Monday, April 21, 2014

FOUR RUSSIANS (in four minutes)

With this posting, we stray away from jazz, but with these four composers, we very much maintain the concept of "What would Miles do?"

It is humanly impossible to discuss even one Russian composer adequately on a blog post, but have a quick read anyway. Anyone who takes music seriously must know something about these four men.

Stravinsky came first. To be fair, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov and many others came before him, but for this discussion, Igor Stravinsky started it all.
Igor Stravinsky 1882-1971
He didn’t invent it; he just tweaked everything that had come before him so it sounded like he invented something new. His invention, sometimes called neoclassical, became 100 years of new music. That’s what great artists do: They tweak conventional thinking, and riots ensue. They blow art out of the water with new beauty, painful at times, but ultimately, lasting, inspirational beauty.

In 1913, Igor Stravinsky instigated riots in Paris with the premiere of The Rite of Spring. Le Sacre du Printemps’ or simply ‘Le Sacre’. This music was so new and challenging that the audience began screaming and booing within minutes; all mayhem broke out in the theater and spilled out onto the streets.

Le Sacre can be uphill listening for novices, so you might try Symphony of Psalms instead, a three-movement piece written nearly twenty years after Le Sacre and possibly one of the two or three best compositions ever composed for orchestra and choir. Intense from the outset, the first movement of full-on symphony and choir requires the wearing of a seatbelt, and the choral lamentations in the third movement leave one either breathless or in tears.

Sergei Prokofiev 1891-1953
Our second Russian composer is Sergei Prokofiev, who, while only nine years younger than Stravinsky, became widely known with Peter and the Wolf and Romeo and Juliette, but there is so, so much more to Prokofiev. Unlike many twentieth century composers, this man had the amazing talent for combining challenging contemporary harmonies with the most beautiful of melodies. You might start with his string quartets. Then try his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra no.1 and no.2. I prefer No. 1, but both are gorgeous. Try also his piano concertos and sonatas. Totally mind-blowing power and beauty.

Dmitri Shostakovich 1906-1975
Dmitri Shostakovich, our third on the list, has become a household name and needs little
introduction. Only fifteen years younger than Prokofiev, he takes music further still. He is known best for his fifteen symphonies, many of which have strong socio-political themes. However, Shostakovich’s essence is more easily uncovered in his other works. My favorite? His Preludes and Fugues for piano. The string quartets are a must listen, as is his Cello Concerto No.1.

Alfred Schnittke 
The fourth and last in this discussion is Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). Schnittke’s works show influences from all three of the above composers, but he took them further, into new frontiers of harmony and rhythm, while always featuring beautiful melodies that are heart wrenching at times. In most great works, there is tension and resolve; in Schnittke’s works, tension and resolve often occur simultaneously, creating huge emotional and musical impact. Try his Requiem. Try his concerto for piano and strings. Explore his Symphony No. 8. Then move to violin sonatas and piano sonatas. There is much more.

So there. You have four influential composers from Russia who have changed the world of music. Humanity should consider themselves extremely fortunate to have lived in a time when the musical genius of these giants was accessible through recordings, published works, and performances. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Michael Brecker: a playlist and tribute

MICHAEL BRECKER: a playlist and tribute

At the time of this writing (2011), only one tenor saxophone player has gone beyond John Coltrane to a truly higher level of playing. Many have tried, some have come close, but Michael Brecker is the only one to make that quantum leap. He added polytonality, outside voicings, wider range, vibrato-less tones (like Miles), while never substituting pure technique for emotion or musicianship (as can sometimes happen with jazz players). He also introduced the world to the full potential of the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI). Tenor players, of course, know this already.
If you want to hear Michael Brecker at his absolute best, forget about the phenomenal career he had—over 600 studio collaborations and more than twenty-five albums as leader or co-leader—and go to NOW YOU SEE IT…NOW YOU DON’T (1990). This is Brecker at the indisputable zenith of his career (though he was just as good before and continued to grow after). Explosive in energy and emotion, it is an album of totally inspired playing and compositions. Four tracks are MUST-LISTEN tracks:

Track 5: Peep. This Brecker composition starts with a tight, up-tempo melody over sizzling ride cymbal by Adam Nussbaum. Two minutes into it, Brecker begins a solo that quickly morphs into a saxophone/drum duet that is some of the purest, driving tenor playing ever recorded in history. Up-tempo Brecker doesn’t get any better than this.

