Song Of The Day: One (Or Five) More From Miles

Apr 30, 2014

We started our Jazz Appreciation Month Song Of The Day posts with a tune from Miles Davis, but this was before I was including bonus tracks, so I thought I'd end with Miles as well. I doubt anyone will argue that Miles is one of the major figures in jazz and deserves the spotlight. 

I'll start with one of my favorite tunes from the band called Miles' "first great quintet," which featured John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. At the time Miles formed this band, in the mid-'50s, critics were skeptical, but the group went on to be one of the most influential in all of jazz, and their model of the trumpet/sax quintet is copied to this day. And Miles had an uncanny knack of putting just the right people together to find the magic. And this band found it!

The pinnacle for this group came over two recording session in 1956 when they recorded four albums worth of material. The band had been gigging and touring regularly and treated the recording sessions like gigs, in that most of the songs were done in one take. This is what gives the albums, called "Relaxin', Steamin', Cookin' and Workin'," their fire and immediacy. Here's a tune from those sessions, called "Surrey With The Fringe On Top:"

You might recognize this song from the musical "Oklahoma." Another thing Miles had a knack for was taking pop tunes of the day and reworking them into hip jazz vehicles ripe for interpretation and improvisation. As an aside, this was one of the first solos I ever transcribed (learned note-for-note), and I can still sing it perfectly!

Miles would continue to mine pop music for gems, as he did with this reworking of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" many years later:

This is from the album "You're Under Arrest" from 1985, which also featured Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

Miles' "second great quintet" was formed when he brought together Wayne Short, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. This band redefined what a small group could do, stressing freedom within structure, group interplay and ferocious technique.

Here's two videos of that band in action, the first from 1963 and the second from 1966:

The interplay, the quick changes, the telepathy and the power they demonstrate is staggering!

I could go on forever, but I'll leave you with just one more. This is the achingly beautiful Thelonious Monk composition "Round Midnight" played by Miles with Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Jones, also from that 1956 session.

I hope you've enjoyed our SOTD posts as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I could do one every day for years and never repeat myself, but we'll just have to wait until Jazz Appreciation Month rolls around again next April for 30 more.

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Jason Parker is a Seattle-based jazz trumpet player, educator and writer. His band, The Jason Parker Quartet, was hailed by Earshot Jazz as "the next generation of Seattle jazz." Find out more about Jason and his music at jasonparkermusic.com