DAVIS, Miles: Boplicity

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'Boplicity' Original Recordings 1949-1953

One of the giants of 20th century music, MilesDavis stands out as one of the most significantjazz musicians of all time. Unlike most playerswho develop their sound and style early in lifeand then spend the rest of their careers polishingtheir approach without making any majorchanges, Davis was always looking aheadtowards new innovations and styles. While hematured during the bebop era, he was at leastpartly responsible for founding and popularizingcool jazz, hard bop, modal music, his own brandof avant-garde jazz and fusion. While his coolmelancholy sound on the trumpet remained thesame, his settings were always up to date and hewas a masterful talent scout, only equalled byFletcher Henderson and Art Blakey.

Miles Dewey Davis was born on 25 May1926 in Alton, Illinois, growing up in East StLouis, Illinois. While his mother had hoped thathe would play classical violin, Davis was given atrumpet by his father for his thirteenth birthday.

Early on, he considered his early influences to beBobby Hackett (loving his lyrical solo on the1938 recording of \Embraceable You"), HarryJames and Clark Terry.

Davis played with his high school band,worked locally with Eddie Randall's Blue Devilsduring 1941-43 and had an opportunity to sit inwith the Billy Eckstine Orchestra in 1944, alegendary big band that included Dizzy Gillespieand Charlie 'Bird' Parker. Although his owntechnique was faulty at this point, Davis workedhard to master bebop, trying to play likeGillespie.

After graduating from high school, he movedto New York in September 1944 to study atJuilliard but was soon spending more time inclubs on 52nd Street and he dropped out ofschool after a few months. He found CharlieParker, worked a bit with Coleman Hawkins andmade his recording debut on 24 April 1945,sounding nervous on a date backing singerdancerRubberlegs Williams. Although Daviswas not quite ready for the big time yet, CharlieParker saw his potential and used him on arecord date later in the year that included theoriginal versions of "Now's The Time" and"Billie's Bounce".

By then, Miles Davis was realizing that hewas never going to be another Dizzy Gillespie.

He sought to find his own way and came upwith a quieter cooler-toned variation of bebop.

He stripped the bebop vocabulary to its essentialand made every note count, using silenceeffectively. This process took a couple years butstarted becoming influential by 1947.

After Davis had had a stint with BennyCarter's Orchestra, he worked on the WestCoast with Parker. He became an officialmember of Bird's quintet during 1947-48, agroup also including pianist Duke Jordan, bassistTommy Potter and drummer Max Roach. Davis'quiet and thoughtful approach contrasted wellwith Bird's exciting virtuosity.

While he was still a member of the ParkerQuintet, Davis made his first serious stab atleading his own band. He had become fond ofthe sound of the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, abig band that used French horn and tuba as partof its tonal colours. Gil Evans was Thornhill'smost adventurous arranger and, after they met,Davis and Evans became best friends. Alongwith baritonist Gerry Mulligan, they decided toform a smaller version of the Thornhill band butone that was more bop-oriented. The resultingNonet and its dozen recordings became knownas "The Birth Of The Cool."The ironic part is that the group was onlyable to get one job during its existence, two weeksas the intermission band for Count Basie at theRoyal Roost in the fall of 1948. Fortunately theband was signed to Capitol and recorded threefour-song sessions during 1948-50 that made itimmortal. The second and third sessions arereissued on this recording in full.

From the start of Gerry Mulligan's Venus DeMilo, it is obvious that the Miles Davis Nonethad an unusual sound of its own. The use ofFrench horn and tuba is part of the reason, butso is having the cool vibratoless tones of Davisand altoist Lee Konitz in the lead. The musicswings lightly with the main emphasis being onthe tone colours and the advanced harmonies.

John Lewis' Rouge is quite cheerful and almostexuberant while Gil Evans' arrangement of MoonDreams is atmospheric, purposely dreamy andhaunting. Johnny Carisi's one contribution tothe Nonet sessions is Israel, a straightforwardblues given all types of unusual twists and turns.

The third and final of the Nonet dates startswith Davis' Deception. It has a trickyarrangement but swings hard and has thetrumpeter's best solo of the session. GerryMulligan's Rocker came close to becoming a jazzstandard when Charlie Parker added it to hisrepertoire. The catchy Boplicity was co-writtenby Evans and Davis with the former contributingthe classic arrangement. Darn That Dream,featuring the singing of Poncho Hagood, is alesser item but has some interesting harmonieswritten by Mulligan.

By the time the "Birth Of The Cool"recordings became very influential, inspiringWest Coast Jazz, Miles Davis had already movedon. After leaving the Charlie Parker Quintet inDecember 1948, Davis successfully appeared atthe 1949 Paris Jazz Festival. 1950-53 isconsidered his lost period for the trumpeter hadbecome a scuffling heroin addict and wasovershadowed by other players. But althoughhe did not have much publicity during this time,Davis was far from inactive and became one ofthe founders of a new style of jazz called hardbop that emphasized more passionate swingingthan cool jazz.

The 8 May 1952 session features Davis withan all-star group of young modernists. Themusic performed, which includes Donna (alsoknown as "Dig" and utilizing the chords of"Sweet Georgia Brown"), Chance It and DizzyGillespie's Woody'n You, are among the earliestexamples of hard bop. The traditional Swedishfolk song Dear Old Stockholm would berecorded again by Davis in 1956 when JohnColtrane was in his quintet. How Deep Is TheOcean and Yesterdays are superb earlyexamples of Davis' ballad style.

The other session reissued on this recordingis one of the more unusual ones that MilesDavis had during this period, teaming him withthe swinging Lester Young-influenced tenors ofAl Cohn and Zoot Sims. Cohn provided all fouroriginals and arrangements. Each song is bothobscure and well worth reviving, particularly thejoyful Floppy and the catchy For Adults Only.

Miles Davis's 'comeback' began at the 1954Newport Jazz Festival when his solo on "'RoundMidnight," played with backing by its composerThelonious Monk, alerted East Coast musiccritics that he was 'back'. Soon he wouldrecord the hard bop gem "Walkin'" and formhis first classic quintet with John Coltrane. Forthe next 37 years until his death on28 September 1991, Miles was the most famousand continually intriguing musician in jazz.

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

Scott Yanow

- author of 9 jazz books including Jazz On Film,Swing, Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record1917-76
Disc: 1
1 Venus De Milo
2 Rouge
3 Boplicity (arr. G. Evans)
4 Israel
5 Deception
6 Rocker
7 Moon Dreams
8 Darn That Dream
9 Donna
10 Dear Old Stockholm
11 Chance It
12 Woody? You
13 Yesterdays
14 How Deep Is The Ocean
15 Tasty Pudding
16 Willie The Wailer
17 For Adults Only
18 Floppy
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