Go to Track 2, entitled Minsk, a mysterious medium-slow tune by Don Grolnick that begins cautiously as if exploring rooms in a haunted castle, punctuated by startling, staccato punches of electronic polytonal chords. The first tenor solo is chill, as is Joey Calderazzo’s piano solo, but all of this is mere titillation, a build up to Brecker’s unbelievable solo (7 minutes in) during the vamp that takes the tune out. His solo has the intensity of a space shuttle lift-off. Play it loudly.

Track 3: Jim Beard’s playful synthesizer-rich composition Ode to the Doo da Day, is a hipified calypso-funk beat like I’ve never heard before or since. Calderazzo’s piano solo is très tasteful and Brecker’s solo is one of his most melodic and skillful, full of soaring arpeggios. Absolutely great tune.

Last Track: The Meaning Of The Blues: a straight-ahead acoustic quartet rendition of this classic standard. Brecker’s tenor saxophone may have sung as sweetly in other recordings but certainly never more so than in this one.

 Okay, now we can go back and review some of the other MUST-LISTEN tracks of BRECKER’s career.

For a taste of what Brecker could do in a studio session as a sideman, listen to the solo from Maxine, off the 1982 Donald Fagan album NIGHTFLY.

Pat Metheny’s album 80/81 contains the earliest of the career-long collaboration he had with Brecker. Listen to Every Day (I Thank You) for a great example of Brecker’s sensitive playing. Interestingly, Brecker’s final studio album (PILGRIMAGE) was also a collaboration with Pat Metheny.

MICHAEL BRECKER (1987). First album as leader with an all-star band of Pat Metheny (g), Kenny Kirkland (p), Jack DeJohnette (d), Charlie Hayden (b). The primary MUST-LISTEN track is Nothing Personal (Grolnick). It starts out with a Bauhaus-like melody reminiscent of Freedom Jazz Dance and evolves first into a tasteful straight-jazz guitar solo by Metheny. Then Brecker enters with searching notes at first before the rhythm section kicks in with a hard swinging jazz rhythm and Brecker slays that dragon with a masterful, yet contained solo.

Original Rays (Brecker, Grolnick, Stern) introduces the EWI and what it can do, the synthesized polychords Brecker uses in subsequent albums. But it is the tenor solo later in the mid section of this folk rock ballad at about 5 minutes into the tune that is quintessential Brecker at his best on tenor.

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME (1988). The MUST-LISTEN track is Itsbynne Reel (Brecker/Grolnick) which kicks off with Brecker on EWI and Mark O’Connor on violin in an electrified Irish reel that climbs to an up-tempo melody punctuated by wonderfully intrusive, harmonically ‘out’ chords. The tune gradually builds energy over a continuo of bass or piano until Brecker starts driving the group hard with his tenor, building toward a solid sheet of free sound that ultimately crosses the finish line with an awe-inspiring G major chord. Insane, great tune. Be sure also to check out YouTube videos of this tune.

The title track (Don’t Try This At Home) is more about the heavy-hitting ensemble than Brecker himself. And no wonder. It features  Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Mike Stern and Charlie Haden. At 8’30” into it, there is one short melody that introduces a theme that eventually evolves into the melody in Peep from the subsequent album NOW YOU SEE IT…NOW YOU DON’T.      

Don’t miss Suspone by Mike Stern, a straight jazz tune with electric guitar and synthesized EWI, a tasteful solo by Stern and solid playing by Brecker and Joey Calderazzo.

TALES FROM THE HUDSON (1996), released after a six year hiatus, this is a formidable album with Pat Metheny (guitar), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Dave Holland (Bass), Joey Calderazzo (piano), and guests McCoy Tyner (piano) and Don Alias (percussion). The MUST-LISTEN track is Metheny’s tune Song For Bilbao, not for the superb tenor playing or piano by Tyner, but for Pat Metheny’s explosive solo on synth guitar. The other track I cannot get out of my head is Midnight Voyage, by Caldarazzo. It is a strolling tune with a behind-the-beat melody from Brecker and Metheny, sweet tenor and guitar solos, and a refreshing piano solo at the end of the piece to take it out.

