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Posts Tagged ‘MIles Davis’

Sippin’ at Bell’s

Posted by keithosaunders on September 4, 2018

Here is an unconventional blues from Miles Davis called Sippin’ at Bells.  It comes from his very first session as a leader in 1947 and the band featured Charlie Parker (on tenor!) John Lewis – piano, Nelson Boyd – bass, and Max Roach on drums.

The other tracks are the original Milestones, (Miles would write a second Milestones ten years later – a modal tune based on two chords) Little Willie Leaps (based on the chords of Bronislaw Kaper’s All Gods Children Got Rhythm), and Half Nelson.  All four of the tunes on this date ended up becoming jazz standards.  Jazz musicians throughout the world know them and continue to play them.

Sippin’ at Bells, a 12 bar blues,  is notable for it’s unique, substitute chord laden progression.  Miles begins the song with an F major 7 (instead of a dominant 7) and if that is not radical enough, he immediately diverts to the key of Eb in measure two, using Fm7-Bb7.  In the fifth measure, instead of using the usual IV dominant 7, Davis employs a IV major 7, a striking diversion from the norm.

In 1949 the pianist Bud Powell would record his original, Dance of the Infidels.  Its chord progression is almost identical to that of ‘Bells,’ although its melody is completely different.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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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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Starman

Posted by keithosaunders on January 11, 2016

DD

I’ve been thinking about Diamond Dogs.  This was the first David Bowie record to be released after I had started listening to him. (Ziggy and Aladdin Sane already felt like ancient history even though they were only one and two years old) I remember counting down the days until DD came out and finally taking it home, playing it and loving it instantly.

There was this strange dichotomy with Bowie – here was this effeminate androgynous person who appeared more alien than human, yet his music was as muscular and substantial as anything heard before or since. Growing up in the staid, conforming, tract-home infested San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, listening to Bowie felt simultaneously thrilling and subversive.

Less than a year after Diamond Dogs Bowie would  help kick-start disco with Young Americans and I summarily rote him off.  This  was convenient for me since I had begun studying and playing jazz and wouldn’t listen to rock music for another three years.  When I did get around to checking out rock again my brother played me the Eno-produced records that Bowie had made in the interim – Low, Heroes, and Lodger – and they blew my mind.  Scary Monsters came out a few months after I had rediscovered him and it was like a satisfying coda to the frenetic and schizophrenic seventies.  Soon Bowie would don a suit and tie for the conservative 80s only to reemerge in the 90s as a cutting-edge post-punk industrial rocker.

Bowie is the most important pop artist we’ve lost since John Lennon.  He was like a rock version of Miles Davis.  He stayed relevant and innovative no matter how old he got and he influenced every generation that was lucky enough to have heard him.
 It’s a sad day.

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What’s My Line: Coltrane Edition

Posted by keithosaunders on December 8, 2015

Miles-Davis

When I was first getting into jazz back in 1975 I checked out a Prestige Miles 2-fer from the library which contained music from 2 out of the 4 classic quintet sessions. (Workin’/Steamin’/Relaxin’/Cookin’)  These were the sessions with My Funny Valentine, Tune Up, Woodyn You and Airegin, among others. I taped it but for some reason didn’t write down the personnel.

A few weeks before having checked out the Miles record I had listened to a late period John Coltrane record – it was probably from 1966, which was the group with Alice Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, and Rasheed Ali.  I hated it!  What was that guy playing?  It sounded like a coyote caught in a trap. When I heard the sax player on the Miles record, however, I said to myself, ‘now *that* guy can play.’ Little did I know that it was the same player!

I should add that years later, when my ears were ready for it, I came to like and appreciate late period Coltrane.  It’s fascinating to hear him evolve on records over a ten year period.  I can’t think of anything else like it in the history of music.

Coltrane

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The main event: The John Coltrane Quartet!

Posted by keithosaunders on October 14, 2015

I just saw this for the first time last week:  The John Coltrane Quartet playing A Love Supreme live.  Amazing stuff. McCoy’s solo on Resolution, which begins at appx 7.50, is devastating.

