MILES DAVIS & JOHN COLTRANE / “Miles & Trane Mixtape”
They took us somewhere else! Literally and imaginatively, made us see things that were not in front of us but which we could reach in our futures if we dared grasp all the implications and inspirations of their music. As both men and musicians, Miles and Trane encouraged us to commit ourselves to newness, to move away from the old in order to get to previously unknown modes of existence. For we humans, re-newing ourselves is generally not the easiest motion to make. But this force and brutal beauty pushed way beyond the ordinary. The music was brutal because in its birth it destroyed standards that came before, and was beauty because this music ushered us into another world, a wonderful world of glorious potentials—the very sounding of this new music was in its terribleness the sound of a new us being born. This music did not stop with the notes Miles and Trane made with their horns but extended into us, into our being via the attitudes and behaviors we displayed after experiencing these songs. Afterwards you could never climb back into the comfort of old ways. Your mind no longer fit inside older paradigms. Your brain was changed forever. You knew there was something different going on, and if you were hip you wanted to be where that difference was. Or even better, you wanted to shoot off in the direction that this new “different” indicated, which was where those in the know were headed—literally “out,” way out, a long, long ways from the status quo. The year was 1960. Miles and Trane were no longer together as bandmates. But Miles knew something new happened when he played with Trane and, like the hipness he embodied, Miles fiercely wanted the highness of traveling the soundways with Trane. Miles had a European tour to do and implored Trane to join Miles once more. Miles had a knack for being persuasive—he could convince a turnip to sign up and donate to the Red Cross blood bank. So Trane climbs aboard for one last go round in March/April 1960. Back in the States most of us were still enamored with Kind Of Blue, astounded by Giant Steps. We thought we knew. But really we had no idea that Trane had turned into a rocket ship. Like starlight, by the time this sound-light reached us, it was old news. The hip pride themselves on being on time, knowing what the latest was that was going down. But culturally, Europe was way ahead of America. I postulate that World War II had culturally exhausted Europe, that the end of Colonialism via wars of independence had totally erased the Eurocentric sense of superiority not only on the battlefield but also in cultural spheres, and especially within the field of music. Musically Europe sought sustenance in the black music known as jazz and visually in African aesthetics. (If you don’t believe me ask Picasso. Just look at his personal art collection, i.e. the art he held on to/sought out, the art he thought was hip.) The leading European artists and intellectuals did more than just like the music. They embraced jazz, supported the musicians and, fortunately for us, documented the music. Slowly, over the last twenty years or so, jazz devotees have been tracking down, collecting and re-releasing recordings, TV and radio broadcasts, concert bootlegs, and private tapings of some of the most important music of the 20th century. Recordings of the 1960 Miles European tour with John Coltrane are among the most important of these expressions but there are many, many others ranging from Sidney Bechet recordings, Duke Ellington concerts and other masterpieces from Traditional, Swing and Bebop artists, to the most iconoclastic recordings from the then emerging avant garde led by artists such as Cecil Taylor and the AACM crew out of Chicago (especially, but not exclusively, The Art Ensemble of Chicago). Had these albums been issued in America shortly after they were recorded, there would have precipitated a huge shift in musical perceptions. But alas, it literally took decades for some of these momentous musical moments to get into general circulation. Jazz may have been created in America, but the music was sustained and documented by Europe. That’s the bold and cold truth. Whether one focuses on the brilliance of Miles’ leadership and the sensitivity of his solos, or if you focus on the brilliance of Trane’s solos and his sensitivity in leading us into the future, either way there is a whole new world to hear and respond to in this music. In 1932 British author Aldous Huxley predicted that there would be a brave new world, but what Huxley could not have known is that the music would lead us far beyond the dystopia he imagined. For the mixtape I’ve chosen excerpts from two concerts: Olympia in Paris, France and Stockholm, Sweden. The Olympia tracks feature standards from the late fifties Miles Davis repertoire. The Stockhom tracks features two selections from the then recent Kind of Blue sessions. In Paris you can hear how Trane shocked the French audience, many of them boisterously booing even before Trane finishes soloing on “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Adieu squares, the hip has arrived. To be fair to those in attendance, a fair number of the French applauded Trane, although an unquiet throng booed vociferously. Coltrane’s solos clearly impressed some of them as a discordant jangle unrelated to what they knew as fifties jazz. And that was true, Trane was blowing what the sixties would soon sound like, not how the fifties previously sounded. Undoubtedly a majority of the Paris jazz audience didn’t know what hit them. By today’s standards, Trane just sounds like Trane, not particularly disturbing, but, imagine back then, April 1960, this surge of sonic electricity must have jolted French sensibilities and cultural consciousness, sort of like getting musically tasered. Trane made it impossible for the audience to maintain their legendary sang-froid. No doubt many of them were there to witness the latest jazz from America but they had no idea how radical some of the music they would hear