Today is the birthday of Miles Davis, one of the greatest artists America ever produced. He would have been 78.
Last year I blogged a brief guide to Miles’ recordings for newcomers. Briefly put, Miles’ career went through many phases, so he’s sure to have recorded something you’ll like—and something you’ll hate.
My favorite recordings are his earlier work, particularly the albums Relaxin’ and Steamin’. These albums contain the quiet, intimate, thoughtful ballads which are my favorite—his version of “When I Fall in Love” on Steamin’ is just breathtaking. After these albums, Davis moved to Columbia records, where he recorded some tunes with a big band—the Birth of the Cool era, it’s called. Of these, the most famous is Sketches of Spain, which I’ve always thought was overrated. Far better is Porgy And Bess.
The next phase of his career was the Kind of Blue era. In this period, the best albums are Kind of Blue, which is the best-selling jazz album of all time, as well as Some Day My Prince Will Come, (a curiously overlooked album; the title track is brilliant, as is “Teo,” on which John Coltrane is particularly fine) and E.S.P., with its haunting “Mood.” In his next phase, Miles introduced what is known as “Modal” jazz, and produced some masterpieces of modern jazz. This is harder for newcomers to like, but my favorite is Miles Smiles, which I think is actually his best album. But it takes some getting used to.
Then he began exploring electric instruments, and this goes beyond my taste. I enjoy Filles de Killemanjaro, which I think is his last great album, but when he started in on In A Silent Way, followed by modern “experiments” like Bitches’ Brew, I think he descended into noise. His work never fully recovered, although I do enjoy the concert album Live Around The World, which contains a very nice version of “Tutu,” a piece from a not-very-good album of the same name.
If you listen to nothing else by Miles Davis, buy and listen to Relaxin’. I absolutely guarantee you will not hate it, and you are very likely to love it.