Jazz at 100 Hour 77: Miles Davis and the Second Great Quintet (1963 – 1968)

Miles Davis – Herbie Hancock – Wayne Shorter

Miles Davis, through his adoption of modal music, participated in the gradual liberation that resulted in the free music of the jazz avant-garde – liberation from chord changes, from rhythm, from harmony, from melody, from structure. Yet, although he continued to explore broadly, he was public in his discomfort with free jazz. Despite this reluctance, the new quintet that he began to build in 1963 resulted in the freest music of his career and became legendary as his Second Great Quintet.

“In 1961, after the success of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis endured a slump of uncertainty. Coltrane, Adderley and Evans left to pursue their own careers, and Davis expressed contempt for the avant-garde. He continued to release effective records, … [b]ut his music was caught in a bind, much of it devoted to faster and harder versions of his usual repertory… Then in 1963, once again, he produced magic. He turned to younger musicians who would surely have had important careers on their own but who, under Davis’s tutelage merged into a historic ensemble, greater than its very considerable parts. The rhythm section consisted of three prodigiously skillful musicians who valued diversity over an allegiance to one style of music: pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and seventeen-year-old drummer Tony Williams… In late 1964, Wayne Shorter, who made his name as a saxophonist and composer with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, joined the band, a decision that changed his life and Davis’s, and made this second great quintet a worthy follow-up to the 1955 group with Coltrane.” – Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux

“Most first-rate rhythm sections work like the fingers in a fist. Coltrane’s quartet, for example, achieved a fiercely unified front devoted to supporting the leader. Davis’s group was no less unified, but its parts interacted with more freedom, often rivaling the soloists. So much was going on between Hancock’s unruffled block chords, Carter’s slippery bass lines and Williams’s rhythmic brushfires that they all appeared to be soloing at the same time.” – Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux

Life After Trane.
After Kind of Blue, Miles Davis worked with several top tenor players, including Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Heath and Sam Rivers, while settling in with the new rhythm section. In 1963, with George Coleman on tenor the quintet recorded a lovely set of ballads, Seven Steps to Heaven. But change was a constant for Miles. “Nothing could have been less like Seven Steps to Heaven than Miles In Europe, a tenacious assault … on his preferred repertoire, recorded in Antibes in 1963. Here on a sixty-two-minute LP was a band of young musicians and mercurial versions of pieces originally conceived at slow and medium tempos, including a stunningly high-powered ‘Milestones’ with opening notes fired at a clip …” – Gary Giddins

Seven Steps To Heaven. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, George Coleman-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From Seven Steps To Heaven. 5/14/1963

Milestones. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, George Coleman-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From Miles In Europe. 7/27/1963

Enter Wayne Shorter – The Second Great Quintet.
And then there was Wayne Shorter. “On such classic recordings as E.S.P., Miles Smiles, and Nefertiti, Davis and Wayne Shorter succeeded brilliantly in creating a more tonally centered counterpart to [Ornette] Coleman and [Don] Cherry—much as Eric Dolphy had done with Mingus, or alongside Booker Little on the seminal Five Spot performances. Here one finds the same haunting vocal quality to the horns, the free-floating rhythms, the indirect manner of phrasing, lethargic and biting by turns. The sense of freedom is so pervasive that the robust harmonic structures underlying the music pass by almost unnoticed. Many listeners have, no doubt, heard these Davis performances and surmised that there were no set chord changes or patterns dictating the flow of the music. In fact, this music was much more tightly structured than it sounds at first hearing. The compositions of Davis and Shorter, masterful exercises in subtlety, were a major factor in this achievement. But the essence of this music lay, ultimately, in its multilayered rhythmic motion—an enlivening and unconfined energy that was just as evident when the band was playing familiar standards as in the more attenuated compositions of the group’s members. In this regard, the interaction of pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams was critical in defining the band’s sound. In time, this unit would demand respect as the premier rhythm section of its day and one of the finest that the jazz world has ever produced. It built on the Bill Evans–Scott LaFaro–Paul Motian trio work from the early 1960s, emulating the latter’s celebration of the internalized beat, but with more assertiveness, a harder edge, and a more overt sense of forward momentum.” – Ted Gioia