I really believe that in an Anchorman-style rumble the Coltrane Quartet would have no trouble with Mile’s 60s quintet. I realize that Miles’ group would have a man advantage, but the quartet would outweigh them and are going to want it more.

Now some of you are probably saying, ‘Woah, woah, woah, Miles knew boxing, mannnn!’ To that I would respond, one word: Elvin.

Elvin would be like, ‘You want a piece of this, Miles?’ *Ba bam bam be ke de bam [three against four to the face] GOOSH CRASH BE BAM CRINKLE OH SNAP [paradiddle] GA-GOOSH IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO PLAY 6/8 GROOVE GROAN SKOOSH CYMBAL*

And that, my friends, would be the end of the Miles Davis Quintet. I would hope they already had recorded Miles Smiles cause that shit is my favorite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qt435yF2Qg

John Coltrane’s masterwork, A Love Supreme, was only played once in live concert. This portion is the only surviving film of that 1965 performance.
YOUTUBE.COM

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The greatest piano solo I’ve ever heard

Posted by keithosaunders on September 12, 2015

I’ve always liked Herbie Hancock but for whatever reason he has never cracked my top 3 favorite pianists. (Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, McCoy Tyner) I was into most, if not all of his leader dates in the 60s, (Speak Like a Child is a top 5 record for me) and love him with Miles. Yet…there was something preventing me from going all in. I liked him as a friend.

Until…this. On the very first tune of this video, at apx 8:38 he plays a solo on Autumn Leaves that is so monumental that I am surprised that the space-time continuum was able to maintain its structural integrity and that there still exists an earth where there are standards with chord changes in 32 bar forms. That we try to play. And fail.

This is one of the best piano solos I’ve ever heard. It’s a fully realized, harmonically mind blowing, yet seriously grooving, logic defying masterpiece.

For some reason Wayne ends his solo at the bridge. (why did he do that?) Herbie starts out with some clusters suspended over a pedal point. He’s doing the ropadope – like he’s biding his time, patiently waiting for the chorus to come around and then BAM!

 

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The loneliest gig

Posted by keithosaunders on August 7, 2015

keitho noir

Solo piano is a lonely man’s gig.  It requires three times the effort of playing with a group since you have to not only play the tune, but act as your own rhythm section. Throw in the fact that you are essentially background music and nobody is listening to you and you’ve got a potentially gruelling evening.

I’ve been thinking about solo piano lately since I began doing a Wednesday and Sunday night gig at a restaurant/lounge in San Francisco.  It’s the first time in quite a while that I’ve had a solo gig, and I have to say, despite what was written in the previous paragraph, or maybe even because of it, I’m enjoying the experience.  I mean you can look at it from another angle.  It’s a chance to work on repertoire, chops, and concentration.  Plus you’re your own boss, calling the musical shots from start to finish.

Way back when I still lived in Los Angeles (some 35 years ago) I had a solo gig at a trendy restaurant in Pacific Palisades called Les Anges.  This was a marathon five hour gig which paid a whopping $60.00, although it was 1982 bucks so it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.  Still…five hours!

As I said, this was a trendy restaurant and being as it was in Los Angeles I got a chance to see a lot of famous people come through.  I saw Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Gene Wilder, and Gilda Radner all come in together.  Steve Martin came through one night and was admiring the art on the walls when the owner approached him. “I Loved ‘Two Brains’!” Martin turned to him and said, “Thanks but the movie I have out now is called “The Normal Guy.”  [awkward silence ensued]

Bea Arthur came in one night and got loaded.  On the way out she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Play Lady is a Tramp!”  I did as I was told and she proceeded to belt it out Broadway style.  Her husband, embarrassed that she was making a scene in this staid French restaurant tried to get her to leave and she yelled at him, “SHUT UP HONEY, I’LL FUCK YA LATER!”  And then there’s Maude…

One night Miles Davis and Cicely Tyson came to Les Anges. That was a thrill for me.  I played a lot of Miles songs and on the way out, from across the room, he gave me a subtle nod of assent.  At least that’s the way I chose to interpret it.  Who knows, maybe he was responding to Cicely asking him if he agreed that the Three Stooges were funnier than Laurel & Hardy. The answer died with Miles.

Last night there was a table of noisy techie broncos sitting next to the piano.  One guy in particular must never have perfected the art of the inside voice and needless to say he was grating on my nerves.  I said to myself,’screw this, I’m just going to play soft and take it easy.’  Well wouldn’t you know it, the broncos actually calmed down and spoke softer.  They were only incrementally softer, but it was an improvement over their previous din.  It took me 35 years to realize that the softer I play the softer they talk.  I didn’t know whether to be happy or embarrassed.

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My Favorite Things: My favorite record

Posted by keithosaunders on December 5, 2010

When people ask me who my favorite musician is, or what my favorite song is, I find it impossible to come up with an answer.  There are too many to narrow it down to one.  Besides, if I did have a favorite song I would probably overplay it to the point that it would lose its number one ranking.  I do have my list of favorite pianists — Bud Powell, Horace Silver, and Wynton Kelly — and if you put a gun to my head I would choose Bud Powell, but regardless, it doesn’t feel right to narrow such genius down to one person.

When it comes to my favorite record I’m going to make an exception.  Coltrane was 34 years old when he recorded My Favorite Things on October 24th, 1960, 2 weeks shy of JFK winning the presidency and one month after the Pittsburgh Pirates, behind Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic 9th inning homerun, defeated the New York Yankees in game 7 of the World Series.  I was one day shy of two months old. 

During the previous three years Coltrane had worked with Theloniuos Monk and Miles Davis respectively.  During this period he played long, note-laden solos that critic Ira Gitler dubbed “sheets of sound.”  Between Monk’s angular compositions, and later with his own Giants Steps chord changes, Trane was playing over some of the most intricate, sophisticated harmony ever conceived, and he worked his way through these thorny chord changes like a knife slicing through butter.

By the time of My Favorite Things we see Coltrane straddling his sheets of sound with a more muscular, modally infused lyricism that would inform his classic quartet of the early to mid 60s.  The record is composed of four standards, but the arrangements are so germane to Coltrane that they may as well have been original compositions.  They are disparate songs which are not only connected by Trane’s genius, but by the group’s sound.

Coltrane’s concept meshed perfectly with his new group.  McCoy Tyner Steve Davis, (Jimmy Garrison would not join him for another year) and Elvin Jones infused Coltrane’s earthy relentless tone and hard-driving rhythmic concept with an ideal underpinning, giving him the freedom to expand on his ideas.  You can almost sense that he is so comfortable with his band that he has the confidence to play less.  These musicians were the ideal compliment for him, widening the beat and fusing dissonance, lyricism, and explosive poly-rhythms.       

Tyner’s 8 bar introduction to Richard Roger’s My Favorite Things is at once dark and foreboding.  Coltrane suspends the song’s chords over an E pedal and alternates between major and minor vamps.  The combination of his soprano sax and Davis’s droning E pedal gives the song an exotic, Eastern flavor.  If anyone thinks that it is a simple feat to play over one or two chords for this long a period I would advise them to try this at home and see what happens.  Not only does Trane never run out of ideas, but he shows such an attention to melody and phrasing that we never want him to stop.  The ballad, Everytime We Say Goodbye, perfectly offsets the denseness of the songs that frame it.  It could serve as a treatise on how to play a melody.  It is romanticism at its finest.  

It is side two, however, which for me makes this date.  It is comprised of two devastating arrangements of a pair of Gershwin songs that are both shocking and awe-inspiring.  They are cast against type and perfectly fit the scope of Trane’s style and they seamlessly cohere to the shape of this date. 

Coltrane transforms Summertime from a languid, bluesy number to a tour de force modal vehicle, complete with pedal point, whole tone harmony, and a four bar break that rivals Bird’s all-timer on Night In Tunisia.

