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Steamin' With The Miles Davis Quintet

Prestige Records


Warner Bros. Music (ASCAP)

2. SALT PEANUTS (6:07)

Warner-Chappell (ASCAP)

4. DIANE (7:49)
Rappee Music Corp./ Lew Pollack Music (ASCAP)

5. WELL, YOU NEEDN'T (6:18)
(Thelonious Monk)
Regent Music (BMI)

Victor Young Publ./ Intersong Publ. (ASCAP)


JOHN COLTRANE - Tenor saxophone (except #3)

Supervision by BOB WEINSTOCK

Recorded in Hackensack, NJ; May 11, 1956 ("Well You Needn't" recorded October 26, 1956).

Recording engineer - Rudy Van Gelder
Digital remastering, 1989 - Phil De Lancie (Fantasy Studios, Berkeley)

Cover design/photo - Don Schillten

One of the highest points of modern jazz is the quin·tet that Miles Davis led from late 1955 until spring of 1957. Its earliest manifestation appeared on a record called The Musings of Miles (Prestige 7007), on which Davis was backed by a rhythm section consisting of Red Garland, piano; Philly Joe Jones, drums; and Oscar Pettiford, bass. By the time Davis' next record had been released (Miles, Prestige 7014), he had a regular working group, in which Pettiford had been replaced by Paul Chambers and the tenor saxophone of John Coltrane had been added.
Except for the work he has done with Gil Evans, all of Davis' recording since that time has been an extension and further exploration of the musical ideas set down in those two records. Since the disbanding of that quintet, it has been called by many the most important and influential jazz group of its time. It is obviously the most influential, because the music it played and the style it employed has filtered into most jazz organizations, and the group restored to currency some of the best and most neglected popular songs of the last several years. In ultimate importance, probably only the Modern Jazz quartet is of comparable stature. (Unfortunately, the Thelonious Monk Quartet with Coltrane, Jones, and Wilbur Ware was unrecorded, and of too brief a duration to make the impact it might have; it is notable, though, that half its personnel were Davis alumni) The pervasive impact of the Miles Davis Quintet (and its inspiration) is most closely analogous to the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives of thirty years before.

The present record, Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, is the final selection from the legendary 1956 sessions which produced three previous classics (Cookin', 7094; Relaxin', 7129; and Workin', 7166). Since the album is, in many respects, representative of the total work of the quintet, it affords an excellent opportunity to examine just what this remarkable music was and how it was made.

To begin with, there is the matter of personnel.

Among Miles Davis' several capabilities is the possession of the most accurate ear for new talent in jazz. Sonny Rollins, who has ample reason to know, calls him a "starmaker". But, if the critics of the time are to be believed, it is impossible to see how the quintet had any possible chance of success. The group consisted, we are told, of a trumpet player who could play only in the middle register and fluffed half his notes; an out-of-tune tenor player; a cocktail pianist; a drummer who played so loud that no-one else could be heard; and a teen-age bassist. This, of course, is exaggeration to prove a point; today, the great majority of the quintet could lay serious claim to being the most skilled and influential players on their instruments. But the fact remains, talent aside, that the five men did not share a unity of style: more than many, this group needed a leader.

Davis has the qualities of leadership in abundance.

One of the most notable examples of this is a record released on another company on which Miles, for contractual reasons, was nominally a sideman. But it is more than obvious, from the first note to the last, that it is a Miles record. It is, again, an extention of the principles on the first two albums. An important part of those principles lay in the area of material.

On The Musings of Miles he recorded A Night in Tunisia, and on the present record he plays Salt Peanuts and Well You Needn't. The names that association brings to mind here are Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk, the giants of the bop revolution. Davis does not play hard bop by any means, but he has kept these and similar tunes as a standard part of his basic repertoire, as a constant reminder of the era that gave him his original inspiration.

