09-28: Miles Davis Live in Europe 1967 3 Discs + DVD - Ruja ( Prog-Rock Estonia ) 1982 - Marx Brothers Original Voice Tracks 1969 - Music School Mokranjac ( Folk Music Serbia )

1649 – Ottavio Vernizzi (Italian organist & composer)
1757 – Andrea Zani (Italian violinist & composer)
1852 – Johann Friedrich Schwencke (German organist, clarinettist, composer & arranger)
1903 – Jesús de Monasterio (Spanish composer & violinist)

1914 – Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac [Стеван Стојановић Мокрањац] (Serbian composer, conductor, teacher & folklorist)
1922 – Andrejs Jurjāns (Latvian composer & folklorist)
1939 – Felicjan Szopski (Polish composer, pianist, teacher & music critic)
1947 – Francisco Santiago (Filipino composer, "Father of Kundiman Art Song")

1952 – Paul Hastings Allen (American composer)
1957 – Luis Cluzeau Mortet (Uruguayan composer, violinist, violist, pianist, choir director & teacher)
1964 – Harpo Marx (American comedian, actor & harpist)
1966 – Lucky Millinder (American jazz & R&B bandleader)
1972 – Maurice Thiriet (French composer of concert & film music)
1991 – Miles Davis (American jazz trumpeter & composer)
1993 – Fraser MacPherson (Canadian jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, pianist)
1994 – Urmas Alender (Estonian rock singer, Ruja, Propeller, Andromeeda)
1996 – Bob Gibson (American folk singer, songwriter, guitarist & banjoist)
2010 – Dolores Wilson (American operatic coloratura soprano)

Just looking at my post from last night... oh, dear... please remind me to avoid drinking & blogging in the future...

Well, it's another international soundfest today, with some of the most important composers and folklorists from Serbia, Latvia, the Philippines, and Uruguay, one of Estonia's most famous rock singers (Latvia and Estonia - how exciting to have the Baltic region so well represented), and the man who was not only a very talented harpist, but by all accounts one of the funniest people to ever appear in movies - a pretty amazing feat when you consider he was able to do it without uttering a single word.

And I'd love to say something about all of them, but let's talk about Miles Davis. What does one say about Miles? Well, there are the obvious things. He's one of the most famous figures in the entire history of jazz, and one of the most highly-regarded among both fans and critics of that music. He led not just one, but two of the greatest quintets in jazz - that they're referred to as "The First Great Quintet" and "The Second Great Quintet" ought to tell you something all by itself. And he introduced the world to another one of jazz history's most famous figures, John Coltrane.

He was not always the friendliest person in the world, and was certainly not very accessible to his many admirers. He had his substance-abuse demons, which is hardly remarkable for a jazz or rock musician. Among the all-time greats of jazz trumpet, only the tragically short-lived Clifford Brown seems to have been truly free of such issues; it's said that he hardly touched even alcohol.

As far as trumpet-playing goes, Davis was the very antithesis of the musician who wowed you with his technical prowess, his flash, or his ability to make the dogs howl with his piercingly high notes. Oh, he could play those high notes when he wanted to. But his style seemed to be marked more by what he didn't play than by what he did, a stylistic feature Davis himself credited to the influence of the spacious yet virtuosic playing of pianist Ahmad Jamal. What you really notice about Miles' trumpeting, more than anything else, is the pure corporeal sound of it - the remarkable variety of grunts and growls and groans and moans and whispers and shouts (it is, above all, an extremely vocal sound) he could coax from that horn, with just his lips, his valving fingers, and the judicious use of his Harmon mute. To the connoisseur of music, that, of course, is technical bravura to the max; for, like the ability to play so many notes in such a short span of time, the ownership of such a staggering timbral palette could come about only through sheer know-how and a great deal of practice.

But here's what I think the takeaway from Miles should be: Take any other jazz musician - let's go with trumpeters to make things otherwise the same. Louis Armstrong? The single greatest trumpeter in the New Orleans/Dixieland style. Bunny Berigan? One of the greats of the Big Band/swing era. Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro? Players who started out in swing but helped invent the new "Modern Jazz" (what we now call "bebop"), along other with other shining stars such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Charlie Christian, and Kenny Clarke. Chet Baker? A bop player who's most associated with the West Coast/cool jazz side of things. Blue Mitchell? Great hard bop player. Don Cherry? One of the foremost players of free and avant-garde jazz from the late 50s onward.

But Miles? When he started out playing as a kid (the upper-middle-class son of a dentist from a suburb north of St. Louis), everybody was still playing swing music. Then, when bebop came around in the early-to-mid 40s, he learned how to play that; when he landed in New York in 1945, he took the town by storm, quickly becoming one of the city's hottest young players, and cutting some of his earliest records with Charlie Parker himself.

Then in 1949 is when things really started to move for Miles. The project which later became marketed as The Birth of the Cool was for all intents and purposes just that (notwithstanding some slightly earlier efforts by Lennie Tristano and his disciples). Then in the mid-50s, when there was a backlash against the cerebral, "white" sound of cool jazz, Miles became, with his First Great Quintet, one of the major players in the funkier, more gospel- and Latin-tinged sub-genre known as hard bop. Then in 1959, that year during which so much that was new in jazz appeared, Miles pioneered, along with a superb one-off band that included Coltrane and Bill Evans, modal jazz (essentially, playing over scales instead of chord changes) on Kind of Blue, considered by many to be the finest jazz album ever recorded.

By the mid-1960s, Davis was the dean of avant-garde jazz with the Second Great Quintet, although he never quite went so far as the free jazz that Ornette Coleman had pioneered, and that First Quintet alumnus Coltrane was then exploring ever-more deeply. Miles was a tad bit late to the fusion game, but with 1970's Bitches Brew, he produced, along with the studio wizardry of Teo Macero, one of its few true masterpieces. Within just months, he was touching upon the jazz-funk with which Second Quintet alumnus Herbie Hancock would make his mark as a bandleader.

So, you see... with Miles Davis, you can't say he was "this" or "that" kind of jazz musician. That's because from the late 1940s onward, he was at or near the forefront of practically every single new development that occurred in jazz - whatever he did, he did either before anyone else did it, or better than anyone else did it, or both.

Well, that's Miles Davis... or at least how I see him. Now all that's left for you to do is read more below...


  1. I love how Miles was an expert at picking virtuoso musicians and then, as they played their solo live, he turned his back to them and sometimes even left the stage for it. He knew they were good.

  2. Oh hell yeah. Miles had a great ear, and great taste, and he knew what he wanted, and he got it. Just think of all those young cats who Miles helped put on the map... Coltrane, Hancock, Shorter... Keith Jarrett! Of course, he turned his back on the audience a lot, too... but for different reasons. :> Oh... one thing I forgot to mention: in that pic of Harpo, playing that rather hilariously "prepared harp," that's Salvador Dali drawing a portrait of him. I'd never seen this pic before, and when I ran across it I knew it was "the one." :> The looks on both their faces are just precious.

  3. It's one thing to have a surrealist draw a picture of you. The icing on the cake is that a Marx brother would make a John Cage reference! Goes to show that they didn't dumb it down for their audience.

  4. Well, that was just me making that reference. That photo's from the 30s, and Cage didn't invent the prepared piano until 1940, when he was at the Cornish School. Dali was an admirer of the brothers, and sent Harpo that harp as a gift in 1936 or 37. It had barbed wire strings and spoons all over it. Then Harpo sent Dali a picture of himself with bandaged fingers. Then this photo was a follow-up to that. This page talks about it: http://minniesboys.blogspot.com/2009/04/surrealism-or-hello-dali.html

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