By the time of the Somethin’ Else session, Cannonball’s sound had considerably more nuance, with darker tones and more brooding solos. Nonetheless, the Parker influence continued to shine, and the whole session has a sense of relaxation that results in music that is truly joyous.

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley burst upon the jazz scene in 1955, sitting in with Oscar Pettiford’s group at the Bohemia in New York and almost instantly being hailed as the “new Bird”. While Adderley had certainly listened to and incorporated Charlie Parker’s work into his playing by this time, the foundation for his funky, graceful alto style came from careful listening to the work of Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, as well as tenor players like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and, of course, Lester Young.

Adderly worked as a band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from 1948 until shortly after his appearance at the Bohemia, when he and brother Nat formed a quintet and began to tour. Julian broke that group up in ’57 to join Miles Davis’ group, and in March of 1958 recorded the album Somethin’ Else as leader with Davis, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Blakey. Adderley learned much from his involvement with Miles, not only from Davis himself, but from saxophonist John Coltrane, who was also a member of the sextet. Cannonball’s playing on classic Davis sessions like Milestones reveal a new discipline in the use of space and silence as well as a more adventurous harmonic ear. By the time of the Somethin’ Else session, Cannonball’s sound had considerably more nuance, with darker tones and more brooding solos. Nonetheless, the Parker influence continued to shine, and the whole session has a sense of relaxation that results in music that is truly joyous.

The album begins with an incredible reading of the standard Autumn Leaves, which kicks off with a fairly long introduction in a minor key that is a precursor of the sounds that would eminate from Miles’ upcoming 1959 Kind of Blue album, which also featured Adderley. The piece sets the tone for the album, with nice solo work from Cannonball, Davis, and pianist Hank Jones, ending on another minor key theme that sets this arrangement off from the many on this tune that have been recorded.

After an adlib piano intro from Jones, Miles states the theme in Love For Sale, using a muted and stark tone. Adderley wears his Bird influence on his sleeve on this track, playing a solo that is very evocative of Parker and could even be mistaken for him by some listeners. However, Cannonball’s distinctive tone and strong sense of thematic development are in evidence and help to distinguish the solo as his. Davis’ Somethin’ Else is a 12-bar form, but it is far from traditional blues in its harmonic structure. It creates a joyful feeling from the beginning, then allows the soloists to expand on that feeling in a complex harmonic environment. Hank Jones plays a great solo utilizing the block-chord style that is both subtle and completely swinging. One for Daddy-o is vintage Cannonball, utilizing the straightforward funky blues that he could so effectively use to capture and audience and take it to many places it would normally have been unwilling to go. Adderley demonstrates the same inventiveness with the blues format as Charlie Parker. Davis’ solo is a wonderfully heartfelt yet sophisticated take on the blues changes, demonstrating everything there is to love about this masterful improviser. Jones also turns in a nice, though brief, bop-blues piano solo that is just right for the tune.

Dancing In the Dark is sheer beauty, and demonstrates Adderley’s very adept approach to the ballad, another hallmark of his playing. Here some of the tenor influences, particularly Hawkins and Webster, come through, not to mention the ghost of Johnny Hodges. The orginal Blue Note CD release featured an extra track Alison’s Uncle, but that has been replaced on the remaster by a different bonus track, Bangoon.

MILES DAVIS Prestige Profiles Vol. 1

All of the material here was recorded by Miles Davis for Prestige between 1953 and 1956. After initially recording some Prestige dates in 1951, Davis cut two recordings for Blue Note in ’53, then rejoined Prestige, where he recorded the session that closes this disc in May of 1953. “When Lights Are Low” features Davis with John Lewis and Percy Heath, and Max Roach on drums. Already Davis is looking for ways to economize, to only say what is necessary to say. That can also be heard on the April, 1954 recording of “I’ll Remember April” featuring a muted Davis playing with alto sax player Davey Schildkraut, pianist Horace Silver, bassist Heath, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Both of these tracks can be heard on the Prestige album Blue Haze, released in 1954.

