About this Recording
8.120772 - DAVIS, Miles: Boplicity (1949-1953)

‘Boplicity’ Original Recordings 1949-1953

One of the giants of 20th century music, Miles Davis stands out as one of the most significant jazz musicians of all time. Unlike most players who develop their sound and style early in life and then spend the rest of their careers polishing their approach without making any major changes, Davis was always looking ahead towards new innovations and styles. While he matured during the bebop era, he was at least partly responsible for founding and popularizing cool jazz, hard bop, modal music, his own brand of avant-garde jazz and fusion. While his cool melancholy sound on the trumpet remained the same, his settings were always up to date and he was a masterful talent scout, only equalled by Fletcher Henderson and Art Blakey.

Miles Dewey Davis was born on 25 May 1926 in Alton, Illinois, growing up in East St Louis, Illinois. While his mother had hoped that he would play classical violin, Davis was given a trumpet by his father for his thirteenth birthday. Early on, he considered his early influences to be Bobby Hackett (loving his lyrical solo on the 1938 recording of “Embraceable You”), Harry James and Clark Terry.

Davis played with his high school band, worked locally with Eddie Randall’s Blue Devils during 1941-43 and had an opportunity to sit in with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra in 1944, a legendary big band that included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Although his own technique was faulty at this point, Davis worked hard to master bebop, trying to play like Gillespie.

After graduating from high school, he moved to New York in September 1944 to study at Juilliard but was soon spending more time in clubs on 52nd Street and he dropped out of school after a few months. He found Charlie Parker, worked a bit with Coleman Hawkins and made his recording debut on 24 April 1945, sounding nervous on a date backing singerdancer Rubberlegs Williams. Although Davis was not quite ready for the big time yet, Charlie Parker saw his potential and used him on a record date later in the year that included the original versions of “Now’s The Time” and “Billie’s Bounce”.

By then, Miles Davis was realizing that he was never going to be another Dizzy Gillespie. He sought to find his own way and came up with a quieter cooler-toned variation of bebop. He stripped the bebop vocabulary to its essential and made every note count, using silence effectively. This process took a couple years but started becoming influential by 1947.

After Davis had had a stint with Benny Carter’s Orchestra, he worked on the West Coast with Parker. He became an official member of Bird’s quintet during 1947-48, a group also including pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Max Roach. Davis’ quiet and thoughtful approach contrasted well with Bird’s exciting virtuosity.

While he was still a member of the Parker Quintet, Davis made his first serious stab at leading his own band. He had become fond of the sound of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, a big band that used French horn and tuba as part of its tonal colours. Gil Evans was Thornhill’s most adventurous arranger and, after they met, Davis and Evans became best friends. Along with baritonist Gerry Mulligan, they decided to form a smaller version of the Thornhill band but one that was more bop-oriented. The resulting Nonet and its dozen recordings became known as “The Birth Of The Cool.”

The ironic part is that the group was only able to get one job during its existence, two weeks as the intermission band for Count Basie at the Royal Roost in the fall of 1948. Fortunately the band was signed to Capitol and recorded three four-song sessions during 1948-50 that made it immortal. The second and third sessions are reissued on this recording in full.

From the start of Gerry Mulligan’s Venus De Milo, it is obvious that the Miles Davis Nonet had an unusual sound of its own. The use of French horn and tuba is part of the reason, but so is having the cool vibratoless tones of Davis and altoist Lee Konitz in the lead. The music swings lightly with the main emphasis being on the tone colours and the advanced harmonies. John Lewis’ Rouge is quite cheerful and almost exuberant while Gil Evans’ arrangement of Moon Dreams is atmospheric, purposely dreamy and haunting. Johnny Carisi’s one contribution to the Nonet sessions is Israel, a straightforward blues given all types of unusual twists and turns.

The third and final of the Nonet dates starts with Davis’ Deception. It has a tricky arrangement but swings hard and has the trumpeter’s best solo of the session. Gerry Mulligan’s Rocker came close to becoming a jazz standard when Charlie Parker added it to his repertoire. The catchy Boplicity was co-written by Evans and Davis with the former contributing the classic arrangement. Darn That Dream, featuring the singing of Poncho Hagood, is a lesser item but has some interesting harmonies written by Mulligan.

By the time the “Birth Of The Cool” recordings became very influential, inspiring West Coast Jazz, Miles Davis had already moved on. After leaving the Charlie Parker Quintet in December 1948, Davis successfully appeared at the 1949 Paris Jazz Festival. 1950-53 is considered his lost period for the trumpeter had become a scuffling heroin addict and was overshadowed by other players. But although he did not have much publicity during this time, Davis was far from inactive and became one of the founders of a new style of jazz called hard bop that emphasized more passionate swinging than cool jazz.

The 8 May 1952 session features Davis with an all-star group of young modernists. The music performed, which includes Donna (also known as “Dig” and utilizing the chords of “Sweet Georgia Brown”), Chance It and Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody’n You, are among the earliest examples of hard bop. The traditional Swedish folk song Dear Old Stockholm would be recorded again by Davis in 1956 when John Coltrane was in his quintet. How Deep Is The Ocean and Yesterdays are superb early examples of Davis’ ballad style.

The other session reissued on this recording is one of the more unusual ones that Miles Davis had during this period, teaming him with the swinging Lester Young-influenced tenors of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. Cohn provided all four originals and arrangements. Each song is both obscure and well worth reviving, particularly the joyful Floppy and the catchy For Adults Only. Miles Davis’s ‘comeback’ began at the 1954 Newport Jazz Festival when his solo on “’Round Midnight,” played with backing by its composer Thelonious Monk, alerted East Coast music critics that he was ‘back’. Soon he would record the hard bop gem “Walkin’” and form his first classic quintet with John Coltrane. For the next 37 years until his death on 28 September 1991, Miles was the most famous and continually intriguing musician in jazz.

But as the music on Boplicity shows, Miles Davis was a major force even earlier.

Scott Yanow
– author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film, Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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