BRECKER BROTHERS LIVE IN BARCELONA (1992): This entire concert is phenomenal. A VHS video was made, but no DVD and no CD that I have been able to find. The band is superb, with Michael on tenor and EWI, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Dennis Chambers on drums, Mike Stern on guitar, James Genus on bass and George Whitty on keyboards (and he's very good). Several Barcelona cuts are available on YouTube.

Spherical: even though there is some fraudulent filler footage during Mike Stern’s solo.

Some Skunk Funk: Michael Brecker rips his tenor to pieces in this solo!

Song For Barry: this clip is Mike Stern’s solo on the tune but it is an insane solo:

Cat’s Cradle: Beautiful restrained ballad. Also see the live performance on YouTube:

Madame Toulouse (Brecker) is ultimately a straight 12-bar blues in which Brecker lays down two minutes of totally swinging solo that is so, so tasteful over the wonderful walking rhythm.

PILGRIMAGE (2007). A beautifully recorded and mixed album produced while Michael Brecker was in the throes of his illness, this is possibly the most composition-based of Brecker’s works. The top of world jazz players join him in this last effort, with his long time collaborator Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Brad Meldeau, Jack DeJohnette, and John Patitucci. The entire album is a treat. I recommend Loose Threads, a high energy tune in which one can imagine Brecker fighting his illness through his horn. Herbie Hancock’s solo adds momentum to that battle with an intense solo before the out head with its triple... punch... ending!

Unaccompanied SOLO performances of note by Brecker:

Round Midnight: this is an absolute MUST-LISTEN video.

Naima, off DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC: LIVE AT MASSEY HALL, recorded October 2001. Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove (trumpet), Brian Blade (drums), John Patitucci (bass). Brecker’s solo, a tribute to Coltrane’s famous tune, is a tour de force.  

My One And Only Love, off MICHAEL BRECKER. The solo playing is in the first 2’30” of this straight quintet version of the tune Coltrane recorded with Johnny Hartman.

Voilà: a playlist of a mere twenty-two tunes that barely scratches the surface of the prolific career of Michael Brecker, the best tenor player of his time.  Nevertheless, these tunes incorporate some of his absolute best playing. Use them as a jumping off point to explore the music of this man who contributed so much and was forced to leave us long before he was finished. We thank you Michael. We miss you Michael.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THELONIOUS MONK: A playlist of must-listen tracks.

Clusters of notes
Quirky rhythms Blues
Whole tone scales
Beautiful ‘off’ endings

These are descriptors that could apply to the piano playing of Thelonious Monk, whose prolific career spanned from the early 1940s to the mid 1970s. Bill Evans called him “…an exceptionally uncorrupted creative talent.”

Monk’s playing often defies description, but his sound is immediately recognizable. His unique style is most pure in his solo piano works. He recorded many tunes multiple times in different settings: solo, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, and larger bands. It is an enlightening exercise to go deeper, to compare and contrast each rendition. So, enough words. Let’s get to a playlist of some of his best tracks.

Solitude, off THELONIOUS MONK PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON (1955): An early piano solo on a trio album designed to introduce Monk to the public through covers of Ellington’s tunes. Somewhat hesitatingly cautious, Solitude has much of the stylistic character that becomes refined during Monk’s career. A beautiful, tender, rendition.

I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. (MONK HIMSELF (1957)). An interpretive experiment, played with caution but in Monk’s inimitable style. The album MONK HIMSELF is one of his earliest solo albums.

‘Round Midnight: Probably Monk’s all-time most famous composition, co-composed by Cootie Williams and recorded many times in many settings. I suggest comparing two solo versions. First, the 6’40” experimental 1957 version, beautiful and contemplative, from MONK HIMSELF, and next, the shorter, tighter version on MONK’S GREATEST HITS album. For an extra treat, listen to Miles Davis’s recording from ‘ROUND ABOUT MIDNIGHT (with exceptionally sweet solos by Miles and John Coltrane).

ALONE IN SAN FRANCISCO (1959). The rich, clear, resonant sound of the piano in this recording rivals the best of modern digital recordings:

            Ruby, My Dear  A magnificent track. Uneven rhythm. Possibly the best ending of any of his solo recordings. Compare with the track on SOLO MONK (1965).

            Everything Happens To Me. This is one of Monk’s favorite tunes, recorded many times. Compare this track with the must-listen version on SOLO MONK.

