Miles on Monday: "Walkin';" through the years, the "post-Miles paradigm," and more


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For this week's “Miles on Monday," some recent news from the world of Miles Davis, and a look at the evolution of one of the songs Davis performed most frequently in the 1950s and 60s:

  • An exhibit of Davis' visual art will go on display in June at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

  • In an interview with the website Something Else!, drummer Lenny White offers some thoughts about playing on Davis' album Bitches Brew.

  • On a related note, the website Clash Music offered an un-bylined “reassessment" of Bitches Brew, calling it “still as mysterious, psychedelic and addictive as ever."

  • As part of an interview with the site Dialogue Talk, pianist Matthew Shipp talks about Davis' pervasive influence, both through his own music and through that of his former sidemen, and the seemingly inescapable effect that the “post-Miles paradigm" has had on younger musicians.

  • Lastly, this week marks 61 years since Davis first recorded “Walkin'", a song that would be a staple of his concert repertoire for the next dozen years, and also helped define the parameters of the nascent “hard bop" style. The sessions on April 29, 1954 at the New Jersey studio of engineer Rudy Van Gelder also are significant because they marked the beginning of Davis' return from a period of inactivity caused by his addiction to heroin.
That day, a band including Davis, Horace Silver (piano), Lucky Thompson (tenor sax), Percy Heath (bass), J.J. Johnson (trombone) and Kenny Clarke (drums) recorded “Walkin'" and the bop staple “Blue N' Boogie." Both songs were issued first on 10" records, and then in 1956 the tracks were combined with the results of a couple of other sessions for the Prestige LP Walkin' With the Miles Davis All-Stars.

Although the composition of “Walkin'" is credited to Richard Carpenter, the consensus seems to be that the song actually was written by composer-arranger Jimmy Mundy, and first recorded by saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt in April, 1950 under the name “Gravy."

Carpenter, who served as manager for Ammons, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and various other jazz musicians of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, is described in the book Deep In a Dream, a biography of trumpeter Chet Baker written by James Gavin, as “an ex-accountant known for taking out strung-out black musicians and getting them to surrender their record royalties and the rights to their compositions."

Regardless of its provenance, “Walkin'" would be a part of Davis' live sets for more than a decade, albeit with a rather drastic evolution over the years, as you can hear for yourself in the embedded YouTube playlist below. First, there's the original version from 1954, which is a relatively relaxed blues that, as the title might suggest, evokes a saunter down the street.

The song's tempo gets bumped up slightly in three subsequent versions, recorded over the next six years by Davis' quintet with John Coltrane on tenor sax. There's a take from 1956 in Philadelphia, with Coltrane, Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums); another with the same band, but with Bill Evans in for Garland, from May, 1958 at Cafe Bohemia in NYC; and then one from the Stockholm concert of Davis' 1960 European tour, minus Evans but including Wynton Kelly.

Things have changed considerably by the time of the next version, recorded on February 12, 1964 at Philharmonic Hall in NYC's Lincoln Center, but not released until 1966 on the album Four and More. For one thing, the band is completely different, with George Coleman taking over on tenor sax and a rhythm section comprised of Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano, and Tony Williams on drums.

Also, the song's tempo has continued to accelerate, to the point that the “walk" suggested by the title has become more of a jog, verging on a sprint. This version of “Walkin'" is a particular favorite of guitarist John McLaughlin (who would join Davis' band a few years later), and at this point in the playlist, there's a brief video in which McLaughlin talks about the tune and his love for it.

Finally, there are two live recordings from 1967 with Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, completing the lineup of what's now known as Davis' “second great quintet." For these last two versions of “Walkin'" - recorded on April 7 at the University of California, Berkeley and on November 7 at the Stadthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany - the metaphorical sprint has turned into a veritable mad dash, with the tempo pushed up seemingly to near the limits of playability, and barely a trace of the underlying blues chord progression to be heard.

The end result is something not all that different from the “free jazz" being played widely at the time, but also foreshadowing aspects of Davis' electric period, which would begin in earnest a year and a a half later with the release of In A Silent Way.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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