“I’ll play it and tell you what it is later”

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Miles Davis’ First Great Quintet

Miles Davis led two of the most popular recorded quintets of all time. They were called “The First Great Quintet/Sextet” from 1955-58 and “The Second Great Quintet” from 1964-68. “The First Great Quintet” consisted of Miles on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. They recorded Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’ – all live takes from the studio with no pre-rehearsal and no new material. Instead they simply played standards their way.

How do you best describe “The First Great Quintet”? They were hard swinging, the time feel was essential, and they had a trademark sound in the hard bop era, during which other quintets such as the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers dominated as well. Miles also played a lot with a mute on these recordings (which can be heard on most of the songs on Relaxin’). These recording sessions were all about listening to each other. If you listen to “If I Were a Bell” off Relaxin,’ you will notice Miles saying, “I’ll play it and tell you what it is later.” The band doesn’t seem to have any problem following Miles’ guidelines; this flexibility is part of what makes these records great.

Miles Davis Quintet – If I Were a Bell
Miles Davis Quintet – Ah-Leu-Cha 
Miles Davis Quintet – Dear Old Stockholm

In 1958-59 the group split; Bill Evans replaced Red Garland and Jimmy Cobb replaced Philly Joe Jones. Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe joined Art Pepper and released Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and also teamed up with Sonny Rollins for his Tenor Madness album. Evans only lasted about six months in the group before being replaced by Wynton Kelly. Cannonball Adderley was later added as an alto saxophonist to the group. In 1959, amidst a sea of great jazz records, Miles Davis released the top-selling Kind of Blue, which would take Miles away from his hard bop sound and lead him towards the modal sound that can be heard specifically on “So What.”

Miles later formed his “Second Great Quintet” from 1964-68 with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. A loose time feel, rare use of chord changes, and use of polyrhythms, which can be heard on “Footprints,” defined their sound. Hancock, Carter, and Williams were hired in the late spring of 1962; at first, George Coleman and Sam Rivers were part of the quintet, but were later replaced by Wayne Shorter in 1964. The new quintet recorded several albums that would be part of the modern day Miles Davis.

Miles Davis Quintet – Footprints 
Miles Davis Quintet – There Is No Greater Love
Miles Davis Quintet – Joshua

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          February 10, 2018