Sunday, May 03, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 106: Miles Davis

Horace Silver and Percy Heath packed up from their session with one of the noblest peers of the trumpet realm and moved on to the Dark Prince himself, this time with Art Blakey on drums.

You look back at these years and you can see how often a small label like Pre stige or Blue Note, or Dial or Roost, was able to get Art Blakey or Kenny Clarke or Max Roach to anchor a session. No wonder jazz was so great back then.

Miles didn't seem to care for the Prestige studio. His early recordings tended to be somewhere else, often the WOR radio studios, but he had used Beltone, located at 1650 Broadway, across the street from the Brill Building and nearly as legendary in the music business, before. No Rudy Van Gelder, and I had imagined this whole scenario when Silver and Heath showed up for the gig.

"Say, man, you gotta check out this cat's pad in Hackensack."

"Oh, yeah? What's in Hackensack?"

"This cat. He built a recording studio in his folks' living room."

"No shit, Miles, this dude got a sweet little setup. He made Art Farmer sound better than you."

"No motherfucker sounds better than me. What'd you say this cat's name was?"

Nice bit of fancy. And it could have happened that way, except for one thing. Miles had recorded at the Van Gelder studio the previous week. So why not for this session? Who knows? Maybe Blue Note had already booked the space, or maybe the senior Van Gelders were having folks over for dinner, or maybe Rudy had optometry patients scheduled for that day (he still made his living as an optometrist, getting amazing quality of sound for the legends of jazz not exactly paying the bills).
This is an important session because of course it's an important session. It's Miles Davis. It's still the period of experimentation -- Bob Weinstock recording Miles in different settings, before the quintet. It's the first recording of "Four," which was to become a staple of the Davis repertoire.

"Old Devil Moon" is a lovely, moody ballad by Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg which has been recorded by nearly every jazz singer (including, a little surprisingly, Mose Allison), and by some of the best ballad interpreters in jazz, including Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz and Chet Baker. Miles, working in a quartet setting, has ample space to explore its smoky beauty.

"Blue Haze" is another Miles composition, and while it didn't become the staple that "Four" did, it's an equally beautiful tune, and it's a showcase for the other members of the quarter, particularly Percy Heath, who opens the piece with an extended solo.

Prestige, in 1954, was still wedded to the 78 for single release. "Blue Haze" came out on one 78 as parts I and II. The 78 of "Four" was b/w "Old Devil Moon," unaccountably retitled "That Old Devil Called Love." "Old Devil Moon" also made it to 45 RPM, under its real name, b/w "You Don't Know What Love Is" from a later session. The EP continues to be the 45 format of choice, though, and the whole session did come out on an EP, and on a 10-inch LP, as well as various reissues, including Miles Davis Plays for Lovers.

wW studio in hos

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