10 ways the Miles Davis 1960s quintet challenged our musical assumptions

Few groups in jazz have actively sought to challenge their pre-existing musical assumptions as much as the great 1960s Miles Davis Quintet did. Here are some of the questions they asked themselves:

1. Why do jazz musicians always have to improvise over the tune’s chord progression?

2. Why can’t one soloist play over the changes and the next soloist play “free,” on the same tune?

3. Why can’t we leave mistakes on the record? Even big mistakes like when the sax player and bassist get lost and play over different chords for a while?

4. What if we made up the chord progression as we went along?

5. What if we played “anti-music” all week at a nightclub, and went against all of our usual musical instincts? (And let’s have some fun with this by not telling the bandleader!)

6. What’s the DNA of a composition?

7. Why does the pianist always have to comp during everyone’s solos?

8. Why can’t jazz musicians play straight 8ths and still call it “jazz?”

9. Why do we even have to play solos, anyway? What would happen if we repeated the melody over and over again?

10. What is music?

We can go far by even choosing just one of these and exploring it for a while.

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