Jazz at 100 Hour 52: Miles Davis & the First Great Quintet (Sextet) (1956 – 1959)

Bill Evans – Paul Chambers-  Miles Davis – John Coltrane – Cannonball Adderley

Miles Davis was more than a trumpet player, composer and taste-maker – he led some of the greatest bands in the history of jazz. In this hour, we will feature his first great quintet of John Coltrane on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

Just as we can see Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions as a portal through which we pass as we close the music of the 1940s, his Kind of Blue sessions in 1959 mark the end of the 1950s in many ways. Alongside Kind of Blue, 1959 was also the year for Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Mingus Ah Um and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come. With this broadcast, Jazz at 100 has featured all of these masterworks.

Miles Davis Quintet.
“The first Miles Davis Quintet proves, as the Hot Fives and Sevens did before it, that tenure and prolificacy are no indications of a band’s quality, influence, and durability. The quintet existed on and off for little more than two years and was widely regarded as the finest small jazz ensemble of its day—one critic thought it the most accomplished since the Hot Five. Its impact was immediate and lasting, leading directly to the sextet and the recordings with Gil Evans and bringing Davis and jazz itself to a high ground. Between 1956 and 1960, Davis exerted an inescapable hold on the imagination of the jazz world. So it is startling to realize how little music we have by the band that not only established him as an artist with formidable commercial power, but launched John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones and popularized nearly a dozen songs that became standards in the modern jazz repertory.” – Gary Giddins

“In time, Coltrane would be revered as the most influential saxophonist of his generation, but when Miles brought him into the band, Coltrane’s reputation in the jazz world was modest, built on a few low-profile sideman stints—with limited chances to solo—most recently as part of Johnny Hodges’s band. One of the jazz world’s most successful late bloomers—his maturing as a major stylist took place, for the most part, during the last twelve years of his life—Coltrane was a practice-room fanatic, obsessed with constantly improving and expanding his skills. Davis had heard him a few years earlier and had been distinctly unimpressed, but now Coltrane was poised to challenge Rollins and Getz, then established as the leading modern jazz tenor saxophonists.” – Ted Gioia

“It’s startling to hear Coltrane work through licks in ‘How Am I To Know?’ that in time would be recognized as his patented phrases, licks that were at first misperceived as the exertions of a derivative hard bopper.” – Gary Giddins

How Am I To Know. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, John Coltrane-ts, Red Garland-p, Paul Chambers-b, Philly Joe Jones-d). From Miles. 11/16/1955
“The music that we were playing together was just unbelievable. It was so bad that it used to send chills through me at night, and it did the same thing to the audiences, too.” – Miles Davis

The Marathon Columbia and Prestige Sessions.
Miles emerged from his drug addiction in 1955 and was triumphant at the Newport Jazz Festival that summer, leading to a contract with one of the major labels, Columbia, for whom he recorded for the next thirty years. To complete his contract obligations to Prestige, he engaged in a series of marathon recording sessions, the productivity of which may be unsurpassed in jazz history. In the year following 10/26/1955, The Miles Davis Quintet recorded Round About Midnight for Columbia and the LPs Miles, Steamin’, Workin’, Relaxin’, and Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet in six recording sessions.

Cookin is a landmark recording… ‘Blues by Five’ boasts an ingeniously songful eight-chorus improvisation by Davis, borrowing a few licks from Gene Ammons’s ‘Red Top’ solo. His third choruses consists of three phrases that perfectly mirror the AAB structure of a traditional blues vocal. Philly Joe, when he isn’t briskly ching-ching-a-chinging, pushes and anticipates Davis in a manner that prefigures Elvin Jones’s relationship to Coltrane. Coltrane himself enters with a characteristic left-field figure. Steamin’ puts its best foot forward with a highly plausible version of ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top,’ from Oklahoma! … ‘Surrey’ has Coltrane’s most forceful statement from the first marathon…” – Gary Giddins

Blues By Five. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, John Coltrane-ts, Red Garland-p, Paul Chambers-b, Philly Joe Jones-d). From Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. 10/26/1956

Surrey With The Fringe On Top. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, John Coltrane-ts, Red Garland-p, Paul Chambers-b, Philly Joe Jones-d). From Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. 5/11/1956

“The most distinctive selection on the Columbia album [‘Round About Midnight] is an interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s ‘’Round Midnight’… [Producer George] Avakian brought in Gil Evans to craft the arrangement. Gil and Davis had not worked together since 1950, but this reunion reaffirmed their friendship and Davis’s regard for his skills. Evans made the quintet seem fuller and more cohesive than on the other selections, and his organization of the song’s components, complete with a dramatic change in tempo, became standardized. – Gary Giddins

“Davis (like his mentor Charlie Parker) sought a frontline player with a contrasting style to his own. [John Coltrane] filled this role to perfection. Coltrane’s elaborate solos conveyed a restless urgency. Hear him follow Miles’s plaintive interpretation of ‘‘Round Midnight,’ on the quintet’s celebrated 1956 recording, with a probing examination of the harmonic crevices in the music. Such solos were an odd hybrid: a world of emotion diffused through the analytical perspective of a scientist.” – Ted Gioia

‘Round Midnight. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, John Coltrane-ts, Red Garland-p, Paul Chambers-b, Philly Joe Jones-d). From ‘Round About Midnight. 9/10/1956

The Miles Davis Sextet – Milestones.
Miles disbanded the Quintet after the marathon Prestige sessions and over the following year John Coltrane kicked his drug habit and woodshedded with Thelonious Monk. With the addition of Cannonball Adderley in 1958, the Quintet became a Sextet and went into the studio in February of 1958 to record the LP Milestones.

