A few weeks ago, I was sitting in school. It was early in the day, first period to be precise, and my buddies and I were sitting in History of Rock and Jazz class. The teacher put on a video about jazz, and famous jazz artists who coincide in the art of jazz. Ten or fifteen minutes into the video, a question is asked to the people who are being interviewed for the video. “Who is the best jazz artist of all time? Names like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Benny Goodman started to pop out of the blue. But the majority of the people who were being interviewed said that Miles Davis was the best jazz artist ever. Ever. It’s funny to think about, if he was the best jazz artist ever, think about how many people he has inspired. A scary thought, isn’t it? Think about how much ground Miles Davis has broken. His 1959 masterpiece “Kind Of Blue” is the best selling jazz album of all time , and it has surely inspired at least
a few generations of musicans. While the mid to late 50’s saw this trumpeter emerge as the biggest jazz artist on the scene, when and where did Davis start to emerge as the jazz artist that he is now? During the last leg on the 40’s and into the early part of the 50’s, Davis and his nonet entered the studio to record an album for Capitol records entitled “Birth Of The Cool”. “Birth Of The Cool” shows Davis’s early playing style, as most of the album is consisted of bebop ballads, as well as some tunes that have the structure of an early pop song. Though “Birth Of The Cool” wasn’t released until 1957, this is the point in Davis’s career where he started to raise his playing level dramatically.
The song selection on “Birth Of The Cool” is limited to a select few Davis tunes, as most of the tracks are covers. Though they may be covers, Davis gives them a good name, idealizing each tune to perfection. One of the songs Davis covers, entitled simply Godchild, lumbers along fairly heavily with a deep saxophone part which is covered by Davis’s nice legato trumpet leads. Another cover, Israel has a more staccato brass/woodwind leads. The leads are brisk and to the point. A blazing saxophone solo puts the stamp on the great cover, as the piano comes up for a rare visit. Though “Birth Of The Cool” is mostly comprised of cover tracks, Davis does pull out a few of his own songs. Deception is a slower song that showcases the talent of Davis. Adding to the mix of a mostly Davis dominated song is the bass, contributing with a few walking bass lines to boot. The drumming stays the same throughout, though it does utilize experimentation just a tad. Another Davis tune, , is a complicated melodic masterpiece, full with everything, from trademark Davis solos, to an occasional piano blurb. The saxophones and the trumpets fuse perfectly together, combining to make a beautiful layer of harmony. The rhythm section keeps it real, acting as a support for the other sections. Another selection aspect that strengthens many songs on “Birth Of The Cool” is the arranging, courtesy of Gil Evans. Evans worked with Davis on many albums, arranging many songs. The arrangements of “Birth Of The Cool” are not to be reckoned with, as Evans does a great job with them. Good arrangements lead to awesome songs, thus being the case for “Birth Of The Cool”.
The main setup of a jazz band is used on “Birth Of The Cool”, but with a few twists. Accompanying the trumpets and trombones is a French horn and a tuba. Though they are hard to pick out with the tangle up of all the other instruments, you can pick them out on a few songs. Some will be able to notice the tuba on Moon Dances, slowly dancing itself through the majority of the song. The thick of the jazz band, being the trumpets, trombones, and saxophones does not disappoint. Guiding all of the songs on “Birth Of The Cool”, each section of instruments backs up the others cleanly, creating a nice, cool layering affect. The saxophones may get the spotlight on the album, for it seems as if they solo on every composition. And let us not forget about the rhythm section, who leads the other sections away from treachery. The drums are usually at a fast tempo with a tint of experimentation here and there, and the bubbling bass line on each song adds flare to the section. The piano stays in the background for the most part, though it does come up to the surface here and there. All this makes a protective cocoon for the man of the hour, Miles himself. Miles contributes on the majority of the songs with a witty yet simple solo, playing it in an arpeggio-esque manor. The instrumentation is probably the jewel of “Birth Of The Cool”.
“Birth Of The Cool” is a truly groundbreaking album. It’s seminal in the fact that this is the album bebop was really first noticed on. Miles sets an atmosphere like none other, creating a cool yet daring environment. The playing is very tight, blending the sound of typical jazz ensemble instruments with newer instruments used for jazz. On top of the instrumentation, there is not one mundane song off of “Birth Of The Cool”. As well as showing the development of bebop, “Birth Of The Cool” showcases the development of this awesome jazz artist. “Birth Of The Cool” is the album that shot of Miles Davis’s career.
Darn That Dream