Friday, July 10, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 131: Miles Davis

This is an all-star's all-star session, and one might wonder why they didn't do it more often, but the wonder seems to be, instead, how they got through it at all. In terms of personality clash, it's one of the great disasters in jazz history. In terms of music, it's magnificent.

The big story that came out of the session was Miles and Monk almost coming to blows. Or so some say. Miles says no. Actually, everyone says no, as far as actual blows being landed.

Monk says no: "Miles'd got killed if he it me."

Miles agrees: Monk "was too big and strong for me to even be thinking about fighting."

But there was an argument. You can hear part of it on take one of "The Man I Love," at which point Miles may have been a little fed up with Monk. Monk can be heard asking when he should start playing, and Miles breaks in, telling Rudy Van Gelder, "Hey Rudy, put this on the record, man – all of it!"

So all of it is there.

If Monk's question seems a little odd, it's because Miles had told him, earlier in the session, to lay out -- to stop playing during Miles's solo -- and Monk had not taken kindly to the suggestion.

But no fisticuffs. Ira Gitler, who was there for part of the session but did not produce it, writes,

things were not serene when I left towards the dinner hour (the session had started somewhere between two and three in the afternoon). Later that night, at Minton's, I saw Kenny Clarke who answered my "How did it go?" with "Miles sure is a beautiful cat," which was his way of saying that despite the obstacles Miles had seen it through and produced something extraordinary and lasting.

One of those obstacles is described by drummer Charli Persip in a video interview. Persip had been invited to the session by his mentor, Kenny Clarke, and as he tells it,
I'm sitting there in heaven. Here I am in the same room with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. And Monk...there's one spot on one tune where Monk's solo -- he started playing ding-da-ding-ding-ding-ding, ding-ding-ding, ding-da-ding-ding-ding -- what happened was, he had a beer, and he knocked it over on the floor, and he was trying to get that beer up
before Rudy Van Gelder would see it, because he knew there'd be hell to pay, so he's fumbling around down there trying to get the bottle to stop it from leaking on the rug, and at the same time he was still playing the solo! And after, to keep Rudy off of him -- Rudy came in with a rag, and he was fussing and carrying on, but he wasn't really too upset, because it wasn't his equipment, it was just the rug. But Monk wanted to impose his will on [Persip says "Rudy" here, but I'm sure he means Miles], so every time [Miles] would start playing, he'd stand up and look stupid, just look off into space...Everybody broke up, every time he did it."
And the story gets a little mumbly here, but basically Miles told him to cut it out, which is probably why, by the time they got to  "The Man I Love," Miles told Rudy to leave everything in.

And once again, one has to tip one's hat in gratitude to Mr. and Mrs. Van Gelder, who no doubt had to deal with the beer stains on their living room rug.

The session itself...what more can you say than that it's great? And, fortunately, take one of "Bags' Groove" was preserved, so we hear Monk's beer solo. And one could say, with Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, that this shows you could get away with anything in bebop...but it's actually a wonderful solo. A little strange, but musical. And reaching up from the floor, scrambling around for his beer, Monk still swings. And appropriately enough, Bags finds the groove and adds some appropriate fills.

At any event, this is the only studio album Miles and Monk ever made together, and it may help to explain why the Columbia album Miles and Monk at Newport actually features the two cats leading two different groups, in two different years.

The ready-for-prime time version of "Bags' Groove" made it onto a 10-inch, Miles Davis All-Stars, along with "Swing Spring," a Davis original.  Monk's "Bemsha Swing" and the approved version of "The Man I Love" are on a second 10-inch, Miles Davis All-Stars Vol 2. Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, on the short lived 16 2/3 format, had the whole session, along with an earlier 1954 session. All except for the two versions of "Bags' Groove" also appeared on the standard 33 1/3 RPM 12-inch LP of the same title, released in 1959. The two versions of "Bags' Groove" were on an LP of the same name, released in 1957.

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