Miles Davis: 1951-54

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After Miles Davis's bebop years with Charlie Parker (1945-1949) and his cool dalliances with his nonet (1948-1950), the trumpeter began leading small potent hard-bop bands. His recordings made between 1951 and '54 are particularly exciting for listeners eager to explore his development prior to 1955, when he signed with Columbia Records. During this 10-inch LP era, Davis was both ferocious and sensitive, confident and curious, brashly dissonant and joyfully melodic. No matter the mood, Davis was always gorgeous and sculptural, similar in many ways not to Frank Sinatra, who he's often compared with, but to Gene Kelly. Davis, as you can hear, was really a modern dancer, expressing himself in staccato taps or in sweeping, expressive legato. His ballads could be romantic and decadent, but the hot stuff sizzled, like a drill bit eating into stone.

During this transition period, Davis recorded largely for Prestige, with a clutch of sessions for Blue Note. Yesterday, I spent the day listening in-depth to his recordings during this four-year period. Rather than get into all of the recordings, I simply want to share five remarkable tracks that you may not be familiar with or have overlooked. No matter how nasty Davis is portrayed in films and books, it should never be forgotten how exceptional an artist he was and what made him more extraordinary than most.

Here's Bluing, from October 1951, featuring Miles Davis (tp), Jackie McLean (as), Sonny Rollins (ts), Walter Bishop, Jr. (p), Tommy Potter (b) and Art Blakey (d)...

 

Here's For Adults Only in February 1953, featuring Miles Davis (tp), Al Cohn (ts,arr), Zoot Sims (ts), John Lewis (p), Leonard Gaskin (b) and Kenny Clarke (d). It sounds like Sims takes the first tenor saxophone solo followed by Cohn...

 

Here's Kelo from April 1953, featuring Miles Davis (tp), J.J. Johnson (tb), Jimmy Heath (ts), Gil Coggins (p), Percy Heath (b) and Art Blakey (d)...

 

Here's Miles Ahead from May 1953, featuring Miles Davis (tp), John Lewis (p), Percy Heath (b) and Max Roach (d)...

 

And here's Lazy Susan from March 1954, featuring Miles Davis (tp), Horace Silver (p), Percy Heath (b) and Art Blakey (d)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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