In ’54, Davis kicked his heroin habit, as would future jazz superstars Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane at similar points in their careers. He recorded the landmark session that gave the world “Walkin’” , and released it under the moniker Miles Davis All Stars. The group featured the same rhythm section of Silver, Heath, and Clarke heard on “April” along with trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. The song allowed Davis to show his blues influences and roots, and his debt to trumpet player Clark Terry and others. In 1955 he recorded the album Bags Groove with Sonny Rollins, and three Rollins compositions are included on this CD (only two, “Doxy” and “Airegin” feature Rollins). Rollins’ bright tone and long lines broken up by rhythmic variations are a nice contrast to Miles’ relaxed trumpet work. It is well known that Miles was interested in having Rollins in his group, but Rollins, who had not yet kicked his own heroin habit, was not ready to join.

Instead, Davis ended up with John Coltrane in the quintet, which also included Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. Their output for Prestige has been collected into a box set recently released by Concord: The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions. A previous 8-disc set, Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings features the quintet plus Miles’ other considerable work for the label. This disc barely scratches the surface, but it does allow one to hear some great Miles playing, and to understand why some consider this his greatest contribution to the development of jazz, despite all that he later did. The bonus disc is a trumpet player’s dream, with Chet Baker, Kenny Dorham, Art Farmer, and Donald Byrd as well as Coltrane, Rollins, Red Garland, and the fantastic Gil Evans track “Jambangle” from Gil Evnas & Ten.

MILES DAVIS Kind of Blue Legacy Edition Columbia Legacy

The second disc is a nice coupling of five sessions from the previous year, 1958, with the same group. These sessions have appeared through the years on a number of different recordings and were previously collected together on the 6 CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 in 2000. This Legacy Edition of Kind of Blue allows a cost-friendly format whereby these sessions could be coupled with the original 1959 Kind of Blue sessions.

The classic (an understatement if ever there was one) Miles Davis recording Kind of Blue has turned fifty, and the event is being celebrated by Columbia Legacy recordings with the release of Kind of Blue: Legacy Edition, a 2-CD affair that features the original album as well as a series of studio sequences, false starts, and alternative takes from the 1958-59 sessions, and a live version of “So What” recorded in Holland in 1960. While the package, the latest in the Legacy Edition series, is beautifully packaged, with an essay by Francis Davis and an additional .pdf file featuring an ‘enhanced digital booklet’ of notes and information embedded on Disc 1, there is not a lot here musically to add to the original recording. If there was ever an album where the music stands completely on its own, this one is it. On the other hand, if you are replacing an old CD or vinyl version of the album, this is a nice edition to own, with the second disc a nicely compacted version of the only other recordings released by the same group that recorded Kind of Blue.

Fortunately, on disc one, the entire original album is presented first in its complete format, followed by an alternate take of ‘Flamentco Sketches’ and the brief studio sequences from several other tracks. The studio sessions are interesting, shedding some light on the recording process and the musical thought processes of the musicians in interpreting these tunes, but they can seem a little like looking behind the curtain of something mystic that should not be seen. They do not in any way alter the amazing perfection of the original album. I think that one of the reason you hear people talking about the ‘perfection’ of Kind of Blue is that it is perfect in every moment in the Zen sense. That’s not to say the performances are perfect, nor the arrangements, nor any other element of the recording. But the overall moment, the time period between the beginning of “So What” and the last notes of “Flamenco Sketches” is perfect because every moment is perfect in itself and it creates a musical world that is always true to itself and which is endlessly fascinating. The musicians are all very much themselves, yet they all contribute toward the totality of this recording in very much equal ways.

Kind of Blue is a jazz album that has transcended the genre of jazz and become one of a handful of recordings whose very existence changes everything. That Miles Davis achieved this more than once in his career serves as evidence to even the most casual observer of jazz that he was one of its mystics, its visionaries. As pointed out by Ashley Kahn in the excellent book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, “Copies of the album are passed to friends and given to lovers. The album has sold millions of copies around the world, making it the best-selling recording in Miles Davis’s catalog and the best-selling classic jazz album ever, as well as #12 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest LPs of All Time. Significantly, a large number of those copies were purchased in the past five years, and undoubtedly not just by old-timers replacing worn vinyl: Kind of Blue is even casting its spell on a younger audience more accustomed to the loud-and-fast esthetic of rock and rap.” The album is perenially hip, listened to by Clint Eastwood’s cool, brooding Secret Service agent in Line of Fire. It also casts a kind of Zen calmness, perhaps due in part to mythology and the enigmatic liner notes written by pianist Bill Evans.

The album doesn’t so much announce itself as kind of waft in on a cloud of Evans’ piano and Paul Chambers’ bass until Chambers locks onto the melody of So What, punctuated first by piano, then by the entire ensemble.

The piece is simply a modal setting offering 16 bars on one scale, 8 on a second, and returning to the first scale for the final 8. Davis solos first, sounding relaxed and setting a tone for the album with a solo that paints broad brushstrokes that nonetheless form a finished painting. Coltrane follows up with a solo that demonstrates he’s not far from the breatkthrough of Giant Steps–he sounds completely at home running modal scales and heating up the solo with rhythmic variations. Adderley, fresh from his triumph (with Davis) on his Somethin’ Else recording, manages to sound bluesy and funky even within the more abstract framework afforded by the changes here. Evans finishes off with a nice block-chord solo punctuated by horns.

‘Freddie Freeloader’ is a fairly straight-forward blues and allows the soloists to stretch out in a familiar form, each showing their individuality and mastery of their instrument. Evans is particularly good here, as is Coltrane. ‘Blue In Green’ brings us into ballad territory, with the familiar muted Davis trumpet sound presenting the gorgeous theme. Paul Chambers’ bass accompianment is especially beautiful and shows why the bass is so integral to this type of mood piece. ‘All Blues’ is described by Evans as “a series of five scales, each to be played as long as the soloist wishes until he has completed the series.”

If my descriptions of the solos and structure of the pieces sounds perfunctory and gives little of the flavor of the album, well that’s because really, the proof is in the hearing. Listening to this album will immerse you at once in a world that is dark, brooding, sophisticated, very cool, sexy, and languorous. Bottom line is: if you don’t have this record in your collection, you don’t have a collection. It’s the Sgt Pepper of jazz, really, good for relaxing, drinking, meditating, making love, and just plain listening. So get it–and dig it. Oh, and buy someone you love a copy.

The second disc is a nice coupling of five sessions from the previous year, 1958, with the same group. These sessions have appeared through the years on a number of different recordings and were previously collected together on the 6 CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 in 2000. This Legacy Edition of Kind of Blue allows a cost-friendly format whereby these sessions could be coupled with the original 1959 Kind of Blue sessions. This allows the listener to see that the Kind of Blue sessions were not mystical or something that was thought to be incredibly special at the time of the recordings. These musicians probably left the studio feeling that they had had a good session, but not that they had just recorded a jazz masterpiece. These 1958 sessions display all of the fantastic playing and a lot of the mood of the more famous 1959 sessions, but they do not have the single unified mood that makes Kind of Blue unique. Still, put together these tracks tend to create a kind of Kind of Blue minor, if you will.

The live version of “So What” is typical of Miles’ tendency to adapt tunes for live performances. It is taken at a quicker tempo than the Kind of Blue version, with no intro. Pianist Wynton Kelly provides bouncier piano work than Bill Evans’ more impressionistic background on the album version.

The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions: Bringing Miles’s Rock and Roll/Funk Fantasia into Focus

The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions represents a stunning crossroads where boxing, the Black Power movement, the development of rock music as an expression of vast changes in American society, the electronic amplification of jazz, and Miles Davis all came together. That the music heard on this newly-released 5 CD set was boiled down to a mere hour’s worth of a soundtrack album, with snippets turning up on Live-Evil and Get Up With It, is amazing. Listening to the music here, most of which has never been released previously, is like finding out something new about someone you thought you knew well.

That Miles Davis should have been drawn to the figure of Jack Johnson is no surprise. Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion and star black sports figure, fought during the early 1900s, at a time when racism was de rigeur and jazz music was only beginning to develop. Johnson liked the high life, enjoyed fast cars and liked women, particularly white women. While Miles preferred black women, he certainly appreciated beautiful ones, had sartorial style, like his home to be well appointed and modern, and also adored fast sports cars. Much has been made of the fact that Miles was born into a middle class background (his father was a successful dentist) but that only seems to have made the racism that he encountered that much more unpalatable, and Davis did encounter his share. The well known incident that occurred in front of Birdland, when Miles was hassled by police for standing outside the club and took a blow to the head from a white detective, seems to have set him firmly on the path of not taking any crap from anyone, an attitude that was certainly in line with that of Jack Johnson as well as boxers that Davis had seen during his lifetime.

