Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 145: Miles Davis

This is an interesting period in Miles's career. This session was recorded in June of 1955, and he was still working with Bob Weinstock's philosophy:
So, our basic idea was just to make records with different people, to record with the best people around...we would sit down and talk about it. Miles would mention who was in town, who he would like to record with. I'd say who I'd like to hear him record with.
 That was about to change. Miles was healthy by this time, free from heroin addiction, working out regularly. Although he did not mix it up with Thelonious Monk during their session of the previous December, as was rumored at the time, he was working out in the gym regularly, including sessions on the light punching bag.

In July, he played the Newport Jazz Festival with an all-star group, including Thelonious Monk, although they would never record together after the December dustup. The rest of the group was Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Percy Heath and Connie Kay, who had just joined the Modern Jazz Quartet to replace expatriate-to-be Kenny Clarke. Miles doesn't appear to have been a part of the official festival lineup, but Columbia producer George Avakian heard him and his group jamming on Monk's "Round Midnight," and immediately recruited him for Columbia. Avakian had exactly the opposite to Weinstock's philosophy. He wanted Miles to put together a regular and recognizable group. Avakian's idea turned out to be the stroke of genius that put Miles over the top, but we can only be grateful, as well, for Weinstock's "jam with Miles" sessions.

It appears that, without necessarily planning it that way, Miles was already assembling that regular group. Oscar Pettiford wouldn't remain--reportedly his personality clashed with Miles's--but Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones would.

Jones had only recorded once before with Miles, but the two had spent time on the road together during Miles's self-imposed exile from New York. Garland had played on various dates with Billy Eckstine, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (John Coltrane was also in Vinson's band), but he was pretty much unknown when Miles tapped him. They had boxing in common as well as music--Garland, as a welterweight, had actually fought Sugar Ray Robinson.

Ira Gitler, in preparing the liner notes for the Prestige album from this session, talked to Miles about musicians he admired. This must have been after Newport, so Miles must already have been thinking about who he wanted in the group he'd be forming.
I asked Miles who his current favorites were. On his own instrument he quickly named Art Farmer and Clifford Brown as the new stars and Kenny Dorham as one who has come into his own. Then he spoke lovingly of Dizzy Gillespie. "Diz is it, whenever I want to learn something I go and listen to Diz." In the piano department two Philadelphia boys, Red Garland (heard to good advantage in this LP) and Ray Bryant were mentioned along with Horace Silver, Hank Jones, and Carl Perkins, "a cat on the Coast who ploys bass notes with his elbow'. The talk shifted to saxophone and to Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley who are carrying on the tradition of Charlie Parker. This naturally started us talking about Bird. Miles credited his most wonderful experiences in jazz to his years with Bird. He stared slowly ahead *Like Max said, New York isn't New York anymore without Bird." Max's name being mentioned directed the conversation to drummers. "Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones; Max For brushes." Miles is very conscious of drummers. Many times he will sit down between the drummer and bass player and just listen to what the drummer is doing.
Miles did actually play with Kenny Dorham once, in a 1949 all-star big band in Paris, Le Festival International de Jazz All-Stars.

He recorded a few times with Dizzy Gillespie, first on a 1945 session with Charlie Parker, but Diz mostly played piano on that session. He was supposed to strictly play piano, but the youthful Miles was so nervous about playing with his idols that he broke down completely on "Ko-Ko," and Dizzy had to step in. He played in a trumpet session with Dizzy and Fats Navarro in 1949. Fats was gone, of course, by the 1955 conversation with Gitler. This was the 1949 edition of the Metronome Allstars, a group of Metronome Magazine's poll-winners that was gathered for a recording annually throughout most of the Forties and well into the 50s. Metronome would gather together as many of the poll winners as they could, and fill in the rest with runners-up. 1949's group was more than a little impressive: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro (trumpet); J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding (trombone); Buddy DeFranco (clarinet); Charlie Parker (alto saxophone); Charlie Ventura (tenor saxophone); Ernie Caceres (baritone saxophone); Lennie Tristano (piano); Billy Bauer (guitar); Eddie Safranski (bass); Shelly Manne (drums).  There was another session with Bird in 1953, and then nothing until 1989, where they appeared as the trumpet session on a very strange Quincy Jones recording that features vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and rappers Big Daddy Kane and Kool Moe Dee. I'm not certain it's an entirely successful experiment, but I'm sure as hell not certain it isn't.

But he wasn't looking for another trumpet player to round out his new quintet. He was looking for a tenor sax, and actually, Sonny Rollins was his first choice. Rollins played with the new quintet in July, right after Newport, but the arrangement wasn't to last. Sonny had his own heroin habit to kick. John Coltrane was not yet on Miles's radar. Hank Mobley would play with the quintet, but not until years later.

Miles would use Ray Bryant on piano a month later, in another one of his Prestige pickup groups, but
Red Garland was to be his man. At the time of this recording, and this interview, Garland was the least-known of the piano men that Miles admired--even including Carl Perkins, who would die too young to establish much more of a reputation, and who really did play bass notes with his elbow, his left arm having been crippled by polio. But Miles clearly had his eye on Garland already.

When you think of answer songs, you're more likely going to think of country ("It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels") or rock ("Sweet Home Alabama" answering Neil Young's "Southern Man," and then Warren Zevon's "Play it All Night Long" answering Lynyrd Skynyrd), or even blues (Rufus Thomas's "You Ain't Nothin' But a Bearcat"). But here's one turning up in jazz: Miles's "I Didn't" as an answer to Monk's "Well You Needn't" (a tune that Miles also recorded). "I Didn't" is sharp, crisp and sardonic. You have to be awfully good to take on the premier composer of his generation, but Miles is up to the task.

"A Night in Tunisia" is one of the most famous of all bebop standards, and "Green Haze" a Davis original that showcases Garland, his new piano discovery. The others are all odd choices that Miles puts his indelible stamp on. "Will You Still Be Mine" was written by pop singer and swing era tunesmith Matt Dennis. The other two are by composer Arthur Schwartz, and were both songs that one would not have chosen to be present at the birth of the cool, or even at its confirmation. "I See Your Face Before Me" was best known in versions by Guy Lombardo and Glen Gray. Coltrane and Brubeck would both record it later.

"I've Got a Gal in Calico," written by Schwartz and Leo Robin for a movie musical, is one of those completely cornball, white-bread numbers, like "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," that no one could consider as the basis for a hipster jazz improvisation. But Miles worked the same magic with "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," didn't he?

Both "Green Haze" and "A Night in Tunisia" were released as two-sided 45s. The Musings of Miles became Davis's first 12-inch LP, Prestige PRLP 7007. Before it were two reissues, PRLP 7004,  Lee Konitz With Tristano, Marsh And Bauer, from four sessions (1/11/49, 6/28/49, 9/27/49, 4/7/50) in 1949-50; and PRLP 7006, Mulligan Plays Mulligan (original session 8/27/51). In between was an MJQ session recorded after Miles, but released before.

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