As Miles Davis prepares to visit Glasgow for the first time in 17 years, Kenny Mathieson looks at the recorded legacy of the biggest name in jazz.


“Anyway, I’ve come close to matching the feeling of that night in I 944 in the music, when I first heard Dizzy and Bird, but I’ve never quite got there. I’ve gotten close, but not all the way there. I’m always looking for it, though, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play every day. I still remember when I was just a kid, still wet behind the ears, hanging out with all these great musicians, my idols even until this day, Sucking in everything. Man, it was something. I,

(Miles Davis on Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie)

uke Ellington once recalled Miles Davis receiving a complaint from a lady in the audience to the effect that she didn’t understand what the trumpeter was playing. Miles, the Duke remembered, took a typically uncompromising line on her gripe. ‘It took me 20 years’ study and practice to work up to what I wanted to play in this performance. How can she expect to listen for five minutes and understand it?”

That was not the only time that Miles’ audience has recoiled in dismay from one of his characteristic shifts in style. In a recording career which began with an April 1945 session for singer Rubberlegs Williams, and now constitutes one of the largest (and certainly most available) canons in jazz, Davis has remained just as uncompromising, and just as hooked on change.

The sheer size and diversity ofthe Davis discography can be bewildering to hardened Miles followers, far less to new initiates, and everyone has their particular favourites. The recordings selected below, however, are all essential Miles, and essential listening.

Miles never seemed completely comfortable with the furious pace of bebOp, but he participated in some of the most important recordings ofthe period, both as leader and sideman (often with essentially the same group of musicians). Selecting a single recording to represent this period is more difficult, but the sessions with Charlie Parker on The Savoy Recordings and The Legendary Dial Masters (both under Parker’s name) are not to be missed. Both were recently re-issued on two CDs, but are also available on record.

I said it had to be the voicing of a quartet, with soprano, alto, baritone and bass voices. . . . A lot of people put the baritone sax on the bottom, but it’s not a bottom instrument, like a tuba is. The . tuba is a bass instrument. I wanted the instruments l to sound like human voices, and they did. ’5 (Miles Davis on The Birth of the Cool)

The music which was later issued as The Birth of the Cool (Capitol) was recorded in New York over three sessions in 1949 and 1950. These cuts, ill-understood at the time, came to seem seminal works in the deve10pment ofjazz in the 19505, and marked a distinct move away from the verities of bebop into a less frantic and considerably more textured mode. They drew on ideas arrangers Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan had been deve10ping with the Claude Thornhill Big Band, but translated to a nine-piece group with an unusual mix, including French horn and tuba. Kenny Hagood’s insipid vocal on ‘Darn That Dream’ aside, this still sounds fresh today, and has just been released on CD for the first time.

Trane. . . had always been serious aboutmusic and always practiced a lot. But now it was almost

12The List 29June— 12July 1990