“The 1965 album E.S.P. was a critical event, but not a popular success. It represented the first studio recording by the new quintet, and the seven new compositions, all by members of the group, challenged listeners who expected to hear the tender, meditative Davis who incarnated jazz romanticism. This music is fast, audacious and free… [On the title tune, t]he soloists (Shorter for two choruses, Davis for six, Hancock for two) take wing over the rhythm, bending notes in and out of pitch, soaring beyond the usual rhythmic demarcations that denote swing. No less free is the multifaceted work of the rhythm section: the bass playing is startlingly autonomous, and the drummer’s use of cymbals has its own narrative logic.” – Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux

E.S.P. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Wayne Shorter-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From E.S.P. 1/20/1965 (The Norton Collection)

“All of the compositions [on the 1966 release Miles Smiles], starting from the opening ‘Orbits,’ through the classic Shorter composition ‘Footprints’ and until the closing ‘Gingerbread Boy’ are complex pieces with tricky meters, multiple sections, juggling with conventional and unconventional forms. The Quintet sounds like a juggernaut as it pushes for constant discoveries and refusing to settle in a rote behavior. Everything about it suggests that the levels of interacting and listening have risen to a higher plateau. As a result, throughout, the leader’s horn feels energized and the collective takes Miles’ distinctive tone to new realms.” – Nenad Georgievski

Orbits. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Wayne Shorter-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From Miles Smiles. 10/24/1966

Footprints. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Wayne Shorter-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From Miles Smiles. 10/25/1966

The Finale – Filles de Kilimanjaro.
The final LP of Davis’s Second Great Quintet, Filles de Kilimanjaro, started with the classic lineup in a session from June 1968 and finished with Chick Corea on keyboards and Dave Holland on bass in a session that fall. This was a very different sounding record in 1968, foreshadowing the role these musicians would play in creating a jazz-rock fusion music in the next several years.

“There are an extraordinary number of fresh ideas and devices on this album. Although the acoustic piano is featured from time to time, the emphasis is on the electric keyboard, which is prominent throughout. Tonally, it colours the ensemble sound, and it is also used to point up the bass figures; the bass notes of the electric keyboard are very percussive and blend well with bass guitar or string bass… Throughout this album, the bass lines are rhythmically varied and vital, and at no point does [the] bass player ever revert to the time-honoured jazz habit of playing four straight crotchets to the bar. In other words, there is nothing at all of the conventional jazz time-feel that had characterized nearly all of Miles’s work to date… `Petits Machins’ has a fragmentary theme with evocative ascending bass figures. Miles takes the first solo, and this is a beauty – his best on the album. It is a brilliant example of thematic and chromatic improvisation, and a kind of abstraction of the old blues in F.” – Ian Carr

Petits Machins. Miles Davis Quintet
(Miles Davis-tp, Wayne Shorter-ts, Herbie Hancock-p, Ron Carter-b, Tony Williams-d). From Filles De Kilimanjaro. 6/19/1968

Filles de Kilimanjaro would be the swansong for the Davis – Shorter – Hancock – Carter – Williams quintet. Each of the players would make major contributions to jazz in the years to come. Jazz-rock fusion would be defined around Davis’s subsequent work and also that of Shorter in Weather Report, Hancock in The Headhunters and Tony Williams’ Lifetime.

During the five-year tenure of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet (1963 – 1968), Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams were very active on their own projects, many of which included Ron Carter. Several of the resulting releases are classics of the period and laid the foundation for their significant careers after the Quintet broke up in 1968. The highly productive moonlighting of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. W.W. Norton 933796.
Miles Davis. Seven Steps To Heaven. Columbia CL 2051
Miles Davis. Miles In Europe. Columbia CL 2183
Miles Davis. E.S.P. Columbia CL 2350
Miles Davis. Miles Smiles. Columbia CL 2601
Miles Davis. Filles De Kilimanjaro. Columbia CL 9750

Carr, Ian. 1998. Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography. New York, NY. Thunder Mouth Press.
Chapter 13. Play What’s Not There!
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)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Georgievski, Nenad. “Miles Davis Quintet: Miles Smiles.” All About Jazz. 7/2/2016. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/miles-smiles-miles-davis-quintet-music-on-vinyl-review-by-nenad-georgievski.php

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

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