            You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart. Polytonality and cluster chords the likes of which no jazz ears had heard before. A gorgeous piece.

SOLO MONK (1965). This entire album is Monk at the height of his solo playing.

            Dinah. Monk’s stride left hand at its best. The liner notes call it a ‘spoof’. I don’t buy it, since Monk uses stride extensively throughout his career, in both his compositions and standards. I wonder if Monk got to read and approve the liner notes…

            I Surrender, Dear. What he does with his left hand—single notes that suggest entire chords—is so Monk. The little trill at the end…wonderful!

            Ruby, My Dear. An absolute must-listen track of one of his most famous compositions.

            I’m Confessin (That I Love You). Medium stride to state the melody, then solos over the form. I would nominate it for ‘best bridge in a jazz standard’.

            I Hadn’t Anyone Till You. Great Intro, beautiful stride, rich cluster chords, and a totally unique two-chord ending.

            Everything Happens To Me. A must-listen track of one of Monk’s favorite standards.

            Ask Me Now. Classic Monk composition. Cluster chords, stride, crazy wonderful arpeggios.

THE UNIQUE THELONIOUS MONK (1956). This is a trio album with Art Blakey on drums and Oscar Pettiford on bass. The trio adds a dimension to Monk’s playing without obscuring his style.

            Liza (All The Clouds’ll Roll Away). Simply delightful. Tasteful drumming by Blakey, including an excellent solo.

            Darn That Dream. Tender rendition with a short bass solo and great ending.

STRAIGHT, NO CHASER (1967) This is the quartet Monk used through much of his career, with Charlie Rouse on tenor, Larry Gales on bass, and Ben Riley on drums.

            I Didn’t Know About You: Splendid Charlie Rouse tenor playing and Monk piano in this must-listen Duke Ellington tune. Interestingly, this tune has similarities in chord structure to another of Monk’s favorites, Everything Happens To Me.

            Straight, No Chaser. Anyone who has even a small interest in jazz needs to know this tune, one of Monk’s most famous, and played by every aspiring jazz player at every jam session around the world. Also listen to the track by Miles Davis at Newport: see

UNDERGROUND (recorded 1967, released 1968). Same group as STRAIGHT, NO CHASER. I'd nominate UNDERGROUND as best album cover in a jazz record.

            Easy Street. This tune by A.R. Jones, played in trio format, embodies the sentiment of its title, with Monk’s playful embellishments. It moves along smoothly in a rhythm that makes you want to drop what you’re doing, hold your partner close, and dance in the kitchen.

            In Walked Bud. You absolutely have to listen to this track to hear Jon Hendricks’ vocals and scat solo that swings as hard as any jazz vocalist has ever swung.

There it is. A mere nineteen tunes, played or written by Thelonious Monk. They represent only a microscopic glimpse at his work, but some of the best playing and best recordings of his career. Explore more about Monk at

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


“If good music reduces you to tears, Pat Metheny is your man.”

“Without a single lyric, Pat Metheny has painted a comprehensive picture of the full range of life’s emotions. While admittedly not as complex as Mahler or the other Romantics, his music is every bit as emotional. Not bad for a jazz guitarist!”

“Some of Metheny’s music has mistakenly been labeled ‘New Age’. It’s not. It is jazz at the highest level, jazz chords, jazz rhythms, the works, though often with a heavy sprinkling of international and electronic influences.”

Let’s get right to the best stuff. For a good understanding of Pat Metheny’s musical genius on the guitar and his compositions, go out and buy the following four albums and study them (he has made over thirty-five albums as a leader, and many as a contributor, and is the winner of at least fifteen Grammy awards).

            1. PAT METHENY GROUP (1978). Every tune is an example of the rhythms and chords he uses throughout his career. The two tunes co-written with Lyle Mays are must-listen tracks: San Lorenzo and Phase Dance. Also, not to be missed is Lone Jack is a straight-ahead jazz tune by the quartet (guitar, piano, Mark Egan on bass, Dan Gottlieb on drums) with a high-energy up-tempo Latin feel, crisp melodic line and solos by Pat and Lyle that demonstrate to anyone that these are world class jazz players.

