The World According to Keitho

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Miles’ Prestige transition

Posted by keithosaunders on February 29, 2016

Miles Davis had one of the most fascinating careers in jazz.  He came to New York in 1945 to study at Julliard but soon connected with Charlie Parker and joined his quintet.  The first few recordings Miles made with Bird are the only ones on which he sounds a little tentative. He would soon find his voice and by the time he recorded Birth of the Cool in 1949 he was on his way to becoming one the most influential jazz musicians of all time.

Davis is the antithesis of John Coltrane, whose playing was in a constant state of flux. Miles playing in 1950 – his choice of notes, his warm, personal sound, and his attack –  is not all that different than in 1990.  it was the bands around him — the sidemen he chose – who evolved, keeping Davis’s sound fresh. That’s why hardly any Miles record sounds like the other, yet all are instantly identifiable.

Last week I listened to a box set of all the recordings Davis did on the Prestige label; these took place between 1951-56. Miles sounds great throughout and there are sessions with Milt Jackson, Horace Silver,  a quirky (even for him) Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

In 1955 Miles, at the urging of George Avakian, an executive at Columbia records, put together his first great quintet. This consisted of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.  Miles first choice for tenor was Sonny Rollins who was busy with other projects.

Before he could sign with Columbia records Miles had to fulfill his obligations to Prestige which he did in the form of marathon recording sessions in 1955 and 56.  These sessions yielded some of the greatest sides known to jazz:  Workin,’ Cookin,’ Steamin,’ and Relaxin.’

I spent the better part of the week listening to the earlier Miles Prestige sides but when I got to the ’56 recordings the difference was stark and immediate.  The quintet has a kinetic energy that is missing from the earlier recordings.  As good as the pre-1956 musicians were they didn’t have the infectious chemistry that Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe did.  Coltrane is not yet the master improviser he would become a mere couple of years later, but it’s fun to listen to him trying new ideas, stumbling, getting up, and succeeding.  He swings his ass off even though he’s not fully formed.

Check it out!

Serpent’s Tooth 1953 w Sonny Rollins and Bird on tenor!

Woody’n You 1956 w the classic Quintet

 

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2 Responses to “Miles’ Prestige transition”

  1. It’s a damn shame….jazz is seen as a ‘dead’ genre; that would NEVER recognize Miles Davis as an absolute legend, yet hip hop artists can write lyrics that a 10 year old can write and be seen as a genius. What the hell is really going on? This may be seen as the ranting of an old man, but I’m only 40 years old

    • Culture is dead in America replaced by corporate drivel. I’m not a rap hater — I think there is some great stuff going on. But the gangsta stuff which is supposed to be so edgy is as corporate as a Wall st bank.

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