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CD Box Set Review: The Miles Davis Quintet – The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

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“The group I had with Coltrane made me and him a legend. That group really put me on the map in the musical world, with all those great albums we made for Prestige…” – Miles Davis

The Miles Davis Quintet was composed of Philly Joe Jones on drums, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and John Coltrane on sax. They started playing as a group in September 1955, at a Baltimore gig. A ragtag team put together when the guys Miles had been previously working with were unavailable for scheduled club dates. Sonny Rollins was originally going to play sax, but he had checked himself into rehab for his heroin addiction. No one was more impressed by how quickly the band integrated and excelled than Miles. From his autobiography, “And faster than I could have imagined, 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. Man, the shit we were playing in a short time was scary, so scary that I used to pinch myself to see if I was really there.”

The first three discs contain the Quintet’s entire output for Prestige in chronological order recorded over the course of three different days. Each song is a gem and illustrates the talents of these men individually and collectively as they effortlessly create what each song requires, from a tender ballad to swinging number, offering support or taking the lead. “Ahmad’s Blues” was taped as a trio feature so Garland could audition for his own Prestige contact. Coltrane sat out on five other tracks.

The Quintet recreates and reshapes works by the likes of Brubeck, Ellington, Gillespie, Monk, and Rollins, making them their own while staying true to the source. The fact that they were able to create such amazing work over the course of a few hours is astounding, and you can’t tell that these sessions are a rush job because Miles was in a hurry to finish his commitment to Prestige so he could focus on his new deal with Columbia.

The six tracks created on November 16, 1955, were all standards and appeared as the album Miles. “This record was nice,” Miles said. Over the next few months the Quintet performed frequently across the country. In March 1956, between the first two sessions, Miles had a non-cancerous growth on his larynx removed. They returned to the studio on May 11, 1956, and recorded 14 tracks. Miles said, “I remember this session well because it was long, and the playing was great. We did no second takes. We just recorded like we were playing a night club set.” The Quintet began working on Miles’ first album for Columbia, ‘Round About Midnight, before returning for their final Prestige sessions on Oct. 26, 1956. The albums created by the last two sessions are: Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. “‘Round Midnight” was recorded previously for Columbia and is celebrated for Coltrane’s outstanding solo. For whatever reason, Prestige released their version of the song on Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants.

Disc 4 is a rare treat for Miles' fans: a collection of unreleased live recordings. First up is the Quintet on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen in 1955 on the day after their first recording session. Allen introduces the Quintet and gets them, telling the audience, “you will hear none better.” Later, Allen gives Miles Downbeat’s 1955 Best Trumpeter award. The Quintet played two numbers: “Max Is Making Wax” and the ballad “It Never Entered My Mind.”

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    This article has been placed at the Advance.net websites, a site affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Thanks, Connie.