The great jazz trumpeter/bandleader Miles Davis has been called many things, but “charming” isn’t one of them. At least not often. But he did apparently have a charming side, and it’s evident in some of his music.
When most people think of the “great” eras of Davis’ career, they usually cite his 1950’s group with John Coltrane, his 1960’s quintet with Wayne Shorter, his orchestral collaborations with the arranger Gil Evans, or perhaps the jazz-rock playing of his later years.
All that music is great, of course, but I have a soft spot for a little-discussed period in the early 1950s, after his “apprentice” period with Charlie Parker and before he fully came into his own as a bandleader with albums like “Milestones.”
Miles made a series of recordings in the early-to-mid 50’s that are still in the bebop tradition, but a little different. He had found his voice as a trumpet player but hadn’t fully developed it yet into his mature style. There’s still a bit of the youthful spirit that he came to New York from St. Louis with, and his lyricism still sings with charm. Yes, charm. In later years his soloing could still be playful, but it always contained a depth at the same time. Here, it’s the playfulness of youth.
This youthful spirit is apparent on one of my favorite early Miles album: The Musings Of Miles. Recorded in 1955, the album also features Red Garland on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums, both of whom would continue with Miles as two-thirds of the rhythm section in his great 1950s quintet. Furthermore, it’s one of the few Davis albums in which he’s the only horn player. Maybe this is what brought the various aspects of his musical personality to the fore at this very special recording session.
The songs “Will You Still Be Mine” and A Gal In Calico” both feature some of my favorite playing from Miles. Unlike his early playing as a member of Charlie Parker’s quintet, Davis has now thoroughly mastered the bebop language and seems to be enjoying himself fully. His phrases are perfectly balanced and he’s developing a style all his own. I especially enjoy his use of upper neighbor notes, almost playing them as trills.
His version of “A Night In Tunisia” shows how confident he has become. At this point, Davis is no longer the young kid who quit Charlie Parker’s group after each gig because he didn’t feel “good enough.” This new-found confidence shows in the fact that he chose to play Dizzy Gillespie’s signature song here. Few trumpeters of that era would willingly invite direct comparisons with the bebop trumpet master himself. Not only does Miles not shy away from covering Gillespie’s classic tune, but he puts a few of his own elements into the arrangement as well, establishing himself as a bold musical visionary who clearly has his own approach to the music!
“Green Haze” is one of the great slow blues recordings in all of jazz. Listen to this and soak it in!
Here’s the entire album. Enjoy this little-known gem. It’s a musical snapshot of a very special time in Miles Davis’s development. It shows a side of his personality that he revealed less and less as time went on.
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