For someone who heavily abused his body with drugs, trumpeter Miles Davis lived an extraordinarily long life (1926-1991). His inclusion rounds out the four periods of jazz (early, swing, bebop, cool) that I wanted to cover. (Tomorrow is a surprise trumpeter.) Commenters yesterday pointed out that while not as technically proficient as Gillespie, Davis was nonetheless at least as musically creative. I must say, though, that I have little use for the later Davis with his strange getups and psychedelicized music.
Fronting several small groups, and producing, to my mind, three classic albums (Kind of Blue—the best selling jazz album of all time and the only jazz album I know of certified as a “national treasure” by Congress—Sketches of Spain, and Porgy and Bess), Davis pioneered the slower and less pyrotechnic, but equally satisfying, genre of “cool jazz”. To me it’s best exemplified by this song, Boplicity, from his album Birth of the Cool (1957). It was written with the help of arranger Gil Evans, who was largely responsible for the sound of cool jazz.
The music of Miles Davis is the only jazz I consider suitable as “make-out” music. It’s slow, often romantic, and tinged with sadness. (The absolute best make-out album in jazz, however, is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, a lovely collection of ballads for sax and vocal. Listen here and then buy it.)
The album Kind of Blue (1959) contained the track So What. I couldn’t resist putting putting up the YouTube version in which Davis plays with John Coltrane. Much early jazz was not captured on film, largely because it featured black people, but by this time there were more film clips showing the greats blowing. The YouTube notes say this about the video:
Recorded by CBS producer Robert Herridge. Cannonball Adderley had a migraine and was absent from the session. Wynton Kelly played piano–he was the regular band member at this time–but Bill Evans had played on the original recording of “So What” on March 2, 1959. The other musicians seen in the film were part of the Gil Evans Orchestra, who performed selections from “Miles Ahead.” Jimmy Cobb on drums.
You can hear the original version from the album here.
In 1958 Davis released Porgy and Bess, an album of songs from Gershwin’s musical. Also produced with Gil Evans, it’s one of my favorite albums, and achieved great commercial success. Here’s the most famous cut from that album, Summertime: