Miles et al

 

 Charlie Parker had established a new music which revolutionized the great traditions of Louis Armstrong's virtuosity and the Big Band swing song sequences. He discovered a new way of resolving sounds onto the chords. He could fly and swing with the best of them and Bird player the blues!

After the death of Charlie Parker in 1955 ... where?

The heroin cult died with him and clean living Clifford Brown arrived!

Louis, Billie and Ellington survived Bebop ... but by the 1950s most everybody was getting into bop phrasing ... Ella sang it with relaxed ease ... the Bop disciples were - Howard McGee, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Serge Chaloff, J J Johnson and Kai Winding ... Sarah Vaugham ...

And the cool school, all cottoned on to Bop phrasing ... Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Woody Herman et al ....

West coast cool had gone to the conservatory and was loved by the nerds on the collage campuses.

On the east coast Art Blakey had a go at taking the music back to the funk of the blues. The 'Cool' and 'Hard Bop' schools had established some popularity. But jazz struggled to find an audience. There was crowd trouble. There were schisms everywhere in the music ... Modern Jazz v. Traditional Jazz ... East Coast v. West Coast ... 

Out of this mélange some patterns emerged in modern jazz and most of them seemed to revolve round Miles Davis.

The innovations of Bop were straight out of the blues and Charlie Parker appeared to some like a desperate man posting entreaties to his flock ... but he was still playing the changes ...

But Miles Davis was very different, his innovations appeared to some to be deliberately obtuse and peddled with angst & indifference ... an indifference which seemed to extend to Louis Armstrong himself ...

Musically Miles Davis was way out from the blues, no longer entertaining but bent on exploration ... until audiences left him -

arranged music. Gil Evans wrote musical arrangements, he was a conservatory musician. Fletcher Henderson's arrangements were the orchestrated blues of Louis ... 

 familiar chord sequences of blues & popular songs were extended to the melodies & scales of the modes. Miles detached the melody line from the chord sequence and then removed the chord sequence altogether and improvises on modes. Gil Evans went to the conservatory and presented to Miles one chord and one scale for his improvisations ... the modal melodies were unfamiliar and incomprehensible to most of the kids. Miles changed direction, they weren't playing chords anymore ... they were playing amongst themselves, responding to each other, listening to each other ... but very few others had a chance ...

re-engagement with the black mainstream. After the loss of many black audiences to the R&B mainstream attempts were made to fuse the apparently white music back into familiar popularity with electric intensity ...

But at the end of the journey the mainstream of American popular music remained anchored in swinging improvised blues ...

Miles DavisMiles Davis (1926-91) raised in cushioned comfort in middle class Illinois he was a tormented soul and turned out nasty to most.

But many white nerds and some blacks worshipped Miles and rejected Louis. What was going on?

Miles was influenced by Harry James and Clark Terry's lyrical simplicity. In 1944 he was with the Billy Eckstein Band with Bird. He developed an interest in music theory at Julliard.

Middle register, short spare phrases, sketches sprinkled over the beat just like his associate Thelonious Monk. And an individually distinctive sound, rich emotional economy. He worked with space. Miles was cool.

Miles Davis produced a series of record albums which established him as the jazz torch bearer after the demise of Bird.

Birth of the Cool1949 'The Birth of the Cool' was recorded by a rehearsal band with arrangements by Canadian Gil Evans (1912-), who loved jazz and had arranged for Claude Thornhill and French horns. Gil was trying to arrange a new bop music without the virtuosity and energy of Bird. The music was both cool and orchestrated taking out of jazz much of the heat and rhythm.

These recordings launched the West Coast Cool style. Gil's door was always open to Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, J J Johnson, Kai Winding, John Lewis, George Russell,  Max Roach & Kenny Clarke.

What Minton's did for bop Gil Evan's apartment did for 'the cool'.

Miles played 'a voice' in these arrangements of simpler melodies with beautiful timbres ... lyrical, seductive, cool, soft and intense ...

 In 1949 Miles experienced elitist adulation overseas in Paris, but returned home an embittered nobody ... he turned desperately to drugs ... 

Miles was angry and frightened? Nobody loved Miles, he was a 'cult' figure and at the same time Louis was still producing timeless magic fun music ... and accused of Uncle Tommin' ...

By 1954 Miles Davis had kicked the habit and prepared to devout himself to music with renewed vigour.

A stream of records for Prestige and a stream of sidemen - Kenny Clarke, J J Johnson, Lucky Thompson, Horace Silver, Dick Katz ... extended blues pieces as if clearing the decks of the old stuff for something new ... or was he establishing the blues in their rightful place? ...