“[The title track] ‘Milestones’ is based on two modes (Dorian and Aeolian) used in an A-A-B-B-A pattern. The soloists (Adderley, Davis, and Coltrane) are free to pick whatever notes they like as long as they “fit” the modes. This, of course, allows them more freedom than they would have had in a standard harmonic format, but it also deprives them of the variety such a format automatically provides. Variety, however, is built into the tune itself. In the A section, Chambers lays down a solid “walking” foundation, while Philly Joe raps out a rimshot on the fourth beat of every measure and the three horns play with bright, staccato articulation. In the B section, the phrasing is legato, Philly’s rimshots are less regular, and Chambers plays a two-note figure instead of walking. The A sections sound ebullient, while the B ones have a mournful, languorous quality.” – David Rosenthal

Milestones. Miles Davis Sextet
(Miles Davis-tp, Cannonball Adderley-as, John Coltrane-ts, Red Garland-p, Paul Chambers-b, Philly Joe Jones-d). From Milestones. 2/4/1958
“Miles continued to hone his stripped-down, middle-register approach, which emphasized the nuances of his tone and his abilities as a melodist. Cannonball and Trane resembled each other more than either one did the trumpeter, but while Cannon was bubbly and extroverted, Trane was restless and uncompromising.” – David Rosenthal

Kind of Blue.
In March 1959, Miles brought a new sextet into the recording studio with Bill Evans on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums. “Miles hadn’t recorded a small-group date for more than a year. A lot of thinking, woodshedding, a lot of hard conceptual work had been done in the interim… [On Kind of Blue, t]here are no standards, and all the material is challenging, sometimes simply by suspending conventional harmony and by constraining complex ideas within a deceptively simple 4/4.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

“The track [‘So What’] (and album [Kind of Blue]) opens with a hushed prelude, reportedly contributed by Gil Evans; Paul Chambers’s bass prompts a three-note Bill Evans phrase, leading to a unison basslike figure played by those two, followed by Evans’s enigmatic Spanish-style chords and, finally, Chambers’s introduction of a beat and a theme, which is punctuated by unison chords from the three winds. The head couldn’t be more basic: a 32-bar AABA song. But instead of chord changes, it offers two scales for the improvisers—D minor with an E-flat bridge. Modalism has now found an accessible context and will soon be everywhere. Davis’s solo sticks to the scales and is a lyrical marvel, immaculate in form and execution. Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane are far more prolix, but they too are focused by the harmonic austerity, and Evans finishes with tightly ground chords, showing that Monk didn’t have a patent on minor seconds. It’s from the most enduringly popular jazz album of the LP era. – Gary Giddins

So What. Miles Davis Sextet
(Miles Davis-tp, Cannonball Adderley-as, John Coltrane-ts, Bill Evans-p, Paul Chambers-b, Jimmy Cobb-d). From Kind of Blue. 3/2/1959 (The Norton Collection)

The serenely Zenlike Kind of Blue, with its one-take meditations and heightened consciousness (Davis kept the music from the musicians until the recording session so that no one could bring a glib or practiced set of responses to it), involved a logical blending of modal improvisation with familiar song forms. Davis had been working in this direction for some time, encouraged by Evans’s harmonic schemes—his 1958 Milestones was the first indication. Kind of Blue, with Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley, represented a culmination of the turnaround he had made over the past dozen years, from the tyro of 1946 who piled on harmonic changes so as to disguise a blues-based structure to the mature improviser who was too concerned with melody and feeling to be distracted by harmonic obligations.

In the next hour, we will hear from trios led by pianists Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans, the work of each represented by a legendary live recording – Garner’s 1955 Concert By the Sea, Jamal’s 1958 At The Pershing – But Not For Me and Evans’s 1961 Waltz For Debbie/A Sunday At The Village Vanguard. The three recordings can be heard as a progression.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. W.W. Norton 933796.
Miles Davis. Miles. Prestige PRLP 7014
Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. Prestige PRLP 7094
Steamin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet. Prestige PRLP 7200
Miles Davis. ‘Round About Midnight. Columbia CL 949
Miles Davis. Milestones. Columbia CL 1193
Miles Davis. Kind of Blue. Columbia C5X 45000

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 14. Modality: Miles Davis and John Coltrane
Giddins, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 38. Miles Davis (Kinds of Blues)
Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 118. Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945–2001)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books
Miles Davis. Kind of Blue
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 52. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (1959)
Rosenthal, David. 1992. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 8. Hard Bop Heterodoxy: Monk, Mingus, Miles and Trane.

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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