Davis was in a highly productive and inspired mode at this time, a mode that had started with the recording of In a Silent Way and continued through Bitches Brew. He also made a big switch with his live bands, moving from the repertoire he had been playing, which was comprised largely of music he’d created with his second great quintet between 1963 and 1967, to the new material he was recording. His live bands changed personnel more frequently, with Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Steve Grossman, Gary Bartz, and others moving into and out of the band at various times. “I was seeing it all as a process of recording all this music” said Davis, “just getting it all down while it was flowing out of my head.” In A Silent Way had been a bellwether, signaling that changes were afoot, not only in Davis’ performances of his new music, but in the very methods that were used to create that music in the first place. Both In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew were recorded in small sections, with Davis directing the musicians and allowing them to play freely without worrying about what the final mix for release would be like—in fact, many times the musicians had no idea what would or would not be released. Davis and producer Teo Macero then constructed the final tracks from these performances. On In A Silent Way they took shapeless but incredible segments of music and spliced the performance together to create a piece that had form and structure. The technique was used again on the Bitches Brew album, both on Joe Zawinul’s “Pharoah’s Dance” and on the title track.

The album A Tribute to Jack Johnson, the soundtrack to the William Clayton-directed film of the same name, was probably the end of the high point of the Davis/Macero edited recordings cycle. The same approach was applied to live recordings such as At Fillmore and to source recordings done at Washington D.C.’s Cellar Door club, resulting in the album Live-Evil. The results were decidedly mixed, with the continuity and structure of the live performances missing. But on Jack Johnson, the producer was able to take what was essentially a studio jam and turn it into the best melding of jazz, funk, and rock music of all time. Considering the furor that Bitches Brew had caused, it is amazing today to consider that Jack Johnson sank without a trace when it was released more than a year after it was recorded, in the summer of 1971. By that time, Miles had rolled his electric band out to live audiences, performing at Fillmore East and West as well as at other important venues, generally as an opening act for some of the most successful rock bands of the day. At the end of August 1970 Davis performed at the Isle of Wight Festival, one of the major rock festivals held in the wake of the successful fests at Monterey and Woodstock. The sessions that are represented on this box set, all recorded between February and June of 1970, were Davis’ last recording sessions until 1972, when he recorded the sessions for his highly controversial On the Corner album. Consider this, though: by the time the public heard the recording Bitches Brew (released in April 1970) Davis was already unleashing a much more heavy electric sound on audiences at the Fillmore West (released unedited as the Black Beauty album). And, three days before this performance, he had recorded most of the source material that would be edited into the Jack Johnson album—material that was based much more on straightforward rock and funk concepts with fewer free jazz leanings and which would represent probably his most accessible music until his return to the scene in 1981 after a self-imposed five year silence. In other words, by the time the record-buying public heard Bitches Brew, Davis had already moved another several steps ahead. No wonder the public was unable to keep up with him during this tumultuous period—the man simply had too much music, and too many ideas spilling out of his head for the slow-moving recording industry to keep up with.


The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux is, at first glance, a daunting proposition: 20 CDs that do nothing less than document every performance the legendary trumpet player gave at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival, spanning the years from 1973 until 1991, the year of Davis’ death. Since Davis performed at the festival for the first time in 1973 and retired from 1975-1981, the majority of the recordings here are from the 1980s, which is generally dismissed as an inferior footnote to the rest of Davis’ career. But the conventional wisdom is at least partially wrong: The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux clearly shows that Davis was creating vital music right up until the end and that the real substance of what he was doing during the 1980s was not to be found on his studio recordings, but in live performance. This makes it a vital part of the Davis discography, and one that will almost certainly lead to a reevaluation of that period of his career.

