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1959: The Year Classic Albums Were Born

By Published: November 2, 2009

The Legacy package contains some extra music, including the only live version of "Concierto de Aranjuez," performed in 1961 at Carnegie Hall (part of the two-CD package Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall, Columbia Legacy, 1998). It also contains rehearsal music in which certain sections ran down the music of different songs at different times. The latter part has no real relevance and adds nothing artistically to the package. Some of the complete takes of songs, plus the Spanish tinged "Maids of Cadiz," swiped from Miles Ahead, the first Davis/Evans Columbia record, are appropriate.

The album notes by Gunther Schuller are excellent and a strong addition for the purchaser, whether musician or fan.

Blumenthal says the Carnegie Hall performance "is interesting because there are little, slight changes in the arrangement. The recording they released (Sketches of Spain) was spliced together from who knows how many takes by the time they were done. When they played it live, they had to go from beginning to end without stopping. As a result, there may be some things they took out of the recorded version just because they didn't get them right in the studio."

He adds, "It's nice they included 'Maids of Cadiz' and 'Teo,' because I think that stuff is related. But I think they could have taken the first disc, added 'Maids of Cadiz' and 'Teo' and had a single-disc release if they'd so chosen ... In the notes they talk about 'Blues for Pablo,' but they don't include that. That would have been a nice addition and they could have left out some of the rehearsal conversation, the orchestra running through the arrangement without Miles Davis being there. That was the one record where I had some question about the added stuff. (Mingus Ah Um) they gave you an entire second album as a second disc. In Kind of Blue they gave you four studio tracks by the same band, which really belongs. (Time Out) they give you live takes where he plays two of the songs again. I thought it was nice. It kind of showed you where the music from it fit into Brubeck's overall presentation at the time. In other words, yeah, it was successful, but he didn't play (live) only stuff from that album. He had other things he was identified with and he found a way to mix them all in."

Blumenthal says another thing that helped add to Miles' mystique was a something that appeared on the Sketches of Spain album cover, simple and understated.

"They've got that image of him bending, playing the trumpet and the bull charging. That little silhouette of the trumpet player became his trademark for a while. I think they used it on other albums. They used it for quite a few years, if I'm not mistaken ... it's like a whole layer of his mystique is created with that image"

He notes that the Columbia album covers contributed to the overall impact of all these iconic albums.

"The Brubeck and Mingus (covers) are both abstract paintings. But they're great ones and they really stay with you. And the Miles Sketches of Spain, especially with the silhouette of the bull and Miles Davis, they send very strong messages about the music too. They seem to capture the music. Even the abstract paintings seem to capture the music."

So, amid other fine albums of the time, like the Ellington Sound Track, Ornette Coleman's Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959), Coltrane's Giant Steps and Everybody Digs Bill Evans (recorded in December of 1958, but released in May of 1959), these legendary albums, from these eminent artists, eventually rose above all and took on lives of their own.

Why any song or any album strikes that kind of chord with people—with the culture—is a mystery. But the "why" isn't important. The music is there and it enriches us.

As Blumenthal notes matter-of-factly, " I look back and say, 'Gee. A major label was doing a surprising admiral job at documenting what was going on.'"

Selected Discography

Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain (Columbia/Legacy, 1960

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Columbia/Legacy, 1959)

Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um (Columbia/Legacy, 1959)

Dave Brubeck, Time Out (Columbia/Legacy, 1959)

Photo Credits

Courtesy of Sony Music

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