idiom. This new style allowed the musicians a much broader creative freedom. Harvey Brooks was added on electric bass, Billy Cobham played drums, as did Jack DeJohnette. These, plus others, whose background was as much rock as it was jazz created a Miles Davis sound that introduced the trumpeter, whose instrument was electrified for this album, to a whole new generation of fans. It was about as far from ‘cool’ as could be, but it sold 500,000 double albums and became his best ever selling record – although Kind of Blue is possibly catching up following the advent of the CD.
From here on, over the next few years, Miles continued to experiment with fusion jazz, introducing Keith Jarrett into the small group, along with percussionist, Airto Moreira. But just as he was continuing to evolve and reinvent his sound he broke both his legs in a car accident.
It was the start of some difficult health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life. He had diabetes, had problems with a hip joint that was attributed to sickle cell anemia and he had pneumonia that seemed to go on and on. His temperament, which was far from even, may also have been affected by his use of cocaine. He recorded in March 1976 and that was the last time he worked in the 1970s.
Miles began working again in 1980, recording properly in 1981, but in February 1982 he suffered a stroke, which fortunately was not severe. In April 1982 he toured Britain and Europe before returning to America and the recording studio.
He continued to record for Columbia until he had a fairly public spat with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis that ended in the label dropping Miles and putting a lot of money behind the ‘new jazz’ of Marsalis. Miles even worked with some of the new wave of British rock acts proving he was still keen to be trying new things; even if they were not always musically fulfilling for anyone involved.
Shortly after telling the world that,
“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it”,
Miles recorded an album entitled Tutu that exploited modern studio techniques and instruments; it also won him a Grammy.
It is the last really significant recording of Miles’s long career. He had somewhat mellowed and was less irascible than during the height of his fame.
According to his former drummer, Max Roach who was battling alcoholism with treatment that was being paid for by Miles. "He was the most generous person.” Although Roach only found out that Miles was paying after he got a message while he was in rehab to say. "Tell Max that he's gotta get himself together 'cause he's costing too much money."
Miles Davis’s last performance was in August 1991 at the Hollywood Bowl in California, having just returned from a tour in France and an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival with the Quincy Jones Orchestra. The man who had once said, "I have to change; it's like a curse," died in September 1991 of pneumonia, respiratory failure and a stroke; he was sixty-five years old.
After he died jazz radio stations across America seemed to play his music almost continuously; they didn’t come close to exhausting the supply. During his five decades of recording, from the end of World War II to 1990 his output was prodigious. He recorded in seemingly every known style of jazz – except maybe New Orleans. He did 12-bar blues to full-length concerto like pieces and created music to suit every known human emotion and mood. Given the size of his output it’s amazing that so much of it is so good. In fact there’s a lot that is remarkable and some of it is the best jazz that was ever put onto tape.
Miles Davis' recordings of 1951-1954 tend to be overlooked because of his erratic lifestyle of the period and because they predated his first classic quintet. Although he rarely recorded during this era, what he did document was often quite classic. The two sessions included on this CD (which includes three alternate takes) are among the earliest hard bop recordings and would indirectly influence the modern mainstream music of the 1960s. The first session features Davis in a sextet with trombonist J.J. Johnson, altoist Jackie McLean, pianist Gil Coggins, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke; highlights include "Dear Old Stockholm," "Woody 'n You," and interpretations of "Yesterdays" and "How Deep Is the Ocean." The remaining six numbers showcase Davis in a quartet with pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey, really stretching out on such numbers as "Take Off" and "Well, You Needn't." However, on "It Never Entered My Mind," Davis' muted statement (his only one on this set) looks toward his treatments of ballads later in the decade.