would be. There was nothing previously available on commercial albums to prepare them for how this team of two, too-terrible men so thoroughly obliterated the old standards. After the seductive opening notes of “All Of You” it didn’t take Miles long to display a more aggressive approach to the standard. Miles’ muted solo has an edge to it as he ushers in Trane who proceeds to destroy diatonic tonality. First off, Trane is playing impossibly fast lines over the laid back rhythms. Doesn’t Trane know this is supposed to be a ballad? But then Trane really cranks it up and starts doing these jagged runs and splitting the notes with a harsh tone. He is politely applauded. Pianist Wynton Kelly follows playing a swinging, blues-drenched solo that is more in keeping with what the people probably expected to hear. Kelly even drops in some block chords a la Red Garland. Jimmy Cobb is popping rim shots on the snare a la Philly Joe Jones. And the often overlooked hero of the rhythm section, Paul Chambers is maintaining time with the precision of a master Swiss watchmaker even as, at the same time, Mr. P.C. is a genius at finding appropriate bass notes to support whatever the horn men are doing. So for the moment order is restored. Nevertheless, I’m sure after this opening there was a palpable anticipation in the audience. They were waiting to hear what Trane would play next. By the time we get to “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Trane is hotly waving goodbye as he jets out of the station, lighting out for uncharted territory. Some in the audience are thrilled, others are mortified. Either way, Trane was unforgettable. In their book Clawing At The Limits Of Cool, Farah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington quote Trane talking about playing with Miles:
Miles’s music gave me an opportunity to see both sides of the question. It was simple and direct enough to superimpose chords—to stack them up—if you wanted, and if you wanted to play melodically, you could. I had mixed emotions about it. Sometimes I’d follow Miles’s lead and play lyrically; other times I’d say, “That’s the end of it,” and play the other way. —John ColtraneObviously Trane had thought long and hard about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go and how to get there, plus, he must have spent months (months, I say, and not mere hours or days) practicing to develop the facility to make the changes he wanted to make. There had been master technicians and brilliant instrumentalists before Trane arrived but after Trane arrived, all would be compared to Trane. Trane replaced Bird as the gold standard of saxophone technique. And so it was to be for the rest of the short tour. Miles playing on the edge of the precipice, Trane plummeting the deep of the far regions, and the band swinging like a weather wane in a hurricane. Had these recordings been available back in late ‘60/early ’61, undoubtedly this would have been known as one of Miles’ great quintets. But we didn’t know. When I first heard some of these cuts, initially I was astounded and delighted, but afterwards I was ashamed of how ignorant I was. I was supposed to know better but I didn’t know this existed. And if I didn’t know this, then how hip was I, really? I mean I knew the music was out there. I knew Trane was killing and that soon after a brief period of retrenchment with Hank Mobley in the frontline, Miles would jump aggressively to the front of the line with the formation that some claim as Miles’ greatest band (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and the almighty Tony Williams), but I didn’t know there were recordings of Miles and Trane that marked the beginning of the wild and wonderful music that is the hallmark of sixties jazz. Listening to the Stockholm selections we get an indication of the Miles to come and an earful of Trane in full flight. I am particularly appreciative of how relaxed Trane is, how he takes his time developing his iconoclastic solos. You can hear him move from idea to idea, even dropping some motifs that he would explore and develop more completely in the years ahead. I think it is always important to know one’s history, to understand the paths that brought us to where we are. I admit it took me into the seventies before I really, really totally dug the history of all the music I then thought I was so hip for digging. I was into advanced Trane and Miles with Tony Williams, but I had no idea that there was a thrilling precedent. I saw them running but I had not seen them coming out of the blocks. As I’ve said numerous times before, in jazz the sixties started in 1959. What I didn’t realize is that the early years had been so thoroughly documented. Thanks to a handful of recordings of the 1960 Miles with Trane European tour, I was able to catch up on what I had initially missed. Now that the bulk of these recordings are widely available, we all can know. Doesn’t it feel good not to be ignorant?!!! —Kalamu ya Salaam Miles & Trane Mixtape Playlist I’ve identified five albums from the Miles Davis 1960 European tour. They are: Olympia 1960 Live, Miles Davis In Stockholm 1960 Complete, In Copenhagen 1960, Live in Den Hagg, Live in Zurich. The Olympia recording is four CDs, two from the 1960 tour with Coltrane and two from an October 1960 tour with Sonny Stitt. In addition to the music, the Stockholm Complete is important because it contains a rare radio interview with Coltrane. The band is Miles Davis – trumpet, John Coltrane – tenor, Wynton Kelly – piano, Paul Chambers – bass, Jimmy Cobb – drums. 01 “All Of You” - Olympia 1960 Live 02 “On Green Dolphin Street” - Olympia 1960 Live 03 “Bye Bye Blackbird” - Olympia 1960 Live 04 “Round About Midnight” - Olympia 1960 Live 05 “So What” - Miles Davis In Stockholm 1960 Complete 06 “All Blues/The Theme” - Miles Davis In Stockholm 1960 Complete
This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 at 3:47 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Responses to “MILES DAVIS & JOHN COLTRANE / “Miles & Trane Mixtape””
Leave a Reply
| top |