A quick history lesson: Beginning in 1968 Miles started searching for new directions in which to take his music. He was interested in getting out of what he had come to see as the dead end of jazz music: theme/improvisation/theme. His 1960s quintet featuring Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and Tony Williams had taken traditional jazz forms to as abstract a place as was possible. That left the possibility of free jazz, which Davis rejected. Another possibility came into focus when Hancock first started to experiment with the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Davis loved the new sound of the instrument; it energized him and made him realize that improvisational music did not need to be based on straight-ahead chord changes, nor did it have to be modal. Instead, the music could be based on a bass line, or the barest wisp of melody. The quintet’s last album Filles de Kilimanjaro, used some electric piano and hinted at this new sound and structure, but only barely. Bringing in new musicians such as Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland, Davis began to try to create this new sound and new structure. Whether what emerged would be jazz or not, no one could say, but Davis was very clear about what he wanted to achieve. He succeeded admirably, recording the groundbreaking In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, as well as numerous live performances and other studio recordings within a year. In 1972, Davis tried to bring a heavy funk sound into the mix as well as some things he was hearing in European avant-garde music by Karlheinz Stockhausen. The result was On the Corner, a thick, bracing concoction that confused many listeners and led to a break with many who felt the jazz great was losing his mind.

The first two discs in this set are from Davis’ 1973 Montreux performance, and they demonstrate just where Davis was as one of the most fertile periods in his musical career matured. The band consisted of woodwind player Dave Liebman, guitarists Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey, bassist Michael Henderson (who had played with Stevie Wonder before joining Miles), drummer Al Foster, and percussionist Mtume. The first 40 minute set is full-bore Miles, with furious drumming, funky bass holding down the fort, and a series of solos by Cosey and Liebman, culminating in Miles’ fierce blowing and abstract statements delivered through his wah-wah pedaled trumpet. Towards the end of the first disc, the band cuts out and there is a percussion interlude punctuated by Davis’ abrasive chord clusters on the organ. When this first set ends, you can hear actual booing in the audience, though the general reaction is one of polite confusion. Miles asked festival organizer Claude Nobs if he should play more, to which Nobs predictably responded in the affirmative. Davis and the group return and play another hour of intense and exquisitely beautiful music, marked by excellent performances of “Ife” and “Calypso Frelimo”. This set is at least as demanding as the first, but is somewhat better received. Hearing this performance alongside the string of Davis’ studio triumphs from 1968 to 1974 as well as the live performances that have already been released, I would have to ask anyone who still insists that Davis “sold out” by incorporating electronic instruments and discarding many of the trappings of traditional jazz: to whom, exactly, did he sell out? This is not the music that rock audiences were looking for, many were just as dumbfounded by Davis’ heady mixture of funk, rock, jazz, electronics, and music that would later be known by such names as ambient, trance, and techno, but for which no names existed at the time. True, Miles achieved a burst of record sales with Bitches Brew, On the Corner, and a few live albums that were released at the time, but overall his music was not charting nor being played on the radio. He was largely outcast from jazz, though he had provided much of the most exciting jazz music in the post-bop era. Few people, including his musician peers, understood what he was doing. So, if Miles was selling out, what was his reward? Like Bob Dylan’s decision to “go electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the whole thing should have been a dead issue by this time.

The 1973 performance is of a completely different era than the rest of the recordings in the set, and could have been released as a separate recording had Columbia not opted to maintain the completeness of the Montreux recordings. Starting with disc three, the beginning of 1984’s afternoon performance, (for most years are afternoon and evening performances, with the set lists remaining very similar, even though the performances are very distinct) the real vision of the last part of Miles’ career becomes evident. His band at this time featured saxophonist Bob Berg, keyboard player Robert Irving III, guitarist John Scofield, bassist Darryl Jones, drummer Al Foster, and percussionist Steven Thornton. Beginning with the kinetic energy, angular melodic lines (at which Scofield in particular excelled) and funky vamps of “Speak/That’s What Happened”, Davis is announcing clearly that he has succeeded in distilling the unique combination of funk, rock, jazz, and electronic music that he has long been seeking. The opening salvo is followed by the bluesy jam “Star People”, which brings the tone of the set down a bit and demonstrates that Miles’ horn playing is still clear, beautiful, commanding, and undiminished by his time away. There is a gorgeous rendition of “Time After Time”, which Davis recorded in the studio for the album that would not be released until the following year, You’re Under Arrest. In fact, there are a total of nine renditions of “Time After Time” on the discs in this set and seven of the “Human Nature”, the Toto song made popular by Michael Jackson. Davis got a lot of grief for recording his renditions of these ballads, and the studio versions regularly show up on smooth jazz radio playlists. However, the performances here, particularly of “Time After Time” are all different, occurring at different places in the set lists, and what they offer is a chance to just sit back and hear Miles play trumpet. For all the carping from Davis’ pre-electric fans about just wanting to hear him play great solos again without the electronic gimmickery, these performances should offer just that. Davis recorded popular ballads for his entire career, and some of his work here is very close to hearing him play “My Funny Valentine” in the pre-electric period. When Davis removes the mute from his trumpet almost nine minutes into the rendition of “Time After Time” on Disc 6 and lets his clear, singing tone sail out into the audience, you have to wonder what all the fuss about his supposedly “selling out” was about.