Words: Scott Yanow
Like Miles Davis, Vol. 1, this set features arrangements in the order that they were recorded. (Vol. 2 contains the second Blue Note session, while Vol. 1 focused on the first and third.) This 1953 date was the most inspired, overtly beboppish of Davis' three Blue Note sessions -- an ambitious showcase for modern jazz's greatest composers (J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Bud Powell, Jimmy Heath, Walter Fuller, and Dizzy Gillespie), and a remarkable rhythm section (drummer Art Blakey, bassist Percy Heath, and the obscure pianist Gil Coggins). A dynamic front line of Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and the bassist's brother Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, gives each tune big-band weight and texture. J.J. Johnson's lilting "Kelo" and tragic "Enigma" proceed from the orchestral tradition of Birth of the Cool, and his taut, velvety, tenor trombone counterpoint contrasts nicely with Davis' burnished mid-range and brassy cry. Tenor man Jimmy Heath seems to take the Basie and Gillespie big bands as the jumping-off point for his jazz classic "C.T.A.," and ends his own solo with an affectionate nod to Lester Young. Davis' ballad turn on "I Waited for You" is one of his most alluring performances, while his effortless swing on "C.T.A." and "Ray's Idea" sums up his innovations in blues phrasing. But his solo and arrangement on "Tempus Fugit" are simply transcendent. This Bud Powell anthem for modernists generates a challenging set of symphonic variations, driven along by the emotional intensity of Art Blakey. The joy with which Davis and Blakey morph between swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, blues, and bop phrasing, is what jazz is all about.
Words: Rovi Staff
This eight-CD set does indeed have all 17 of trumpeter Miles Davis' Prestige sessions. The music is also available in separate CDs in the Original Jazz Classics series. Most significant are the many performances by Davis' classic quintet of 1955-1956 with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones but there are also dates featuring Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker (on tenor), Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, Jackie McLean, Lee Konitz, Lucky Thompson, and J.J. Johnson among others. Much of this music is classic and dates from the period when Miles Davis was really beginning to emerge as an innovator.
Words: Scott Yanow
Three giants of jazz — Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey — play together on Dig, a classic recorded in 1951. (The other musicians, pianist Walter Bishop, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, and bassist Tommy Potter, are no slouches either.) The album is a landmark both musically and technologically: it’s one of the first examples of hard bop captured on vinyl, and the original recording appeared on the then-new medium of the 12” LP, which allowed for longer tracks and extended soloing. Rollins, who was 21 at the time, already displays his cool, distinctive tone on tenor. His warm sound contrasts nicely with Davis’ edgy approach and McLean’s incisive alto lines. Davis’ solos are extraordinarily modern; at times you might think you are listening to the trumpeter’s work from the ‘60s. Even at this early point in his career, Davis displays his compositional gifts on four originals: the title cut, “Denial,” “Bluing,” and “Out of the Blue.” With such stellar frontmen, you can take the rhythm section for granted, but the swinging threesome is also worth studying in detail.
Thought by many to be among the most revolutionary albums in jazz history, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew solidified the genre known as jazz-rock fusion. It being the jazz album to most influence jazz, rock, and funk musicians after 1970, by its very nature it is legend. The original double LP included only six cuts and featured up to 12 musicians at any given time, some of whom were already established while others would become high-profile players later: Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Airto, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Don Alias, Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, and Lenny White among them. Originally thought to be a series of long jams locked into grooves around keyboard, bass, or guitar vamps, Bitches Brew is actually a recording that producer Teo Macero assembled from various jams by razor blade; splice to splice, section to section. "Pharaoh's Dance" opens the set with its slippery