The album’s closer, But Not For Me, is Trane’s farewell to Giant Steps changes and it transforms a well-worn vehicle into a personal tour de force.  He uses the Giant Steps progression on the first 8 measures of the  A and B sections, but it is the long tag — the iii-Vi-ii-V turn-around vamp at the end of his solo and final melody chorus — that stands out.  Here is an artist with an inexhaustible wealth of ideas that is able to build tension and excitement over the same four chords for several minutes at a time.  Only Sonny Stitt could play a tag for this long without running out of ideas, but Stitt didn’t have McCoy and Elvin.        

Not long after this recording Trane would give up playing on standards entirely.  True, the Ballads, and Duke Ellington dates were still two years in the future, but by 1960 Trane’s music was in rapid flux and he would not only pare down his notes per bar, but his chord progressions as well. 

 By the time of My Favorite Things Coltrane had become a musician who could play over the most difficult of harmony at any tempo.  Not only did he possess a supreme technical prowess, but he had the ability to infuse his lines with witticism and melody.  This is why he sounds so great regardless of whether he is playing a standard or a composition without any harmonic center.  Even towards the end of his life, when he would sometimes scream into the horn, there is a foundation.  It all comes from substance. 

In 1960 John Coltrane would begin to eliminate what he felt was not essential.  Most of us can only dream of having that luxury and the wherewithal to implement it.

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Two giants: Someday My Prince Will Come

Posted by keithosaunders on April 20, 2010

Jon Wertheim, over at Rehearsing the Blues there is a post up about the Disney song, Someday My Prince Will Come.  The song, which is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,  has been recorded by a bevy of jazz musicians, most notably Miles Davis.  While the post at Rehearsing the Blues focuses on a version by Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch, it has inspired some thoughts of my own about Mile’s version.

One of the things I love most about Someday My Prince (other than every note and chord Wynton Kelly plays) is the contrasting tenor solos.  Hank Mobley’s solo is characteristically sparse and filled with melody and humor.  He cuts through these unconventional changes like butter and his tone is sweet and silky.

After Mobley’s solo Miles has the band break down to the rhythm section playing an F pedal interlude.  It serves as a sorbet between solos and it has the effect of building tension.  All of a sudden, *bang,* there’s Coltrane at the peak of his sheets of sound phase.  His solo is remarkable, not just for its sheer virtuosity, but how it stands in stark contrast to Mobley’s melodic gem.  Trane’s solo  is shorn of all romanticism, yet embedded in its barrage of notes is lyricism and wit.  As always his intensity and focus are in evidence, but they are tempered somewhat by the the gloss and the sheen of Miles’ arrangement.  This is the same Coltrane who later that year [1961] will record a 15 minute sax solo on the blues — Chasin’ the Trane —  without running out of ideas.  With Miles, however, he was able to distill this energy into a two-minute solo.

Mobley, to his credit, does not try to match Trane note for note.  His ideas are so personal and so confident that he  is very much at home on this track.  It amazes me that he could deliver this sublime solo while standing next to one of the greatest saxophonists of his, or any era.  In this sense he was like a basketball player calmly burying free throws in the final minute of a playoff game.   

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Miles Davis: The secret weapon in the fight for health care reform.

Posted by keithosaunders on March 20, 2010

On August 29th, 1970 Miles Davis appeared at the Isle of Wight festival.  Primarily a rock festival it featured such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, and The Who. 

Miles was in rare form — on fire!   The group consisted of 2 keyboard players — Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.  I know that Jarrett did not like playing electric pianos but he sounded good, playing one of the raunchiest sounding keyboards (supposedly an organ) I’ve ever heard.  He somehow manages not to overpower the music. I wonder how Chick, who was playing rhodes,  and Keith got along on that tour. I would have liked to have overheard some of their conversations.

It is my belief that the entire U.S. Congress, yutzes that are,  should be locked  inside of a screening  room and forced to listen and view this concert.  I am convinced that the ensuing mass heart attacks would be instrumental in driving home the point about the importance of health care reform.

You can watch a great interview with Keith Jarrett about this concert at Joshua’s blog here

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