Friday Night Jazz: Miles Davis

MilesTonite’s Jazz selection comes to us via Hale Stewart (aka Bonddad). Take it a way, Hale:

Until his death in 1991, Miles Davis was one of the longest and strongest personal currents running through jazz music. There were well over 100 albums issued over the course of his career. He played with — and developed – some of the greatest talent jazz has seen. Band alumni include, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJonette, Branford Marsalis, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and well –- a ton of other great players. Basically, Miles was, is and will continue to be a personification of jazz.

Miles’ style embodied warmth, sophistication, romance and a deep sense of melody. Miles could strip a musical line down to its barest elements and phrase it in manner that was unforgettable. He also had an uncanny ability to use silence; Miles may be perhaps best remembered for what he didn’t play as what he did. His playing reminds me of a great piece of advice given to me: “never pass up an opportunity to shut the hell up.” In addition, Miles was always looking for something new. He tired of the old way of doing things quickly and wanted to hear new sounds. As a result, he was usually surrounded by young musicians who challenged him and forced him into new directions.

SteaminBefore I look at some albums, there is a great book on Miles called, well, Miles. It’s a great read. Miles talked to the writer for a long time, and it shows. The author covers pretty much Miles’ whole life up until when the book was written. There’s some great information on the birth of jazz, and all of Miles’ great line-ups. I am a big fan of oral history, and this book is a great example of why. It is well worth the read. (If you like this, also check out Dizzy Gillespie’s To Be or Not to Bop).

As I mentioned above, Miles put out over 100 albums. I’m not going to look at them all.  In fact, I’m going to talk about albums that aren’t the most popular Miles albums like Sketches of Spain, Birth of Cool and Kind of Blue. Don’t get me wrong – these are great albums. However, I usually make a little fun of these albums because yuppies have them as their “jazz section usully next to Kenny G. (which unfortunately gets more play). Instead, I’m going to focus on albums that are a bit less popular because there is a ton of great music on them.

WorkinSo, let’s start with a collection of three albums that contain a ton of standards: Steamin’, Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet and Relaxin’ With Miles. These albums stand out for several reasons. First, they offer a great overview of how Miles and his groups approached standards like If I Were A Bell, Woddy’N You, In Your Own Sweet Way, Salt Peanuts and Well, You Needn’t. These are all part of the jazz language and Mile’s take is very interesting. 

Secondly – this is a classic rhythm section of Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland and Paul Chambers. But perhaps most importantly, John Coltrane is playing tenor sax and even on these early albums you can hear his style – bold and fluid -– emerging. 

Relaxin In the mid-1960s Miles put together one of the greatest jazz Quintets of all time. Wayne Shorter was on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock was on piano, Tony Williams was on drums Ron Carter was on bass and Miles was on trumpet. They played and wrote some of the most evocative acoustic jazz ever. Hancock and Shorter emerged as premiere composers whose work significantly stretched the language of jazz. And the interaction between the musicians was phenomenal. 

There is a boxed set titled “Miles Davis Quintet” 1965-1968” which has six discs of incredible music. This is the outer limits of acoustic jazz and it is amazing listening.

Miles is credited with ushering in the electric age in jazz with the album Bitches’ Brew.  However, my personal favorite electric album is Decoy, issued in 1984. It contains far more realized compositions and crisper production. Once again Miles surrounds himself with a group to then much younger musicians such as Al Foster, Darryl Jones, Branford Marsalis and John Scofied. This is considered Miles’ comeback album.

Finally, is my favorite live album: Miles Davis Paris France. This was issued on Moon Records – a European label.  The concert occurred on October 1, 1964.  The album starts with applause (because the French actually appreciate jazz in large numbers) followed by silence.  Then Herbie starts with some wonderful chords that move up the register. This is followed by more silence. Then Miles hits  one of his patented scaler runs and the band comes in. The song is Stella by Starlight and the band is in amazing form. They move through Stella with incredible skill.  And that’s just the opener. It gets better from there. 

That’s about it. I have really only scratched the surface of Miles’ recorded legacy. There are a ton of great albums I haven’t mentioned. But hopefully it will give you a place to start for looking a bit deeper into Miles’ discography.

Thanks, Hale, great job. videos after the jump . . .