trumpet lines, McLaughlin's snaky guitar figures skirting the edge of the rhythm section, and Don Alias' conga slipping through the middle. Corea's and Zawinul's keyboards create a haunted, riffing modal groove, echoed and accented by the basses of Harvey Brooks and Holland. The title cut was originally composed as a five-part suite, though only three were used. Here the keyboards punch through the mix, big chords ring up distorted harmonics for Davis to solo rhythmically over, outside the mode. McLaughlin comps a vamp, and the bass and drums carry the rest. It's a small taste of the deep voodoo funk to appear on Davis' later records. Side three opens with McLaughlin and Davis trading fours and eights over a lock-step, hypnotic vamp on "Spanish Key." Zawinul's lyric sensibility provides a near-chorus for Corea to flit around in; the congas and drummers juxtapose themselves against the basslines. It nearly segues into the brief "John McLaughlin," featuring an organ playing modes below arpeggiated blues guitar runs. The end of Bitches Brew, signified by the stellar "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," reflects the influence of Jimi Hendrix, with its chunky, slipped chords and Davis playing a ghostly melody through the shimmering funkiness of the rhythm section. It seemingly dances, becoming increasingly more chaotic until it nearly disintegrates before shimmering into a loose, foggy nadir. The disc closes with "Sanctuary," completely redone here as a moody electric ballad, reworked for this band; but it keeps enough of its integrity to be recognizable. Bitches Brew is so forward thinking, it retains its freshness and mystery in the 21st century. [Sony Legacy's Deluxe Edition contains three CDs and a DVD. These remasters from the original eight track tapes contain two newly discovered and previously unreleased alternate takes of "Spanish Key" and "John McLaughlin." Also included are the 45 edits of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "Spanish Key," "Great Expectations," and "Little Blue Frog." The 71-minute DVD called Copenhagen Live 1969, includes a complete performance by a quintet that includes Shorter, Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette, three months prior to the release of Bitches Brew. The arrangements of the album's tunes are scaled down; the playing is freer, further outside than the recordings. In addition, some of Davis' previous quintet numbers are given some eclectic, electric treatments, including "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "Directions," and "Agitation." The DVD's quality is sonically fine, though visually a bit grainy around the edges, though it doesn't hinder enjoyment at all. The booklet comes with a new liner essay by Greg Tate that takes a completely different cultural tack compared to Legacy's other Davis reissues.]
Words: Thom Jurek
There are a multitude of reasons why Bags' Groove remains a cornerstone of the post-bop genre. Of course there will always be the lure of the urban myth surrounding the Christmas Eve 1954 session -- featuring Thelonious Monk -- which is documented on the two takes of the title track. There are obviously more tangible elements, such as Davis' practically telepathic runs with Sonny Rollins (tenor sax). Or Horace Silver's (piano) uncanny ability to provide a stream of chord progressions that supply a second inconspicuous lead without ever overpowering. Indeed, Davis' choice of former Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and concurrent Modern Jazz Quartet members Milt Jackson (vibes), Kenny Clarke (drums), and Percy Heath (bass) is obviously well-informed. This combo became synonymous with the ability to tastefully improvise and provide bluesy bop lines in varied settings. The up-tempo and Latin-infused syncopation featured during the opening of "Airegin" flows into lines and minor-chord phrasings that would reappear several years later throughout Davis' Sketches of Spain epic. The fun and slightly maniacally toned "Oleo" features one of Heath's most impressive displays on Bags' Groove. His staccato accompaniment exhibits the effortless nature with which these jazz giants are able to incorporate round after round of solos onto the larger unit. Bags' Groove belongs as a cornerstone of all jazz collections. Likewise, the neophyte as well as the seasoned jazz enthusiast will find much to discover and rediscover throughout the disc. [Some reissues include both historic takes of "Bags' Groove" as well as one additional rendering of the pop standard "But Not for Me."]