MILES DAVIS In Person: Friday & Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, Complete (4 CD Box Set)

Miles Davis’s Friday and Saturday night performances at the Blackhawk in San Francisco in the spring of 1961 are simply great jazz. Though the group he leads here has not generally received much play because they were a working band and didn’t record anything as groundbreaking as Kind of Blue or the succession of albums that began with the second great quintet in 1964, the audiences at these sets were treated to some top notch jazz.

The rhythm section here, comprised of pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, had played with Davis since Kind of Blue (though Kelly only appears on one track on that album, replaced for the most part by Bill Evans). They were a hard bop rhythm section for the most part—steeped in the blues and in gospel, hard-edged and a bit funky. That keeps things sharp and fresh, even though the songs on these sets are pretty much all standards or favorite Davis compositions like “So What.” This was one of very few periods in which Miles didn’t really appear to be moving toward anything new. Though he continued to work with excellent sidemen like Hank Mobley and George Coleman, he was not composing new music, and the conception of the tunes he played was not much different than it had been when he had originally recorded them. The main thing that happened is that the tempos quickened (sometimes enormously; check out the version of “Walkin’” on Disc One of the Saturday Night performance). In addition, none of his sidemen were composers, as the musicians in his yet-to-be-assembled second great quintet would be. Yet Miles himself was playing very well on these dates, and the band is also in good form, especially Mobley, who has generally been given short shrift, falling as he does between John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter in Miles’s succession of tenor players.

Interestingly, Miles didn’t seem to find Mobley all that inspirational a bandmate. In his autobiography, he says that “…the music was starting to bore me because I didn’t like what Hank Mobley was playing in the band…Playing with Hank just wasn’t fun for me; he didn’t stimulate my imagination. This was about the time I started playing real short solos and then leaving the bandstand.” It’s easy to see why Davis wasn’t particularly excited about Mobley’s playing. The tenor man was influenced by Lester Young, and often plays his own version of the long, loping phrases that Young made famous, sometimes seeming to lag behind the beat. Miles probably wasn’t all that happy with the way things were going and made Mobley the scapegoat for what was, compared to what came immediately before and after, a somewhat lackluster period in his career. But what was lackluster for Miles would have been perfection for almost any other performer, and the sets on Friday and Saturday Night at the Blackhawk provide a rare opportunity to just hear Miles and company playing their straight ahead best, without any radically new concept or sound to sell.