The previous two records included There Is No Greater love and I see Your Face Before Me, and on the present release are Something I Dreamed last Night and When I Fall in Love. These are ballads, and Coltrane, most often, did not play on the ballad tracks. It is probably his unique way with a ballad that first enabled Miles to reach out to the vast audience he has; an audience that, in several cases, has little affinity with any other jazz. As astute and detached an observer as British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan has referred to Miles as a musical lonely hearts club. In his sad, wistful, muted interpretations of ballads (in which he plays microphone as much a trumpet) he reveals an area of tenderness and sensitivity which is rarely visible in his public aspect. These performances, in the emotion they evoke and the man from which they come, are not comparable to anyone else in jazz, but do bear a striking similarity to Frank Sinatra.

The two early albums included a Gal in Calico and Just Squeeze Me, and the present one has performances of Surrey With the Fringe On Top and Diane. One of these is, of course, an Ellington composition, and Miles probably understands Ellington more than any contemporary musician except Mingus and Monk, but that is a subject for another time. These performances have several things in common, and it is through them and others like them that the Davis concept has become most prevalent. They are all in the medium tempo peculiar to the quintet, which no-one has ever successfully imitated. A large number of the pieces in this style were first played in this general manner by the Chicago pianist Ahmad Jamal, and make extensive use of Jamal's concepts of rhythm and space. Davis has said, "All my inspiration today comes from the Chicago pianist, Ahmad Jamal." This and similar statements have led many to credit Jamal with a stature which I do not feel he deserves. That Davis is able to derive valuable ideas from Jamal's music does not make Jamal Davis' musical equal. Most artists borrow, and the proof of their artistry lies partially in the fact that what they borrow they invariably enrich. At least part of the unique quality of these performances lies in a particular principle which Davis has grasped, a principle which is so simple that it has apparently eluded everyone else. To put it in terms of Miles' particular group, a quintet is not always a quintet. It can also be a quartet featuring Miles, and, at different times on the same tune, it can be a quartet featuring Coltrane, or a trio featuring either Garland or Chambers. The Davis rhythm section, Philly Joe Jones particularly, is extremely well aware of this, and gives each of the three principal soloists his own best backing. Behind Miles, the rhythm is full of space, with few chords; behind Coltrane, it is compulsive; and with Garland, it lapses into an easy, Jamal-like feeling,

As with anything of great importance, though, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; a point of view that can be proven, I think, by the great majority of what these men have produced separately since 1957. A beginning attempt at analysis such as this leaves out many factors, most notably the indefinable personal. chemistry that resulted when these men played together.

Such chemistry is inexplicable, and so, apparently, is the personality of the man who generated it. Miles Davis has become a legend, and in that way, too, he is comparable only to Sinatra. Both men came back from what seemed the ruin of a career at about the same time, and now occupy a position that makes it next door to heresy to imply that there might be any thing less than superb in the results of whatever they attempt. They are both setters of styles in dress and music, and both delight in indulging a passion for speed. Whatever either man does is automatically news, and yet both have a fierce insistence on personal privacy.

The company Miles finds himself in today can best be judged, I feel, by a publicity brochure recently issued by a forthcoming magazine, Show Business Illustrated, a new Playboy enterprise. The brochure promises, and I quote, that "you'll visit and get to know intimately Liz Taylor, Jack Paar, Maria Callas, Miles Davis, Peter Sellers, Brigette Bardot, Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, Marlon Brando, Walt Disney, Jack Lemmon, Harry Belafonte; Bobby Darin, Mort Sahl, Ingmar Bergman, Tennessee Williams."

I somehow doubt that you'll get to know Miles Davis intimately after reading the magazine, but that list is an accurate index of the position in which he finds himself today. The most intimate glimpse he has allowed is what he has recorded with the quintet which did so much to place him in that company. And when the legend passes, if it does, the music will remain. He may be one of the greatest public relations men of our time; he is undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians. And everything else after all, is his business.

Notes Joe Goldberg

Notes reproduced from Prestige 7200.

It would be difficult to even estimate the number of jazz recordings that have been made since February 24, 1917, when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band started the whole thing, in one of Victor's Camden studios.

The output of jazz records, over the past 51 years, has been enormous. Several attempts have been made, to compile the "complete" jazz discography but, although such undertakings (comprising several volumes) have been remarkably comprehensive, none have been really complete. Obscure record dates of the past are constantly being unearthed and the outpour of new material is so staggering that the discographers cannot keep up with it.

