This is how co-host Renee Montagne of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition opened one of the program’s hours this morning.
We’re kind of blue. Miles Davis died 25 years ago today.
It came as a shock to realize how quickly that sizeable amount of time has passed; and a comfort to know that a major creative musician, recognized in a casual comment, is a part of the fabric of the nation’s, and the world’s, culture. Ms. Montagne’s reference to Davis’s best-known album suggests that listening to it again is always a good idea. Whether you are about to have lunch in Shanghai or get out of bed in Copenhagen, here is the complete 1959 Kind Of Blue with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kellly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.
No doubt if you searched the internet, you would find thousands of Miles Davis anecdotes. I have only one from first-hand experience. It’s from my 1989 book Jazz Matters. I’m not sure that I have posted it on Rifftides.
My first opportunity to hear Miles Davis Live came when I as in New York for a week in 1962 and he was playing the Jazz Gallery in Greenwich Village. In the interim he had, to quote Colman Adrews, “sent his demons roundly back to hell; recorded the milestone Walkin'” session; formed the quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones; been “rediscovered” at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival; reorganized his combo into the mind-blowing sextet with Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Chambers and Jones; collaborated triumphantly with Gil Evans; masterminded the Kind of Blue date, possibly the most influential record session of the past twenty years; and become a household name.
At the Gallery, Chambers and Jones were still aboard. Wynton Kelly was the pianist. Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and trombonist J.J. Johnson were the other horns. Teddy Wilson’s trio was appearing opposite the Davis band.
Aside from the distinct recollection that Miles, Philly Joe and J.J. played superbly that night, two memories of the evening survive. Between sets, Miles sat at a table in front of and slightly to the right of the piano and listened to Wilson intently and with great enjoyment. During a later break, he came to the bar and took a stool next to mine. I had heard all those stories about Davis’s surliness and wasn’t about to get him riled up by coming on like the hick fan I was. But he initiated a conversation and for maybe twenty minutes we made small talk, little of it about music. The freezing weather came up, as I recall, the New York newspaper strike, foreign cars, and Teddy Wilson. There was no handshake, no exchange of names. Then, as Miles got up to return to the stand, he asked where I was from. No place he’d ever heard of, I said, Wenatchee, Washington. He paused a moment, then said:
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