Monday, January 4, 2016

Miles Davis At Columbia, Records That Is ....

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Eddie Condon, Erroll Garner, Woody Herman - at a point in time in Jazz’s halcyon days, it seemed that every major Jazz artist issued records on the Columbia label.

Of course Verve, Capitol, RCA and many other recording labels that were exclusively devoted to Jazz such as Blue Note, Prestige and Pacific Jazz had their stable of notable Jazz artists, but Columbia seemed to have more of the trendsetter and signature Jazz performers.

Miles Davis was the musician whose appearance on Columbia in the mid-1950’s surprised me the most.

In my nascent awareness of what was going on with the Jazz recordings of that era, Miles seemed ensconced at Prestige, one of the Jazz boutique labels. Relaxin’ Steamin’, Cookin’, Workin’ and one LP simply entitled Miles just appeared one after another on Bob Weinstock’s Prestige label that I thought that Miles was a permanent fixture there.

But with Miles being a savvy businessman, there was a lot going on behind the scene in terms of his move to Columbia as Michael Cuscuna explains in his Introduction to The Complete Miles Davis and John Coltrane on Columbia, 1955-1961, six CD boxed set [65833].  These were among his first Columbia recordings and would go on to become the bedrock upon which Miles built his claim to international stardom.


The difference in his approach to recording sessions for Prestige and Columbia underlines that point. The first Columbia session was made on October 26, 1955, while he was still under contract to Prestige and it marks the inaugural recording of the great quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Despite the session's artistic success, it only yielded four quintet tunes, two of which he would remake in 1958. Listening to the alternate takes on this session and throughout this set, it is evident that Miles is working hard to achieve truly great and beautiful performances.

At Prestige, he was generating whole albums in a single or double session, often with personnel that was assembled only for the date. And once he had this quintet in place and a Columbia contract in hand, he was able to record thirty-one tunes, five albums worth, during three recording days over the next year, to complete his Prestige obligations.

His entire studio output at Columbia, from his first session until the spring of 1959, consisted of two albums with Gil Evans and the equivalent of four albums with his small group. And the tunes he recorded for Columbia were most often the ones that he played live. Clearly, Miles understood the power of a major label and what he had to do to make it work for him.

In lesser hands, this careful, conscious approach to recording could create music stiffer than Guy Lombardo. But in the hands of any artist of this caliber who understood the weight of a note and impact of space, the results are astonishing.

The first three sessions on this set (October 26, 1955, June 5 and September 10, 1956) are by the original quintet and parallel the group's sessions for Prestige (November 16, 1955, May 11 and October 26, 1956). Of the ten tunes for Columbia, six made up the first Columbia album, 'Round About Midnight, while two were issued on anthologies of the time and the remaining two did not appear until the Seventies.

In 1957, the Quintet disintegrated through a series of departures and firings. But Miles was concentrating on recording Miles Ahead with Gil Evans and made no small group recordings during this year of flux. He reformed the original quintet in December, adding Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone.

The next February and March, he recorded Milestones with this sextet. Available only in mono or electronically rechanneled stereo for four decades, it makes its first appearance in stereo (along with an unissued "Little Melonae" and three magnificent alternate takes| in this box set.

The fact that Red Garland showed up so late to the March session and that he appeared only on the third and last tune certainly contributed to his dismissal later that month. Philly Joe quit in May. Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb were their replacements and the sound of the band began to change.

The new edition of the Sextet went in the studio in May and recorded four tunes, three of which were used to fill out Jazz Track, an album with Miles' score to the French film L'Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud.

Live gigs at the Newport Jazz Festival and a Columbia Records Jazz Party at the Plaza Hotel were taped, but shelved until 1964 and 1973 respectively. (To preserve the flow and development of the studio material by the Davis band with Coltrane, these live sessions appear out of chronological sequence at the end of this set.) Between those gigs, Miles would record Porgy And Bess with Gil Evans.

By the end of that year, Bill Evans had left to form his own trio. Wynton Kelly would replace him. However, Evans would return in March and April, 1959 as pianist (on four tunes), composer ("Blue In Green") and liner note writer for the ground-breaking modal masterpiece Kind Of Blue.

John Coltrane, who'd recently left Prestige to sign with Atlantic Records, left the band in May to start developing his own group. But he was drafted back in several times before his final stint, a European tour in March and April, 1960. His last professional appearance with Miles was the trumpeter's first small-group studio recording since Kind Of Blue. Trane played on two pieces during those March 1961 sessions that produced Someday My Prince Will Come.

This set charts the development of two of the most influential and ever-evolving artists in American music. Their growth from take to take, session to session and year to year is an astonishing thing to behold. Despite, or perhaps because of, their drastically different approaches to improvisation, they made one of the more magnificent teams in jazz.”


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