Monday, November 30, 2015

Miles on Monday: An open letter
from Mingus to Miles, and more

This week in Miles Davis news:

* An ensemble led by pianist Bill Charlap revisited the arrangements from Davis' landmark album Birth Of The Cool for a concert on November 14 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, and DownBeat magazine has a review.

* Speaking of DownBeat, it was 60 years ago today that bassist and composer Charles Mingus (pictured, with Davis) took to the pages of that same magazine to pen "An Open Letter to Miles Davis."

Apparently prompted by concern about Davis' then-imminent return to the jazz scene after kicking his addiction to heroin, Mingus wrote:
"How is Miles going to act when he gets back and gets going again? Will it be like a gig in Brooklyn not too long ago with Max, Monk, and me when he kept telling Monk to “lay out” because his chords were all wrong? Or even at a more recent record date when he cursed, laid out, argued, and threatened Monk and asked Bob Weinstock why he hired such a nonmusician and would Monk lay out on his trumpet solos?"

The bassist did strike a more conciliatory note toward the end of his letter, writing, "Truly, Miles, I love you and want you to know you’re needed here, but you’re too important a person in jazz to be less than extra careful about what you say about other musicians who are also trying to create."

Given that Mingus was famously irascible to the point of physical violence with his own collaborators and sidemen - he once punched trombonist Jimmy Knepper, causing him to lose a tooth and suffer lasting damage to his embouchure - there's more than a little irony in him admonishing Miles about mistreating other musicians. Yet the mere fact that he would write such a thing, and that DownBeat would print it, suggests how important Davis was to jazz, even after having been out of action for an extended period.

* This week also marks 57 years since the release of Davis' album Milestones, which was issued originally on December 1, 1958, as Columbia CL 1193. Collecting material from sessions held in February and March of that year, the album featured Davis with a band including John Coltrane on tenor sax, Cannonball Adderly on alto sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and "Philly" Joe Jones on drums.

The tracks included "Dr. Jekyll," "Sid's Ahead," "Two Bass Hit," "Miles," "Billy Boy," and, interestingly, given the strained relationship between Miles and Monk mentioned in the Mingus letter, a version of Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," which you can hear via the YouTube embed below.

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