 Miles was not competing with bop, this new music was sparse and introspective ... muted ballad playing with a rhythm section which was hardest swinging in the business.

Cookin'1956 'Cookin'' ... 'Relaxin'' ... 'Workin'' ... 'Steamin'' ... and with the first Miles Davis Quintet,

Miles Davis had four significant groups during his halcyon recording days - 

The first 1955-58 featured John Coltrane sax, Red Garland piano, Paul Chambers bass & Philly Joe Jones drums, was a great jazz group. The Prestige recordings still included hot bluesy hard bop but then there was Miles and his very own tone.

Then to Columbia and George Avakian who wanted to get to the money in mainstream America, and Davis sounded so beautiful it must be commercial music?

The second important Davis group started to play the modes. Davis had successfully recruited Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane was still there.

John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley saxes, Bill Evans piano, Paul Chambers bass & Jimmy Cobb drums, a sextet for the best selling album of all time 'Kind of Blue'

The third 1957-63 Davis group played Gil Evans arrangements. This was actually the Gil Evans orchestra. Miles recorded several classic albums with Gil ...

The fourth important Miles group of this period 1964-68 included Wayne Shorter sax, Herbie Hancock piano, Ron Carter bass, and Tony Williams drums ... recordings of this group, including 'Live At The Plugged Nickel', as well as the earlier 'My Funny Valentine'. Miles had learned Bebop, and applied his beautiful sound to melodic improvisation and now in the 1960s he was with young musicians who were way out, and Miles tagged along for the ride?

Miles Ahead1957 'Miles Ahead' orchestra jazz, searching for the lost mainstream of American music, Miles again called for Gil Evans and lush orchestrations for a big band; it worked he became an icon, the best suits, the best women, the shades, a hero emerges, the best loved albums for years. Gil Evans wrote arrangements with plenty of space for Miles to develop his beautiful solos, a showcase. Exquisite sounds but a rude man. These guys were still playing bopish standards with extended chords which were rearranged creatively, 'like explaining something five different ways' ...

There were other albums of note with Gil Evans - 1958 'Porgy & Bess' with Gil Evans who arranged pieces of Gershwin ... 1960 'Sketches of Spain' again with Gil Evans and the Spanish influence ...

1958 'Milestones' modal jazz was still to come but this recording was the first to ever feature a truly modal Jazz track. Modes brought back improvisation to the melody line. 

Kind of Blue1959 'Kind of Blue' modal jazz with the sextet, and high on most lists of all time favourite jazz albums. The primary style of this group was called modal, as it relied on songs written around simple scales or modes that often last for many measures each, as opposed to the quickly changing complex harmonies of bebop derived styles. Miles went into scalar music and melody; chords and harmony no longer restricted improvisation.

1967 'Nefertiti' free bop as Miles started to play 'outside' the chords, deliberately dissonant, as he had done initially with Gil Evans with his improvisations on modal scales ... no chords but one cohesive group bonded by intimate musical knowledge ... you had to know how to play outside ... no chords but there was certainly a rhythmic pulse; Wayne Shorter had paid his dues with Art Blakey.

 'Neferiti' was an ode to John Coltrane ...

Miles Davis' 4th group produced 'ESP' 1965, 'Miles Smiles' 1966, 'Sorcerer' 1967, 'Nefertiti' 1967, 'Miles In The Sky' 1968, and 'Filles de Kilimanjaro' 1968.

Was this 'free bop'? Perhaps a meaningful description.

But Miles didn't like the Free Jazz of melody without harmony, he suggested that it was a plot to confuse audiences and deny them the real blues.

Miles certainly flirted with  avant-garde ... which was intensely harmonic? These were important distinctions.

Was he searching for something that didn't exist?

Miles himself suggested that 'The Birth of the Cool' and 'Kind of Blue' were old hat -

'I have no feel for them any more ... more like warmed up turkey'

'We're not going to play the blues anymore. Let the white folks play the blues. They got 'em so they can keep 'em'.

Past the sell by date? ... but the Blues went on forever ... listen to 'West End Blues' 1928 ...

Anyone can come up with something new, but the kids wanted something good!

1970 'Bitches Brew' was another attempt to to find the audience which had gone to Rock 'n' Roll ...

Miles reacted to the popularity of Rock and incorporated rock beats and electrified instruments and started playing at the rock venues for the kids ... flirting with another cult to try and find popular music ... jazz/rock fusion ... it didn't work The Beatles and Eric Clapton did it better!

