Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool

C. Michael Bailey By

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Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool Addendum. Alex Henderson reviewed this re-release in the June issue of AAJ, succinctly honoring it as an important re- release of some of the most essential jazz music produced. I wholeheartedly agree. I always prefer to offer context and that is what I want to add to Mr. Henderson's fine review.

Move. The first time I ever heard Denzil Best's "Move" was on Art Pepper + 11: Modern Jazz Classics. I thought it was just groovin.' It was not until several years of listening to that album that I realized Pepper was playing homage to Davis' nonet account of this tune. These Birth of the Cool sessions were important because they marked Miles Davis' first departure from the "mainstream" (Be-Bop) jazz norm of the time. Just as he did with his modal explorations a decade later, Davis broadened the boundaries of jazz with his 1948 nonet. He did this by breaking away from the 32-bar tin pan alley form, by expanding the definition of the small jazz orchestra, and by placing an equal emphasis on the arrangers as on the soloists.

Over at Gil's Place. In the late 1940s, 52nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City, was the jazz center of the world. On any given evening, one could see Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, or Dizzy Gillespie playing. Not far from ground zero, just three blocks up on 55th street, was a single room basement apartment that many of the finest jazz musicians of the day would flock to, following singer Dave Lambert's directions, ..."down a short flight of stairs, [past] a Chinese Laundry, through a boiler room, and there it was ? home." This domicile was nominally the home of perhaps the finest jazz arranger ever, Gil Evans.

Jazz Arrangement. Gil Evans wrote arrangements for the Claude Thornhill Big Band in the middle 1940s. He is credited with introducing Be-Bop compositions into the Big Band repertoire with arrangements of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" and "Yardbird Suite" and Gillespie and Parker's "Anthropology." Miles Davis met Evans in 1947 after Davis recorded "Donna Lee" for Savoy records; Evans was interested in Miles' score of the Charlie Parker tune and Miles was interested in the instrumental combinations of the Thornhill band. The synergy that resulted began one of the most empathetic and productive collaborations in jazz history. Evans was interested in the whole over the parts, the entire arrangement over individual soloists, and Miles was there to dovetail perfectly into that vision. The result was Miles Davis' Nonet.

The Nonet. The core of the musicians who had been frequenting Evans' apartment agreed that the vehicle to drive Evans and Davis' vision was a nine piece band comprised of the typical Be-Bop quintet of trumpet, saxophone, bass, drums, piano, supplemented by a second saxophone (baritone) and three low brass instruments (in this case the tuba, French horn, and trombone). Equal to all were the arrangers, Gerry Mulligan (who also played baritone saxophone), John Lewis (later of the Modern Jazz Quartet), Evans, and composer John Carisi. But it was Miles Davis who ran the show, and what a show it was! Between the Springs of 1948 and 1949, the Nonet formed, recorded, performed, then disbanded. This short life helped give rise to the "Cool" jazz idiom that was to eventually be dominated by the West Coast and eventually fall prey to another innovation, Hard Bop, in which Davis played a significant part.

The Birth of the Cool. The Complete Birth of the Cool is important for the same reason as Thelonious Monk's Discovery: At the Five Spot. They both, for the first time, provide the listening public live recordings of famous collaborations that previously had been only the stuff of myths. Illumination of this music does not dull the mythic qualities of this music; it magnifies it. In the case of the Davis Nonet, the live recordings provide two additional pieces to the nonet discography: the Gershwins' "Why Do I Love You" and John Lewis' blues, "S'il Vous Plait." The sonics are not too super, as they are not on Discovery, but that is no matter. The nonet arrangements are as vital and important as Coltrane's creative seizure at the Five Spot. As Mr. Henderson said in his review, "Essential listening." Indeed.

Track Listing: Studio:Move; Jeru; Moon Dreams; Venus De Milo; Budo; Deception; Godchild; Boplicity; Rocker; Israel; Rouge; Darn That Dream.Live: Birth of the Cool Theme; Move; Why Do I Love You; Godchild; S'il Vous Plait; Moon Dreams; Budo; Darn That Dream, Move; Mood Dreams; Budo.

Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet); Kenny Hagood (vocals); Lee Konitz (alto saxophone); Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone); J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding (trombone); Junior Collins, Sandy Siegelstein, Gunther Schuller (French horn); Bill Barber (tuba); John Lewis, Al Haig (piano); Al McKibbon, Joe Shulman, Nelson Boyd (acoustic bass); Kenny Clarke, Max Roach (drums). Personnel on live tracks: Miles Davis (trumpet); Kenny Hagood (vocals); Lee Konitz (alto saxophone); Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone); Mike Zwerin (trombone); Junior Collins (French horn); Bill Barber (tuba); John Lewis (piano); Al McKibbon (bass); Max Roach (drums).

Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Capitol Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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