In spite of the constant flow of new recorded material, the 51 years have produced certain sessions, which stand out as classic, definitive statements. Magic moments rendered timeless, not only because they were captured by the recording machine but also because the right group of musicians got together at the right time. Many of us have experienced what we believed to be such moments, but the atmosphere that surrounds a live performance often veils a less inspired performance. The recording, which allows repeated listening during more sober moments, makes possible a more objective impression of the overall result.

Among past performances, which have stood this test, are the 1938 Kansas City Six recordings, with Lester Young; the Tommy Ladnier/Sidney Bechet sides, of that same year, on the Bluebird label; the 1953 Gillespie/ Parker Massey Hall concert; the Louis Armstrong Hot Five dates, and the 1956 Miles Davis Quintet sessions, from which stem the six selections in this album.

An analogy between the Armstrong Hot Five and this Miles Davis Quintet has often been drawn by jazz critics and reviewers. The music produced by these two groups, some 30 years apart, has, of course, little in common. The similarity lies in the spirit of the sessions, high quality of performance, and obvious rapport between the players. Also, both groups laid the ground rules for combo work of their respective times.

Although neither group displayed uniform perfection (quite understandably), their weaker moments are easily overlooked in the face of the, more prevalent, better moments – moments of intense beauty, ranging from stirring poignancy to fiery outbursts of exhuberant emotion.

The Davis Quintet was formed in October of 1955.

Unlike the Hot Five, this' was a working group which held forth in New York's Greenwich Village, most notably the Cafe Bohemia. Their classic recordings were made, for Prestige, at Rudy Van Gelder's studio, then located in Hackensack, New Jersey.

It is a sad fact that only a small fraction of jazz musicians enjoy a public acceptance which commensurates with their musical ability. Miles is one of the few, fortunate
ones, but he, too, had to pay his dues, in spite of the fact that his beginnings were in a more advantageous setting than those of most jazz men (particularly those of his race).

Miles' father was born six years after the Emancipation.

Spurred by his father, who, of course, had seen slavery, with all it's inhumanities, he attended Northwestern University and, by 1926, when Miles was born, had become a dental surgeon of some means.

When Miles was 13, his father, who himself had wanted to become a musician, gave him a trumpet. Two years later, Miles was playing professionally around East St. Louis. Illinois, where his parents had moved to, from Alton, in '27. In 1945, he was sent to New York, to attend Julliard. By this time. he had already met such musicians as Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry (whom he cites as an early influence), and sat in with the visiting Billy Eckstine band (which included Bird and Diz).

While attending Julliard (his tenure there was brief), he began working on 52nd Street with tenorman Eddie Davis, Bird and the eternally hip Coleman Hawkins. In November of '45, he began recording with Parker (in a session that included Dizzy Gillespie on piano), but returned to East St. Louis, shortly thereafter, there joining the Benny Carter band. Miles went with Carter to Los Angeles, where he later rejoined Parker, working with him locally and cutting more records.

In the summer of '46, he became a member of the Eckstine band and returned with it to New York. By this time, probably through his recordings with Parker, he had created enough attention to win Esquire Magazine's Star Award for 1947. From the summer of '47 through the following spring, Miles again worked with Parker's quintet, in New York, Detroit and Chicago, recording profusely for the Dial and Savoy labels.

Late in1948, he formed a nine-piece group with some rather unorthodox instrumentation (it included fluegelhorn and tuba), and landed an engagement at the Royal Roost, in New York. This remarkable group. which included Lee Konitz, Kai Winding, Gerry Mulligan and Max Roach (with arrangements by Mulligan and Gil Evans), never achieved any commercial success and was, therefore, rather short-lived. Fortunately, someone took the initiative to reassemble this nonet for a short engagement and, a series of (now historic) Capitol recordings, the following year. The recordings, too, failed to create much interest, outside of jazz's inner circle, but musicians listened, and the group paved the way for what was to become known as "cool" jazz.

In May of '49, Miles was invited to play the Paris Jazz Festival, with a quintet of his own. His return to the U.S. was less than spectacular and the first half of the 50's saw the man, who had been instrumental in changing the direction of Jazz, away from the frenzied "hard bop", himself fading into relative obscurity. He continued to record, with various studio groups of his own, but his activity was sporadic and his health impaired by a bout with a narcotics habit. "I used to spend all I made", he later told a Playboy Magazine interviewer, "and when I went on dope, I got in debt".