            2. AS FALLS WICHITA, SO FALLS WICHITA FALLS (1981) is a joint project with Lyle Mays and guest Nana Vasconcelos on percussion and vocals. The title tune, all twenty minutes of it, is a hauntingly beautiful journey in several movements that ends with a rising organ/synthesizer section played over a soundtrack of children’s voices. Powerful. Two other must-listen tracks are September Fifteenth, a tribute to Bill Evans (see Bill Evans posting March 2011), and It’s For You, an excellent example of future directions with his group.

            3. STILL LIFE (TALKING) (1984), one of Metheny’s many Grammy Award winners, is possibly the best album by Pat Metheny, fully realizing his composing and arranging talents. The full group is Pat on guitars, Lyle on keyboards and synthesizers, Steve Rodby on acoustic and electric bass, Paul Wertico on drums, Armando Marcal on percussion and voice, David Blamires and Mark Ledford on voice. The Latin influence and power of the voices showcases Metheny at the top of his game.  The entire album is superb, but must-listen tracks include these four: Minuano (Six Eight), a fabulous tune with starts with easy-going vocal melody which gradually builds into complex rolling Latin rhythm, guitar work and an outgoing cadence of four soaring chords. Last Train Home is possibly Metheny’s most famous tune, worthy of its fame. It’s Just Talk starts with a way hip pair of chords, vocal melody and Latin rhythm to start, moves into a wonderful behind-the-beat piano solo by Lyle and an out-vamp with a hard-to-beat groove with tasteful drumming by Paul Wertico. In Third Wind, the highest energy tune on the album, Pat’s lead-in to his solo takes your breath away. But then, Pat’s synth-guitar over vocals during the out-vamp takes it higher still.

            4. SECRET STORY (1992) is, in the words of an itunes reviewer, “one of the most emotionally expressive recordings in his career” I urge you to go to the online itunes store and read the entire review of this magnificent album which is a journey of intellect, joy and (true to Metheny’s character), loss. You should study the entire album. Every track is superb. My favorite: The Truth Will Always Be: with only a few chords, Metheny creates an impressive anthem to love and life. It gradually builds energy until the synth-guitar kicks in with some of the most powerful and lyrical guitar playing imaginable. It needs to be played loudly.

Okay, now let’s go back and catch up from the beginning.

Pat Metheny hit the road running. His first album BRIGHT SIZE LIFE (1976), while a good example of where he would be going, and has Jaco on bass, is not fully matured.  Maturity peeks out from the second album WATERCOLORS (1977).  The title tune Watercolors displays his early compositional skills with an easy going tune of superb guitar, with bass by Eberhard Weber. Ice fire shows off his unbelievable harmonics/polytonal chops.

In 1979, he came out with his first solo album, NEW CHAUTAUQUA. The must-listen track is Sueño con Mexico with its minimalistic ostinato (repetitive theme) in the mid range of the guitar over which he pours his heart out with lyrical single note melody and harmonics. If you can, listen also to Daybreak, an uplifting piece with an undercurrent of the sorrow of something lost.

1982: Grammy award winning OFFRAMP. Pat has discovered his own sound on the synth-guitar, an instrument he will use throughout his career. He gets a piercing brassy sound that delivers huge amounts of power and emotion from the upper range of the guitar. The absolute must-listen track is Are You Going With Me?  with its quintessential Metheny rolling feel, synthesized harmonica melody from Lyle, and an amazing synth-guitar solo toward the end. (also available on the live TRAVELS album but not quite as good)

1984: Grammy award winner FIRST CIRCLE. The title track First Circle is one of Metheny’s best from the standpoints of rhythm (clapping in 22/8 to start), energy building, and accessibility. It is also some of the earliest use of melodic voice-sans-lyrics. If I Could is a poignant ballad with guitar melody that very few in the world can create; with rich Oberheim overlays by Lyle Mays.

1989: Grammy Award winner LETTER FROM HOME, in the words of the itunes store review, “picks up where STILL LIFE (TALKING) left off”, with Pedro Aznar replacing David Blamires and Mark Ledford on voice and other instruments. Another masterpiece of composition, production, and playing, but sometimes accused of being light jazz, itunes continues…“Metheny has always known the difference between light and lightweight…” The most upbeat tune is Beat 70, with steel drum, synth-harmonica, fantastic percussion, voice and driving rhythm. It is one of the most uplifting in Metheny’s catalogue. Other best tracks include Have You Heard; 5-5-7; Dream Of The Return, but every track is worth listening to.