Now available in two 2-CD sets or as a complete 4-disc box set, the remastered Blackhawk performances are also restored to their correct order. On the original releases, songs from different sets were reordered to create each release—one culled from Friday night’s performances, the other from Saturday’s. Here listeners can hear the music just as it unfolded in front of the Blackhawk’s audiences on both nights, and it helps to have a more complete picture of the two evenings. A lot of the material on the Friday night discs has been released before, but the new material—“If I Were A Bell,” “Neo,” and “I Thought About You,” are all well worth hearing. The Saturday night performances yield a lot of previously unissued material, including a fantastic “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Walkin’” taken at a breakneck tempo. “Autumn Leaves” given a thorough exploration, including an introduction that explores the song’s thematic material before moving into a statement of the melody. “Two Bass Hit” is also here, as is all of the previously unheard fourth set: “I Thought About You,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.” Despite his displeasure with Mobley’s performances, Miles gives a solid performance of his own. If Mobley was uninspiring, Davis was still getting his inspiration from somewhere. Though he plays in shorter bursts, his economical statements are the absolute essence of each composition boiled down as succinctly as possible. Miles had already signaled on Kind of Blue that he wanted to move toward material that utilized as few chord changes as possible, and his playing here reflects that idea, eschewing the flurries of notes favored by bebop and relying on simpler statements colored by the blues for emphasis. His band here is very much in the hard bop mode, and that creates tension between the earthier style of the rhythm section and Mobley and Miles’s more esoteric playing. Listen to the performances of “Neo on both nights and you’ll hear echoes of Kind of Blue as well as some hint of the kind of sound Miles was looking for and would eventually find with Hancock, Shorter, Carter, and Williams. Mobley is sometimes lost on this type of number, as his playing tends to be much more interesting given more harmonic structure rather than less.

Still, it would be pointless and uncharitable to dismiss Mobley’s work here simply because he didn’t fit the picture that Miles was developing of where he wanted his next group to go. He plays very well, and much of the material is well suited to his Lester Young-influenced style. In fact, he is a perfect foil for Davis, who responds to the entire group’s laid back swing by playing in a more aggressive manner, as if to compensate for the absence of Coltrane. On Saturday night’s rendition of “On Green Dolphin Street” Miles ends his solo with a very hot flash or notes played in an agitated manner, providing a burst that leads into Mobley’s solo. Mobley doesn’t respond by playing with the same fire, instead uncorking some gorgeous phrases that lead off in their own direction. In a way, it is Davis who is the odd man out in his own band—they seem to be of a single mind and purpose, while Miles exerts a protean effort to move them in a different direction.

So, do you need this complete version of Miles and company’s 1961 performances at the Blackhawk? My answer would be “yes” because like the complete Plugged Nickel box, this set of performances offers an opportunity to hear one of the best working jazz groups of the time playing outside the confines of the recording studio. But whereas the Plugged Nickel recordings are not representative of the second great quintet at its very best, In Person at the Blackhawk is representative of Miles’s transitional quintet at its best. That makes it a formidable performance that needs to be heard, and in its new format, complete and with immensely improved sound quality, it’s a real bargain.



Miles Davis did not think of himself, first and foremost, as an entertainer. He clearly despised all the things that older jazz musicians took for granted, like playing music that would entertain a predominantly white audience, “walking the bar”, etc. It was this that probably caused him to align himself with the bebop crowd early in his career. Miles never really was comfortable with bebop. He was ill equipped, technically, for its breakneck tempos and chord substitutions, as demonstrated by his earliest recordings. What attracted him greatly was the “outsider” status of the beboppers, the way they played music for themselves and tried to express something straight from their experience, without regard for its potential acceptance by the audience. This is not to say that earlier jazz musicians didn’t play in an honest or expressive way-Miles certainly revered greats like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet-but rather that the boppers were resolved to play with this level of intimacy all the time.


The analogy of painting and improvising has been used ad nauseum, including the reference in Bill Evans’ liner notes on Kind of Blue to the Japanese style of painting in which the painters may never lift their brush for fear interrupting the line and breaking the special paper canvas. For Davis, though, painting is a good metaphor, particularly since he did some painting himself. He did his journeyman work with Bird and Diz, apprenticed with Gil Evans and others on the Birth of the Cool sessions, finally coming into his own style as a representational artist with the first Quintet that featured John Coltrane. His work became more impressionistic in his next round of work with Gil Evans, this time very much as an equal collaborator on recordings like Miles Ahead andSketches of Spain. With the second Quintet he moved into the realm of abstraction, working with musicians such as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter who were moving in a similar direction. He abruptly changed directions with the recordings In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, becoming completely modern and burying himself beneath layer upon layer of electronically generated sound. With On the Corner and subsequent work, he moved deeper into minimalism.