Then, in 1955, about three months prior to the formation of the celebrated quintet, represented in this album. Miles appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, his health regained, he was ready to make his presence known. His performance, particularly on Monk's Round Midnight, evoked such enthusiastic response from audiences and critics, that his appearance was termed a “comeback". Just what Miles came back from, is enigmatic. His personal life had been somewhat of a mess, to be sure, but his playing had not suffered commensurably during that dark period. Perhaps it was a comeback from public neglect – the public coming back to Miles.

Whichever way it was, Miles responded. He formed the quintet and kept it together until the spring of 1957. During its existence, the group cut the memorable sides for Prestige, and launched its five members into "the big time" (with the exception of Miles, himself, all were relatively unknown).

At the time of these recordings, John Coltrane had not yet made the impact on the jazz world that was to make him one of the most influential (and controversial) players on the modern scene, before his untimely death, in 1967, at the age of 41.

It was during his tenure with the Davis quartet, and a subsequent, rather lengthy gig at the Five Spot, with Monk, that Trane began to be noticed. His rather unique style, with its seemingly unrelated cascades of notes (Ira Gitler described it as "sheets of sound"), stirred up a great deal of controversy. Granted, these were not Trane's greatest moments, musically, but his playing on these 1956 tracks begins to make sense, in retrospect. Though, still searching, at that time, he was actually creating a rough draft of things to come. In a later interview with Ralph Gleason, Trane explained these sheets of sound. "When I was with Miles," he said, "I didn't have anything to think about but myself, so I stayed at the piano and chords! Chords! chords! I ended up playing them on my horn!"

Although he later proved to be an extraordinary interpreter of ballads, Coltrane rarely performed them with the Davis quartet. Thus he does not appear on Something I Dreamed Last Night and When I Fall In Love, two tracks that feature the lugubrious, closely-miked, muted Miles in the sort of performance that caught the fancy of the more peripheral jazz listener and had a great deal to do with his widespread popularity.

On the ballads, as on the other, more vigorous selections, the rhythm section is impeccable. Just listen to their work on Monk's Well You Needn't – Chambers' pulsating rhythm is alive and ebullient. Jones is at his dynamic best, with his perfectly-timed explosions and accents sparking the overall performance of the group. Then there is Red Garland, providing a perfect compliment and working the left side of the keyboard in a swinging solo which provides a strong retort to those critics, who had termed him a "cocktail pianist." Miles' takes two combustible choruses in front, with an outburst (in the second chorus) which is reminiscent of those which typified Bix Beiderbecke's playing. Second only to Miles' solo, is that by Chambers, using his bow. It was undoubtedly his playing with this quintet, that won him the New Star Award in the 1956 Down Beat Critics Poll.

A frenetic tempo prevails throughout Gillespie's bop classic, Salt Peanuts. Garland takes the first solo (with deep shades of Bud Powell), followed by hectic spurts of imaginative notes from Miles, some of which must surely have lodged themselves in the ceiling of Van Gelder's studio. Following a rather cohesive contribution from Trane, Philly Joe takes over for an extended solo performance which is an interesting display of his ability.

The two remaining selections, Diane and Surrey With The Fringe On Top, are taken in medium tempo and, again, feature the muted Miles, this time in a less pensive mood. This was the tempo which the quintet seemed most comfortable in. Although Trane's solos tend to leave you hanging (as when you've missed the punchline of a joke); he somehow manages to get the message across – a message which, I confess, it took me several years to get. Garland is in a Garner bag on these two tracks, but less heavy handed, and Chambers and Jones are heard taking care of business, very nicely indeed.
This, then, is just one portion of the Miles Davis Quintet’s total recorded output. An eloquent manifesto of a past decade. "True eloquence", said La Rouchefoucauld "consists in saying all that is necessary, and nothing but what is necessary".

Notes: Chris Albertson
(June 1968)

The above notes were written for Prestige 7580, a reissue of Prestige 7200.
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