1995: WE LIVE HERE. The group drops anchor in the river of progress for a while to slow down a bit, but continues to grow nevertheless. Must-listen tracks are the twelve minute To The End Of The World which has a beginning, middle, and end, with some great synth-guitar played to perfection; and We Live Here, a hipified Bolero-like drum beat with intense synth-guitar long tones- it is a major force.

1997: IMAGINARY DAY (two Grammy awards). This is a definite divergence into new territory of complex international instrumentation, chords and rhythm. For the student of Pat Metheny, must-listen tracks are The Heat Of The Day, with its mesmerizing Mid-Eastern rhythm and some new and exciting work on synth-guitar; and Roots Of Coincidence, sometimes called ‘industrial rock’ and that gets into a kickass galloping rhythm with a Goldfinger feel to the melody that evolves into a very electric guitar solo and an orchestrated ending. Beautiful. These guys are not fading.

2002: SPEAKING OF NOW. More or less a continuation of IMAGINARY DAY, but always with new material that advances the form, no matter what genre you wish to label it. Must listen tracks are Proof with its catchy melody played with chords, not single notes, a beautiful trumpet solo by Cuong Vu, a great piano solo, all in a complex composition; and The Gathering Sky, a straight jazz playing within an intricate composition.

Here is a must-listen BALLAD PLAYLIST. Pat Metheny expresses emotion in his ballads in a way very few musicians can. All tunes are available individually from itunes.
·        September Fifteenth (in memory of Bill Evans)
·        In Her Family
·        If I Could
·        Farmer’s Trust
·        The Road To You
·        Letter From Home
·        Always And Forever
·        Tell Her You Saw Me
·        Too Soon Tomorrow
·        Another Life
·        Afternoon
·        Seven Days

THE ROAD TO YOU (1993): This live recording improves upon Metheny’s first live album TRAVELS: It brings to the stage the tunes from STILL LIFE (TALKING) and LETTER FROM HOME. The entire album is superb. Must-listen tracks to compare with the studio versions are Have You Heard; The title tune, The Road To You, a beautiful ballad, is new material.

ONE QUIET NIGHT (2003): Solo baritone guitar, a beautiful collection. Must-listen tracks are Song For The Boys, and the covers of Kieth Jarrett’s My Song, and the pop tune Ferry Cross The Mersey.

METHENY MEHLDAU (2006): Pat Metheny’s profound effect on Brad Mehldau’s early musical development, plus Metheny’s discovery of Mehldau’s brilliant piano playing once he started recording has produced this serious collaboration. The must-listen track is Metheny’s straight jazz tune Ring Of Life, a high energy quartet piece with Larry Grenadier on bass and the driving drum work of Jeff Ballard, intense piano and synth guitar solos.

Song For Bilbao. The version to listen to is off Michael Brecker’s TALES FROM THE HUDSON album. Pat’s synth guitar solo is not to be missed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Miles Davis 1926-1991

          Miles Davis was possibly the coolest person ever to walk this earth. Steve McQueen came close, but Miles takes it. But putting coolness aside, the music of Miles Davis influenced so many players and listeners, and he created so many new genres of jazz, took jazz music and jazz trumpet playing in so many new directions it would be nearly impossible to come up with a list of absolute bests from his discography. With that in mind, though, there are some individual recordings that should not be missed by anyone who cares to understand the depth of Miles Davis’s contribution to the world of jazz. So, let’s get right to it.