Miles Davis Discography

Official Site

Miles Davis Wikipedia

Miles Ahead: A Miles Davis Website

So What (Miles Davis & John Coltrane)

My Funny Valentine

So What (1964)

Miles Davis Quintet – I Fall in Love too Easily 


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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. HARUKI MATOBA commented on Mar 7

    Dear Gentleman,

    Literally, everyday I checked this site for investment information from my country, Japan, far from your country. Tonight, I enjoyed Video Clip of Miles Davis. Thanks a lot. In particular, young John Coltraine. More than 40 years ago, when I was 18 years old, his qualtet visit Japan for their concert. From the beginning to the final, they played “My favorite things” only, I remember so. Anyway, your site is the best one in the world, not because of this, but also, of course of delved-in investment information. Thank you again.

  2. Rob Dawg commented on Mar 7

    With Charlie Parker: “Birdsong”

  3. woolybear1 commented on Mar 7

    I was at the Berklee School of Music in 1969 and Miles came to the Jazz Workshop with the quintet. The cover was $20, I didn’t have the bread to go. I should have borrowed it, stolen it, something. One of my few regrets.

  4. howard commented on Mar 7

    the most influential band in jazz today is the miles-wayne shorter-herbie hancock-ron carter-tony williams quintet of the mid’60s: there’s a complete reissue set, and every note is brilliant.

  5. la grande poussée commented on Mar 7

    Miles…yes and when he was with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Monk, Art Blakey

    Yep – I still listen to it today – My favorite is a Cannonball Adderly album – with Miles, Blakey Called “Somethin Else”


  6. howard commented on Mar 7

    sorry, i read too quickly and missed that the writer had already mentioned the boxed set; i thought he only covered the one CD by that quintet. so let me just say: second!

  7. woolybear1 commented on Mar 7

    Sorry, forgot to say many thanks Barry for posting these, truly wonderful.

  8. mark breslauer commented on Mar 7

    How could you not mention “In a Silent Way?” A jewel of an album – *far* better than “Bitches Brew”

  9. craig commented on Mar 7

    You left out a fourth album equal with “Workin'”, “Steamin'”, and “Relaxin'” — “Cookin’ with the MD Quintet”. All four of these were contractual obligation albums; Miles signed a contract with Columbia while still owing four more albums to Prestige. The solution was four albums recorded over two nights (!), and later released under the names above. Miles and the group just went into the studio and played what they were already performing live in clubs at the time, and the result was near perfection.

  10. zero529 commented on Mar 7

    OT: I caught James Hunter opening for Los Lobos the other night — he’s quite the showman, complete with guitar antics and a little fun footwork. Close your eyes for a few of his other songs and you swear you’re listening to James Brown, not some pasty white fellow from coastal England. His music, it must be said, is limited to only 3-4 distinct sounds, but he nevertheless does a fantastic job of warming up the crowd.

    (BTW, Los Lobos was great fun, despite a shaky start — how in the world do you have a miscue on Will the Wolf Survive?)

  11. KenEddy commented on Mar 8

    It is weird so many people like it. Every time I listen, I find the sounds of this music to be annoying. I hate jazz. Is anyone out there who does not like this music?

  12. CrocodileChuck commented on Mar 8

    MD: The acetlyene torch of 20th C music. Way to go, Bondad.


  13. drey commented on Mar 8

    ” In fact, I’m going to talk about albums that aren’t the most popular Miles albums like Sketches of Spain, Birth of Cool and Kind of Blue.”

    You going out of your way to be stupid Barry or just trying to get a reaction? Cop a clue brother…I’ll wager Kind of Blue is his biggest seller or close to it, and deservedly so. Sketches of Spain and Bitches Brew are also right up there.

  14. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 8

    1) As mentioned in the first line and at the end, this was written by Hale Stewart — I only edited.

    2) Hale explicitly wrote: “Don’t get me wrong – these are great albums…Instead, I’m going to focus on albums that are a bit less popular.”

    Lighten up!

  15. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 8

    The Autobiography is a riot. Typical Miles. Doesn’t care what you think of him. Very humble yet arrogant as hell. Every color on the grid. Crazy.

    One of my favorite books.

    Good album picks, Hale. I will hunt these down as I don’t have them and have not heard them.


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