Another way to look at Davis’ career is to realize that he moved himself further and further from the audience as he progressed. Some feel that this demonstrates his isolation from and general disdain for the people who were listening to his music, but I really think that it demonstrates, instead, his attempts to remove himself from the equation, to have his music judged purely as sound. It seems to have had the opposite effect, however. The more Miles receded, the more the audience tried to peer through the clouds for a glimpse of him, and the less many respected or even discussed the music. It’s easy to dismiss the work he did throughout the 1980s because he could have chosen to play much more harmonically complex music that would have been more challenging to an artist of his caliber, but that is to judge his work from the perspective one’s own bias rather than as music unto itself. The general belief is that Davis sought to become a rock music superstar and pandered to an audience consisting primarily of teenagers or those with unsophisticated musical tastes. But that flies in the face of everything Miles had done in his career up to that point, and his career at that time was already a long one. Even though rock fans may have been initially attracted by the trappings of rock music-the amplified guitars, the synthesizers, the barrage of exotic percussion, the sheer volume of the whole experience-they surely weren’t inspired to hang around as Miles continued to experiment with sheer washes of sound, with ambience and expression and all the things he had always been concerned with. Miles was always about what was contemporary, but his themes didn’t change much. He was always looking forward with regard to his sound, and he never revisited a style he had abandoned, but he did explore the same ideas and feelings and thoughts, as well as methods of working, over and over again.


Miles Davis is more than a jazz musician: he is a cultural icon, known even to people who can’t tell bebop from fusion. That may seem strange considering that Davis made a career of defying the expectations of critics and audience alike, but it is just one more paradox associated with this mercurial artist.

Miles was born in Alton, Illinois on May 26, 1926. He grew up in East St. Louis in a middle class family, playing in his high school band as well as with several local R&B groups. He quickly became enamored of jazz, particularly the new sounds being created by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Davis’ father sent him to Juliard to study music, but Miles didn’t spend much time there, dropping out to play with Parker’s quintet from 1946 to 1948. That proved to be a humbling experience at first, since Miles didn’t yethave the chops to keep up with Parker’s breakneck tempos and chord substitutions. He learned quickly, though, and grew immensely as a musician during his tenure with Bird.

Next, Miles hooked up with a group of musicians who were doing something completely different. This group included J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Max Roach. While all were excellent bop players, they were developing a style that was less volatile and more relaxed, which suited Davis’ temperement. The arrangements crafted by Lewis, Mulligan, John Carisi, and Gil Evans added more uniqueness to the nine-piece group’s sound. Davis became the group’s ad-hoc leader, and the classic Birth of the Cool was the result.

The early 50s were an erratic time for Davis, mostly due to his heroin addiction, and he was a disappointing performer during this time. By the middle of the decade, however, he had cleaned up and formed his first quintet, comprised of Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. This group became very popular and recorded several essential albums for the Prestige label: Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin’, and Relaxin‘. When the quintet broke up, Davis spent time collaborating again with arranger Gil Evans, resulting in great albums like Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. He finished the decade out by recording one of the best known jazz albums of all time, Kind of Blue, with a sextet that included Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.

In the 1960s Davis put together a second quintet, this time utilizing Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. The music of this group was more complex, moving through post-bop modal experimentation and eventually into some of the group improvisation and open forms of free jazz. Some of Davis’ fans were mystified by the group’s music, but it was uniformly applauded by critics, other musicians, and avid music fans eager for new sounds. The group’s output has recently been collected in the 6-disc set The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, 1965-’68.

As the 1970s beckoned, Miles realized that rock had replaced jazz as the music of choice for the younger generation. In order not to get left behind, he began to perform with an electronic band: electric guitar, electric bass, banks of electronic keyboards, and even an amplified trumpet. The sound was bubbling, dark, and dense, and it further alienated some jazz fans and many critics as well. There was no denying the power of the music Davis was producing, however: upon its release in 1970, Bitches Brew sold 400,000 copies, making it the best-selling jazz album of all time. The group included Chick Corea, Hancock, John McLaughlin, and others who went on to become mainstays of the jazz fusion movement.

Davis continued to perform and record throughout the 1970s and 1980s, continuing to perform with primarily electronic groups, often playing organ instead of his trumpet, and playing with his back to the audience. Some of the minimalist experiements he performed at the close of the 70s foreshadowed the ambient and electronic music that would become common in the 80s and 90s. Miles died on September 28, 1991, but his music, style, and collaborators all continue to influence not only jazz music, but popular culture as well.