          I go back to a 1958 recording, already more than ten years into his career. The albums up to that time have their own swing, their own important history, but there is an album called BASIC MILES (C32025- released 1973), a collection of classic performances by Miles that is impossible to find, but if you can, listen to Stella By Starlight, with John Coltrane on tenor, Bill Evans, piano; Paul Chambers, bass and Jimmy Cobb, drums. The sensitive solos by Miles, Coltrane, and Evans, reach levels of painful beauty that few others in jazz do with a standard. Interestingly, another take of Stella from the same session is on the album ’58 SESSIONS, but Miles’s solo is not nearly as good as on the BASIC MILES track.
          Several albums came out of those quintet years with Coltrane on tenor, but to sample the real energy of that group, listen to the live concert at Newport in 1958, especially Straight, No Chaser (either MILES AND MONK AT NEWPORT, or the CD re-release LIVE AT NEWPORT).
          Summertime, from the PORGY AND BESS album (1958) is an absolute Must-Listen. Miles’s muted plaintive interpretation of Gershwin’s famous song, partnered with Gil Evans orchestral arrangement is one of the all-time high points in jazz. Listen to the entire album. One trumpet riff by Miles in the final twelve bars of There’s a Boat that’s Leaving Soon for New York is right up there with the most lyrical ever to flow out of a trumpet.
          Anyone who likes jazz needs to own the album KIND OF BLUE, the 1959 release that turned jazz on its ear with its modal progressions that basically announced to be-bop, “You’re finished, man.” The tune So What is the main attraction of the album, again with Coltrane and Bill Evans featured strongly. It is no wonder KIND OF BLUE became one of the best selling jazz records of all time. It was gentle enough for non-musician jazz lovers, but for jazz musicians, advanced the form.
          The studio album SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN (1963) launched a new quintet. The tune Seven Steps to Heaven is an absolute classic, with Herbie Hancock’s piano solo setting the stage for his years with Miles. That new quintet included Herbie Hancock on piano, George Coleman on tenor, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. Wayne Shorter replaced Coleman after two years and the group remained intact for more than five years. The studio albums they produced contain the reserved, avant garde jazz of the time that occasionally was too esoteric for mass audiences, but their live performances explode with energy. Listen to Miles’s stratospheric genius on My Funny Valentine, originally off the live album MY FUNNY VALENTINE (also on GREATEST HITS). Compare Seven Steps to Heaven off FOUR AND MORE to the studio version to get a taste of the incredible force of the group in concert. While you’re at it, don’t miss the tune Four, one of Miles’s best tunes of the era. Listen also to the albums LIVE IN EUROPE, and MILES IN BERLIN, both equally exciting live albums from the same period.
          Miles again created new directions in music with a burst of innovation that began in 1969 with the album
. He makes musical first ascents with each of the next three albums, BITCHES BREW, TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON, and LIVE EVIL. A Must-Listen is Sanctuary off BITCHES BREW. This is pure sound energy for its own sake, precisely the direction Miles takes us for the next decade. Listen to some or all of Right Off (JACK JOHNSON album) for the clarity and intensity of his trumpet playing which is the absolute best tone of his career. The piercing long tones; no one does them like Miles. Listen to Selim off LIVE EVIL for a haunting melodic composition that just hangs in the air and never comes down.
          Miles expands our musical world with GET UP WITH IT (1974), a powerful album of gentle beauty and force. He plays the organ on this album almost as much than the trumpet. The outsider but Must-Listen track is Rated X, six minutes and fifty-three seconds of the most vicious interplay ever between organ and percussive sounds from drums, guitar and electric piano. You may not like it, but who other than a visionary could create something like that?
           The 1980s is a prolific decade for Miles. He returns from a five year retirement with THE MAN WITH THE HORN (1981) and a monster line-up of sidemen. Fat Time has a kickass bass groove (introduce Marcus Miller) and guitar solo by newcomer Mike Stern that is totally novel to the jazz genre. Aïda introduces a melody that evolves into Fast Track on the live album WE WANT MILES (1982). Five minutes and sixteen seconds into Fast Track, Miles blows some of the most clarified prolonged high trumpet tones he has ever blown. It is ‘Miles in the 80s’ at its prime. The tune Katia, off YOU’RE UNDER ARREST (1985) has an intense trumpet-organ theme over a complicated Eastern percussions rhythm and stabbing guitar lines by John McLaughlin. Miles’s cover of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature strays from typical Miles but is nevertheless a beautiful tribute.
          AMANDLA (1989) is a collection of eight tunes, all under six minutes, written mostly by bassist Marcus Miller. More structure and melody to the tunes, but with plenty of funk. The Must-Listen tune is Mr. Pastorius, the only straight jazz tune with unmuted trumpet on the album, a poignant eulogy to Jaco Pastorius.
          So there. That’s one short playlist tour of Miles Davis’s career in under twenty tunes. Each is the best of its period. But there is so much more. All the tunes in between are worth studying.
          Miles once said the history of jazz could be said in four words: “Louis Armstrong Charlie Parker”. That was the first half of the twentieth century. The second half requires two more words: Miles Davis.