These recordings and their sales confirmed the supreme position of Miles Davis.

Nevertheless the black kids were with R&B and the white kids were with Rock 'n' Roll ...

Good Company.

In the 1960s Bebop developed a second generation.

Norman Granz (1918-2001) and 'Jazz at the Philharmonic' made a major contribution to 'Modern Jazz' ... anti racist, black & white - Hawk, Prez, Ella, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Bird, Diz, Stan Getz, Max Roach and Oscar Peterson ... 

Clifford Brown (1930-56) and Max Roach - clean brilliance with no hang ups, warm effortless melody, cut short by a road accident.

1955 'Joyspring'

Sonny Rollins (-) a tormented soul, Sonny Rollins was the natural heir to Bird? Improvising there and then with a big exaggerated tone and rhythm & rhythm before melody.

1956 'Saxophone Colossus'

Sarah Vaughan (1924-90) Sassy, rich tone and musical excellence.

John Coltrane (1926-67) was a workaholic, 8 hour practice sessions just on C major. Trane's innovations were not 'Free Jazz', he was supremely harmonically sophisticated ... a knowledge so deep it enable him to play convincingly 'outside' ... 'deliberately' dissonant ... he produced an awesome intensity  ... but the Blues tradition had always been simpler ... did Trane lose his audience with his 'sheets of sound'? ... there was a lot of listening to be done to understand Trane ... most folk didn't do it. But Trane did play the Blues, he did improvise and he did swing!

However which way you looked at it jazz had always been playing the changes in the blues idiom ... Charlie Parker just complicated the changes but John Coltrane went outside of the changes ... this was 'avant-garde' this was not 'free jazz' ...

1960 'Giant Steps' - another giant of this period. In addition to his playing with Miles, he recorded under his own name, which showed him to be one of the most technically gifted and harmonically advanced players around. After leaving Miles, he formed a quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones, and a variety of bass players, finally settling on Jimmy Garrison. Coltrane's playing with this group showed him to be one of the most intensely emotional players around.

1961 'Chasin' the Trane' at The Village Vanguard - after Dizzy's Big Band and Miles' Quintet, Trane has a spiritual awakening and emerges from drugs, clean and restless, champing at the bit, restless energy, dedicated to sheets of sound and 80 choruses of the blues ...

1961 'My Favourite Things' - John Coltrane with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, second only to Miles in popularity.

1964 'A Love Supreme' - John Coltrane lays out his soul with sustained intensity ... the ultimate protest music ... 'earnest, the lyrical shout of the preacher converting his congregation' ... 

1965 'Ascension' - John Coltrane appeared to be creating an effect by deliberately playing 'outside' of the conventional harmonies ... as if carefully selecting notes which were NOT part of the 'conventional' chords ... it was not easy to deliberately play outside of the harmonies ...

Coltrane was exploring polytonality by playing a melody in one key above the chord sequences in a different key!

John Coltrane's group evolved constantly, from the relatively traditional post bop of My Favourite Things to the high energy modal of A Love Supreme to the wailing avant-garde of Meditations and Ascension. He believed his music should speak to the souls of the people ... when Ray Charles played his Rhythm & Blues the people named a music after his Soul ...

1960s were violent times produced violent music, but the apocalyptic protest music didn't have an audience - Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Max Roach ... 

Charles Mingus (1922-79) was another angry man, he was an influential leader during this period. His small groups tended to be less structured than others, giving more freedom to the individual players, although Mingus also directed larger ensembles in which most of the parts were written out. Mingus' compositions for smaller groups were often only rough sketches, and performances were sometimes literally composed or arranged on the bandstand, with Mingus calling out directions to the musicians. Alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and flautist Eric Dolphy was a mainstay of Mingus' groups. His playing was often described angular, meaning that the interval in his lines were often large leaps, as opposed to scalar lines, consist mostly of steps.

'Pithecanthropus Erectus' 1956 was a milestone and the album 'Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus' 1956 featuring Eric Dolphy was a classic.

Mingus was hailed as immensely influential ... but who or what did he influence?

In the 1960s there was no work for modern jazz musicians and there was argument and division everywhere ... even hatred ...

By 1970 Coltrane was dead ... wot next?

Wynton Marsalis,

'Some European music suffered from a tremendous amount of intellect being put into it to create a style that nobody could understand. You can pick your horn up and just play what you want to play with a group of musicians and it can be creative. It can be expressive and meaningful to you and you can have a great time doing it. But I don't think too many people are going to want to hear it for too long. It's basket ball without a net, it maybe fun but it ain't basketball.'

 

back to jazz tradition