Monday, March 09, 2015

Miles on Monday: Conceiving Birth of the Cool

It was 65 years ago today, on March 9, 1950, that Miles Davis completed the sessions for what would eventually become the album Birth of the Cool.

That day, Davis went into WMGM Studios in New York City with a band including J. J. Johnson (trombone), Gunther Schuller (French horn), John Barber (tuba), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax), Al McKibbon (bass), and Max Roach (drums) and laid down tracks for "Moon Dreams," "Deception" and "Rocker."

Though recognized now as a significant and influential achievement, the music Davis recorded that day, and in two prior sessions, took a while to reach the public.

The idea for Birth of the Cool began in 1948 at a series of rehearsals and jam sessions involving Davis and arranger/composer Gil Evans. Seeking alternatives to the standard small-combo instrumentation, head-solos-head format, and occasionally jarring harmonies and frantic tempos of bebop, Evans, Mulligan and composer John Carisi came up with a series of arrangements that were almost entirely composed throughout, played at relaxed tempos with relatively short improvised solos, and that drew on the wider range of instrumental colors available from a nine-piece group.

The first session took place in January 1949, and Davis and company returned to the studio for another session in April of that year. Tracks from both sessions were released as singles, but it wasn't until 1954 - nearly four years after the final sessions had been completed - that eight of the tracks were compiled on a 10" record called Classics in Jazz.

The now-famous name Birth of the Cool wasn't used until 1957, when 11 of the 12 songs recorded at the sessions were released for the first time on LP. (Given that the West Coast "cool jazz" sound, with Mulligan as one of its most prominent exponents, was peaking in popularity then, the naming of the album seems in retrospect to have been a canny bit of cash-in marketing by Capitol Records.)

And it wasn't until 1971 that a reissue finally incorporated the twelfth and final track from the sessions, a version of "Darn That Dream" featuring vocalist Kenny Hagood. Subsequent reissues on CD and in digital formats have followed the 12-track format of the 1971 LP.

You can read more about Birth of the Cool in this article published a few years ago on, and hear the album in its entirety by clicking on the embedded window below.

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