When one thinks about 20th century jazz music in The United States, one of the first names that comes to mind is Miles Davis. He is recognized as one of the most innovative, creative, and influential musicians in jazz history. His albums sold tens of millions of copies and continue to be commercially successful 20 years after his death.
As a young teenager his mother wanted him to be a pianist, while his father gave him a trombone. Sometimes a seemingly insignificant family decision changes the course of modern music history.
He dropped out of the Juilliard School of Music to play in the clubs of New York City with some of the leading jazz artists of the day. By 1946 he was leading his own group, while also acting as a supporting musician for other artists.
He made the decision to sign with the Prestige label during 1951 and would remain with them for nearly a decade as the leader of various groups. His releases for the label would establish him as one of jazz music’s leading musicians and commercial successes. He would be the leading practitioner of the hard bop school of jazz. He slowed down the tempo and gave his recordings a harder beat, while remaining in contact with the song’s melody. While he would never be considered a rhythm and blues artist, during this period of his life he moved in that direction.
The Concord Music Group has now gathered 24 of his recordings for the Prestige label and released them as a part of their Definitive Series. The Definitive Miles Davis On Prestige concentrates on his 1951-1956 period, when he pushed and expanded the boundaries of jazz music. Joining him are some of the legendary musicians of jazz including Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, and Horace Silver.
Disc one travels back to the origins of his sound. “Morpheus” was the first track on his debut album. It catches him at the time when his approach was new and experimental. “Dig” was based on the chord progression of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and was a tightly structured song that became the title of his first album. “Compulsion” featured the dual alto tenor saxophones of Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker. It is made historic by virtue of the fact that it was the last time Parker and Davis would play together.
By 1954, Davis had kicked his drug addictions and completed the development of his hard bop sound. “Four” and “Solar” are both classics of this type of jazz. “Walkin’” was a thirteen minute extravaganza of sound and notes, which would look ahead to future experimentation. The 11 minute “Bags’ Groove” was a Milt Jackson composition and Davis and Thelonious Monk contribute wonderful solos.
Disc two picks up during 1955, and by this time Davis had developed his signature trumpet sound, which he would retain for the rest of his career. He had an arrangement with the Prestige and Columbia labels that would enable him to record for both, but the Columbia material would not be released until his contract with Prestige was fulfilled.
He would begin to interpret the Great American Songbook in ways the writers of the songs could not have originally imagined. “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” “If I Were A Bell,” “I Could Write A Book,” and “My Funny Valentine” all proved to be vehicles for him to not only interpret, but help change the course of music itself.
The Definitive Series has always featured a pristine sound and this release is no exception. An informative booklet with a nice biography of this period of his career, plus comments about the music, is also included.
The Definitive Miles Davis on Prestige is a nice overview of an important time in the career of Miles Davis. The music remains essential for any fan of Davis or American jazz.