Words: Lindsay Planer
So dubbed because these three sessions -- two from early 1949, one from March 1950 -- are where the sound known as cool jazz essentially formed, Birth of the Cool remains one of the defining, pivotal moments in jazz. This is where the elasticity of bop was married with skillful, big-band arrangements and a relaxed, subdued mood that made it all seem easy, even at its most intricate. After all, there's a reason why this music was called cool; it has a hip, detached elegance, never getting too hot, even as the rhythms skip and jump. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about these sessions -- arranged by Gil Evans and featuring such heavy-hitters as Kai Winding, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, and Max Roach -- is that they sound intimate, as the nonet never pushes too hard, never sounds like the work of nine musicians. Furthermore, the group keeps things short and concise (probably the result of the running time of singles, but the results are the same), which keeps the focus on the tones and tunes. The virtuosity led to relaxing, stylish mood music as the end result -- the very thing that came to define West Coast or "cool" jazz -- but this music is so inventive, it remains alluring even after its influence has been thoroughly absorbed into the mainstream. "Birth of the Cool" was where Miles Davis made his first mark in jazz. Possibly the most influential jazz artist of all-time, Miles was on the forefront of the music for several decades, essentially steering its path during that time, and with the landmark recordings that make up this CD, Miles Davis (as well as Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans, who deserve just as much credit) gives birth to "cool" jazz. Though it has had a few detractors who've dismissed it as 'boring' and 'bland,' a majority of listeners are really taken by what Davis & Co. have accomplished here. That nonet only recorded 12 pieces in the studio, and the whole dozen have been collected in this remarkable compilation. Davis's lyrical, anti-virtuoso trumpet finds a beautiful soulmate in Gerry Mulligan's baritone sax (who also had a huge hand in writing much of the material as well). The recordings are most famous for the arrangements Evans, Mulligan, and a few others have given the music; elegant and sophisticated, it charts new territory in "big band" music, something that would ultimately lead to the quasi-orchestral music produced by Davis and Evans in the late 50's and early 60's. A few years ago, it was thought that the definitive version of "Birth of the Cool" was released on a CD titled "The Complete Birth of the Cool," a remastered disc that also contained live radio performances of the music. However, recently, famed recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder discovered the original master tapes that were used for the original 78's (all 12 tracks were initially released as 78's; they weren't compiled on to an album until several years later). As it turned out, every Lp and CD of the album since then were made from Lp masters that were essentially safety copies. Capitol was reluctant to remaster this material after just doing so, but supposedly Van Gelder convinced them to do so due to the quality of the masters. Now remastered and reissued under Blue Note's RVG Series, this latest edition is simply incredible to listen to. Far better than older editions of this CD, it even outstrips the "Complete Birth of Cool" disc. This new RVG edition is definitely the one to get on the basis of sound.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine & A. Customer
Jazz and film noir are perfect bedfellows, as evidenced by the soundtrack of Louis Malle's Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold). This dark and seductive tale is wonderfully accentuated by the late-'50s cool or bop music of Miles Davis, played with French jazzmen -- bassist Pierre Michelot, pianist René Urtreger, and tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen -- and American expatriate drummer Kenny Clarke. This recording evokes the sensual nature of a mysterious chanteuse and the contrasting scurrying rat race lifestyle of the times, when the popularity of the automobile, cigarettes, and the late-night bar scene were central figures. Davis had seen a screening of the movie prior to his making of this music, and knew exactly how to portray the smoky hazed or frantic scenes though sonic imagery, dictated by the trumpeter mainly in D-minor and C-seventh chords. Michelot is as important a figure as the trumpeter because he sets the tone, as on the stalking "Visite du Vigile." While the mood of the soundtrack is generally dour and somber, the group collectively picks up the pace exponentially on "Diner au Motel." At times the distinctive Davis trumpet style is echoed into dire straits or death wish motifs, as on "Generique" or "L'Assassinat de Carala," respectively. Clarke is his usual marvelous self, and listeners should pay close attention to the able Urtreger, by no means a virtuoso but a capable and flexible accompanist. This recording can stand proudly alongside Duke Ellington's music from Anatomy of a Murder and the soundtrack of Play Misty for Me as great achievements of artistic excellence in fusing dramatic scenes with equally compelling modern jazz music.
