333sound

Miles Davis Week – Day 1: Music To Read Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew By?

TO CELEBRATE THE UPCOMING RELEASE OF OUR 110TH 33/13 ON  BITCHES BREWWE’RE PLEASED TO BRING YOU THE VERY FIRST INSTALLMENT OF MILES DAVIS WEEK BY AUTHOR GEORGE GRELLA JR. !

Music to read Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew by?

Maybe so. 33-1/3 books, who have their own Spotify account, asked me if I wanted to put a playlist together for them as part of Bitches Brew week here at 333SOUND. Of course I said yes, I’m no fool. Then I started to put it together. Countless man hours later …

https://open.spotify.com/user/gtra1n/playlist/0zXQ4QVj8NtnhrwHJFCo31

This is actually the third version, once revised. What began as a mix of music that come before and after Bitches Brew, from Miles and others, turned into (after seemingly endless listening and hemming and hawing) a limited playlist that relates to my book chapter “Directions in Music by Miles Davis.” The purpose of that chapter and of the playlist is to put Miles into the context of jazz, and also to put Bitches Brew into the context of his own career and musical values.

The playlist starts with music he spoke about that was important to him as a person and a trumpet player: Roy Eldridge, Bobby Hackett, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal, and especially Billy Eckstine’s Orchestra, the famous bebop incubator. Miles heard that band when he was a teenager in St. Louis and felt the music so powerfully, “all up in my body,” that he went to New York City to try and remake and recreate the sensation. And so history begins (in those two tracks, “Second Balcony Jump” and “I Love the Rhythm in a Riff,” listen for solos from the young Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon).

The Miles portion of the playlist starts with “Pointless Mama Blues,” from his first recording session as a sideman for Rubber Legs Williams, through the most salient points of his stylistic changes, all the way into a partial live set recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1969, just weeks before he went into the studio for the Bitches Brew sessions (more on that Newport set tomorrow).

Emphasis falls on his two great Quintets, and there is a sequence of live material roughly in the middle that charts both the transition from the first Quintet to the second, and also shows how Miles’ ideas developed through repeated versions of the same material. If I indulge a little bit more in the 1965–68 Quintet with Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, that’s because I personally feel this is the greatest jazz ever made, the ideal of the art. The music is fascinating, beautiful, and elusive, which makes it hard to stop listening to.

If the duration seems long, perhaps it will cover the entire time it takes to read the book. Also, Miles’ catalogue is dense with much more great and important music, a playlist of all the essentials would be in the mid double-digits. If you want to skip around, do try to listen to “Oleo,” as I write about it in the book, and also to “Circle in the Round,” which is something of a Rosetta Stone into the entire Electric Miles period. But if you start at the beginning, you may find, like me, that you don’t want the music to stop.

– George Grella

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