Words: Michael G. Nastos
The New Miles Davis Quintet made its first visit to the recording studios on November 16, 1955. By October 26, 1956, when they made their last session for Prestige, Davis had signed with recording giant Columbia, he had featured the most influential band in all of jazz (which would spawn the most charismatic musician of the '60s), and was well on his way toward international stardom. Listen to The Musings of Miles, an earlier quartet date with bassist Oscar Pettiford, then listen to the difference bassist Paul Chambers and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane make. Philly Joe Jones' dancing hi-hat reverie introduces "How Am I to Know," and the band takes it at a galloping tempo. The youthful bassist pushes the music into more modern directions with his solid time, driving beat, ringing tone, and uncanny sense of melodic counterpoint. He opens the music right up, and his rhythmic flexibility frees up Jones to play ahead of the beat and instigate an insistent polyrhythmic dialogue. From the finger-snappin' opening groove of Benny Golson's "Stablemates," it's clear that this rhythm section just swings harder (and in more different styles), than anyone this side of Basie's All-Americans or the drummer-led bands of Art Blakey and Max Roach. In Red Garland, the trumpeter found a pianist who understood his idea about touch, voicings, and space, and was able to orchestrate in the expansive style Davis favored. (Listen to his discreetly rocking, two-handed intro to "Just Squeeze Me," or his rhapsodic responses to Davis' little boyish Harmon mute on "There Is No Greater Love.") And Coltrane's restless, turbulent lines show how Davis had finally found his perfect foil, much as the trumpeter's introspective lyricism complemented Charlie Parker's harmonic flights. On "S'Posin'," Trane follows Davis' lilting, floating mute work by getting right on top of the beat with relentless syncopations. On the vaudevillian airs of "The Theme," he answers Davis' playful melodies by scurrying about with the screaming intensity of a blues guitarist, playing catch-up-and-fall-behind, trying to double- and triple-up with every other breath.
Words: Rovi Staff
Kind of Blue isn't merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it's an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered the definitive jazz album (and the best-selling title in jazz history), a universally acknowledged standard of excellence. Why does Kind of Blue posses such a mystique? Perhaps because this music never flaunts its genius. It lures listeners in with the slow, luxurious bassline and gentle piano chords of "So What." From that moment on, the record never really changes pace -- each tune has a similar relaxed feel, and the music flows easily. Yet Kind of Blue is more than easy listening. It's the pinnacle of modal jazz -- tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality. All of this doesn't quite explain why seasoned jazz fans return to this record even after they've memorized every nuance. They return because this is an exceptional band -- Miles, John Coltrane, Bill Evans (with Wynton Kelly subbing on "Freddie Freeloader"), Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb -- one of the greatest bands in history, playing at the peak of its power. As Evans said in the original liner notes for the record, the band did not play through any of these pieces prior to recording. Davis laid out the themes before the tape rolled, and then the band improvised. The end results were wondrous and still crackle with vitality. Kind of Blue works on many different levels. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable. It may be a stretch to say that if you don't like Kind of Blue, you don't like jazz -- but it's hard to imagine it as anything other than a cornerstone of any jazz collection. The 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Kind of Blue is a pared down version of the Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition, that was released by Sony in September of 2008. The earlier version contained both of the CDs included here, a deluxe DVD, and an LP in an extravagant -- and limited -- package. For those who've purchased some other edition of Kind of Blue over the last decade, the debate over whether to purchase this one will come down to how big a jazz fan you are. There have been numerous editions of this set issued on CD. This one is definitive -- insofar as we know -- in that it not only contains the album in gloriously warm remastered sound, it also features the complete studio sessions with a total of over two hours of false starts, alternate takes, dialogue, and studio sequences. All of this is on disc one. Disc two contains five tunes recorded in the studio by this sextet ten months earlier (May 26, 1958) that were not featured on Kind of Blue. The other bonus cut is a walloping 17-and-a-half minute live version of "So What," recorded by Miles with Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb at a gig in Holland in 1960. This track has only appeared on bootlegs in the past and this is its first authorized release. If you are content with simply owning Kind of Blue without all the other documented material, go no further. If you purchased the Collector's Edition this will offer you nothing you don't already have in better form. If, however, you found yourself not rich enough to purchase that edition and would still love to own the complete studio session of a documented jazz classic, this is the way to go.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine