“Solar” (Davis) Or “Sonny” (Wayne)?

A long-running discussion (or argument) about the authorship of a major jazz tune may have been resolved once and for all. The tune is “Solar,” copyrighted in 1963 with the name of Miles Davis as composer, nearly a decade after he recorded it. It is a 12-bar minor blues based, with certain departures, on aspects of the harmonic structure of “How High The Moon.” Here, from the compilation album Walkin’, is the trumpeter’s 1954 recording with Davey Schildkraudt, alto saxophone; Horace Silver, piano; Percy Heath, bass; and Kenny Clarke, drums.

Keep that melody and its harmonies in mind. Among musicians and jazz insiders it has long been alleged that “Solar” is in fact a piece called “Sonny” written in the mid-1940s by guitarist Chuck Wayne (1923-1997) and later lifted by or credited to Davis. What has been missing until now is aural evidence of Wayne’s claim that he wrote the tune. Larry Appelbaum, the Library of Congress jazz maven, and Wayne’s widow have posted on the Library’s website a recording of Wayne, trumpeter Sonny Berman and unidentified others playing Sonny. At the time of the recording Wayne (pictured) and Berman were members of Woody Herman’s First Herd. The MP3 is only one chorus of melody and a few bars of Wayne improvising, but it leaves no doubt of a similarity to “Solar” that it is all but impossible to credit to coincidence.

To see Appelbaum’s story of the discovery, pictures of him, Mrs. Wayne, the acetate recording, the Davis copyright claim and—most important— to hear the 1946 “Sonny,” go to this Library of Congress page.

It will be disappointing if Appelbaum does not release the complete performance of “Sonny.” This discovery has stirred up anew claims and counter-claims about other compositions that Davis allegedly appropriated from others, among them “Four,” “Tune Up,” and “Blue in Green.”

As for Chuck Wayne the guitarist’s guitarist, here he is with George Shearing in the late 1940s in one of the pianist’s most successful quintets. The other players are Don Elliott, vibes; John Levy, bass; and Denzil Best, drums.

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  1. says

    Interesting that you rounded up your post with Shearing’s “Conception”, Doug, given that Miles Davis borrowed heavily from it for his own “Deception”.

    I also hope that the entire recording is released.

    • Pekka Pylkkanen says

      I was just recently told the story behind ‘Tune Up’ and ‘Four’- obviously composed by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson.

      But there seems to be two kinds of stories around of the origins of ‘Solar’. One of them claims it was written by Bill Evans, and now another one, Chuck Wayne. Go figure… Another interesting story I just heard was that ‘Ornithology’ was not written by Charlie Parker, but instead (if I remember correctly), by trombonist Bennie Green.
      And of course, the ‘Donna Lee’ dilemma. It was supposedly written by Miles, but Bird took the credit, being the band leader. Any comments on these?

  2. says

    Fascinating story. Kudos to Larry Appelbaum for invaluable research at the LOC, I’ve been intrigued by the “Tune-Up” and “Four” controversy ever since I bought Max Roach’s Mercury LP from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival and saw “Tune Up” credited to Eddie Vinson. I figured Max must know when it comes to Miles.

  3. Terence Smith says

    Somebody once said that talent is plagiarism, genius is theft. But you have to have good taste in what to steal! Davis certainly had good taste in what to appropriate.

    I think I get the joke that you chose “Conception” to feature Chuck Wayne…Davis made no secret that he and Gil Evans used it for “Deception” on Birth of the Cool.

    Everybody can hear Bill Evans all over “Kind of Blue”. But it sure wouldn’t have happened without Miles Davis.

    If all Miles Davis had done was assemble rhythm sections and feature saxophonists, he would still be the Picasso of jazz.

    I’m glad he immortalized Wayne’s tune, so we can all see why it stuck in his head! And of course, if you listen to the Miles solo on “Now’s the Time”, the solo itself is one of the great compositions of all time, already in 1945! Miles had no need to steal, so he could borrow with taste and impugnity, to all our benefit.

    THANKS, miles Davis. And we’ll all be listening forever, each of us with our own favorite era from the Davis works.

    • says

      Composition is not improvisation. The latter is of the moment; the former is timeless. “soloing” is of the moment; composition has time on His hand!

      Stealing from a musician of Chuck Wayne’s talent is betrayal and disrespect for the artist and an admission that the betrayer has no self respect.

      I have no respect for Davis and his faulty playing 43.67% of the time! He conned everyone, except one. Tony Williams told Davis that if he practiced, he wouldn’t make any mistakes.

      One last comment; “Kind of Blue” happened and is selling because of Bill Evans!

      • says

        Sorry Jack, as much as I respect you as an artist and teacher, pianist and scholar, I strongly disagree with your bashing of Miles Davis. — Please give “Kind Of Blue” another listening: It’s not *all* just our beloved Bill, it’s the overall sound, the crystal clear cymbals and brushes of Jimmy Cobb (never was a drum set recorded so authentically like on “Kind Of Blue”), the impetus of “we are creating something immortal”, if it was a cognitive process, or “only” a subconscious feeling.

        Miles has practiced like everybody else, but the technical aspects of trumpeting wasn’t in his focus. I only say “Parisienne Jazz Festival 1949”, the Tadd Dameron Quintet, where he substituted Theodore ‘Fats’ Navarro. He did great there, and the low-fi radio recordings don’t take anything away of the fabulous runs through all registers.

        Miles may have been, sorry, a MF & SOAB, personally (like Bird, the two Stan’s, Mingus-Fingus, or ol’ Jelly Roll Morton) sometimes, but a fella with such a sound couldn’t have been all that bad, could he?

        Most of his band members did their best playing during their times with Miles. Just ask Dave Liebman. Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley: Others may disagree, but I think he sounded best in 1958 & 1959 while he was with Miles.

        As soon as an improvised solo got recorded, it’s as “timeless” as a notated composition. And even a score can magically morph through the centuries: It’s always the performer in my humble opinion, who breathes timelessness into the black dots of ink. Otherwise it would be only a sheet, a piece of paper.

        That’s the beautiful thing with music: It will never die, fade away, it’s there forever. It can’t be destroyed by means of violence. Give me a functioning, well-oiled bugle, and I’d improvise a timeless solo for you… any time!

        • says

          RE: Miles’ “43.67% faulty playing”? — Great number, but no faults, dear Jack, no “wrong” notes, only some minor slips, or, to say it with Al Sear’s words about his breathtaking tenor feature in Duke’s band, “The Suburbanite”:

          “I stumbled from the first note all the way through…but I didn’t fall!”

          No stumbling though, at Walkin’ with Miles Davis (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d) – “Carnegie Hall”, NYC, May 19, 1961.

          Man, most of us would be very happy about a career like Miles’, based on 56.33% of genius.

      • Terence Smith says

        Jack Reilly, of course you are right, and I too have reservations about the morality, or lack thereof.

        I was just clumsily trying to say that MD’s improvs often show an obvious talent for compositional thinking, so that he didn’t need to steal. And that he promoted a lot of good things, including awareness of BILL EVANS.

        Let’s all listen to Bill Evans’ version of “Solar”, the Vanguard 1961 version. Sometime today.

        I’ll bet you saw the Myers interview, in JAZZ WAX, with Jimmy Cobb a while back, with Cobb’s comment about “Kind of Blue”. It was something like, “I think we all knew it was a Bill Evans session”.

        But I sure like some Davis pieces that are all his. The second “Milestones” and “Nardis” come to mind.

        My wife and I once heard Chet Baker( who is of course a professed and notable admirer of Davis) live in the eighties. When he was about to play “Four”, Chet said that all the musicians know that Miles bought the rights for four bucks and a bottle of wine from Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, who’d been playing it for years.

        The way Baker said it, it seemed like he was trying to look at it like God would, as a serious flaw which he forgave in the big picture. Davis’ ungenerosity was gratuitous: he should have shared the recognition. And the royalties.

        As I listened to “Sonny”, I wondered why Chuck Wayne DIDN’t sue, why he sat on the acetate. Then I realized: royalties on most jazz recordings would not pay for the lawyers! “Sue me” indeed.

        BTW, Jack Reilly: Thank you for your books and CDs. You help us understand some of the method within the magic. You hear and can play essences. And you are attracted to the truth, in music and in life.

        • says

          My last reply, promise:

          OK, Miles didn’t use Monk’s original harmonies on the bridge of “Well You Needn’t” (he even changed the original melody on the A-parts!), and he just repeated the A-part of “When Lights Are Low” a fourth higher. — So what?

          Trane’s “Body And Soul”, a masterpiece, you will all agree, right? But what a “crime”: He changed some notes of Johnny Green’s original melody. — Scandalous!

          I tell everyone: It’s no crime to alter changes, bridges, or everything else, okay? It’s jazz we’re talking about, not Wagner, okay? — If you wanna play the/ or on the original, feel free to do it.

          Who plays a diminished Bb7 (Bb°)-chord in the first two bars of “Stella By Starlight”? — Hands up!

          • David says

            Agreed, to the extent that the changes are either an improvement on or an interesting variation on the original. Bill Holman’s Monk album is about 90% Holman and 10% Monk but still a great album and a nice tribute. In the case of the case of the Carter and Monk tunes cited, the original bridges are so much more interesting that Miles’ versions could legitimately be regarded as acts of disrespect (IMHO). In the case of “Solar”, Miles’ alteration of major to minor is a nice twist but doesn’t really justify making off with the royalties.

  4. says

    Chuck said he confronted Miles about Solar, and asked why he had put his name on Chuck’s tune. Miles said, “Oh, are you the cat that showed me that? Well… sue me.”

  5. Terence Smith says

    Wasn’t “Walkin'” itself an old Gene Ammons thing which somehow got the name “Richard Carpenter” on it? But to me, it’s a Miles thing…

    Wasn’t “Ornithology” written/introduced by trumpeter “Little Benny” Harris, then fine tuned several ways by Bird ?

    TANGENTIALLY RELATED: On “The Amazing Bud Powell” and on “Bud Powell Trio at the Golden Circle”, Vol. 4, “REETS AND I” is credited to (Harris), I think it was trumpeter Little Benny Harris. Is it sometimes credited to Powell on some LPs, probably without Powell’s knowledge?

    It’s one of my favorite Bud Powell things; I guess it’s ” All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” to about the same degree “Ornithology” is “How High the Moon”.

    I think I have read that “Reets” was Harris’ nickname, which would suggest Powell titled or collaborated.

    There’s a new Powell bio, Wail, by Peter Pullman. I’m saving up to buy it because I’d like to know about the myths and legends of modern jazz, if that’s the word.

    It seems that Reets is a towering figure who fathered a million choruses.

  6. Larry Appelbaum says

    LC does not retain any rights to these recordings. Permissions are required from the estate (Diane Wayne) to release anything commercially from the collection. There are four songs in total from this session.

  7. says

    Great find indeed. — It would be really unfortunate if those rare sounds wouldn’t be available on some day in the near future. There are only a handful of small band recordings with Sonny Berman: “Beautiful Jewish Music” (1946), or the splendid DIAL session with “The Hermanites”:


    Anyway, Miles did it great too, didn’t he? — “Tune-Up” & “Four” are highly probable written by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson; and for the completists: “Four” is based on the A-parts of Erroll Garner’s “Misty”.

  8. Red Sullivan says

    “Walkin'” – yes credited to Richard Carpenter, is really by Jimmy Mundy, rather than Ammons, as I understand it. (Carpenter, an “artist manager” turned publisher, also ripped off Tadd Dameron real bad, amongst others).

    One thing that always puzzled me is that John Lewis used say that he “gave” Miles the original and so-hip “Milestones” (the ’40s one with changes), as in, he invited him to put his name on it. How can that even be conceived of or done? Why was Mr. Lewis happy with this? (Although also happy to describe it, too, in much later years). The other Davis crime is his mis-appropriation of the masterful bridge of Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low”, the whole point of that finely balanced masterwork.

    How excellent that this Chuck Wayne issue is being aired here. It’s an important one, and Wayne an important musician.

  9. says

    It’s interesting that no one seems to find any blame with the publisher, Prestige Music! They are at least 50% culpable and collected their share of the royalties over the years. Prestige Music is owned by Concord today.

  10. Peter Bergmann says

    Countless examples illustrate that exceptional talent does not necessarily go with integrity.
    When it does however, rarely enough, it’s something to treasure.
    Anton Chekhov, for instance, was an exceptional writer (having lots of troubles with his publisher) and, as far as I can understand, a great person, who knew himself and his shortcomings well enough to display admirable self-irony, wisdom and humility – and smiled, though wearily, at the inadequacies of life and art.

    • Terence Smith says

      Checkhov makes an interesting contrast to Tolstoy. Tolstoy also clearly monumentally talented, but able to focus on the shortcomings of others to the degree that he could and did describe Shakespeare as a hoax perpetrated by “mass hypnosis.”

  11. mel says

    Not all jazz musicians are knowledgeable about musical compositions. I am reminded of the leader of a group at a jazz concert I once attended who announced that the next number would be “On Green Dolphin Street – a Miles Davis composition” …

    It was quite clear to me that the guy had never heard of Bronislaw Kaper.

    • Terence Smith says

      On the other hand, without the Miles Davis version, a lot of us would have forgotten Bronislaw’s name, except for the film-score buffs, I guess(?).

      I think Peter Pettinger said that Davis sprang “Green Dolphin” on the band as a sketch. The beautiful spontaneous response of his band to this surprise call, particularly the way it was harmonized/voiced by Bill Evans, was pretty close to profound.

      And that moment of collaboration was so indelible (somehow I think it would have been so in Davis’ mind, even if it had not been recorded on “Jazz Tracks”1958) that the tune became perennial for so many. They did compose Green Dolphin into a new reality, and maybe Kaper was a genius to create that realization by suggestion.

      BTW, for some astute observations about how the masters like Dizzy taught others, check out the master classes by Hal Galper and Mike Longo, currently on You Tube. Some plagiarism is OK, in fact it’s more than alright. Dizzy seems to have, through little zen koans of his own invention, begged his colleagues to steal from him, and somewhere in heaven he might be glad that some of them could!

      • Terence Smith says

        Hey, Rifftidesers, I just had a moment of fear that it might sound like I was saying that it was OK to take Dizzy Gillespie’s royalties, or anybody’s.

        Clearly it is not OK. I don’t know what is more important: the recognition or the royalties, for the creations of genius. Probably the recognition, because the cash is usually pretty slim for the real source material, I guess. When George Bernard Shaw had one of his characters say “Property is theft,” I dont think even Shaw (who did pretty well with copyright material, and may not have originated the thought) thought it should mean that Dizzy shouldn’t get the bread for “Kush,” even though it is a thousand-year-old riff. But I think that Dizzy and other geniuses thought that the most invaluable kind of property was stuff they freely gave away, that giving it is the value.

        And I can’t help thinking about the beautiful intro to Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Everybody knows Dizzy put it together and adapted it from- what?-his own “I Can’t Get Started (building on Bunny Berigan, no?). Everybody knows Dizzy gave us the intro, and from the sound of it the universal coda also, maybe.

        So Dizzy had a bigger contribution to “Round Midnight” than did Cootie Williams, and a hell of a lot more than Bernie Hanighen, but that’s not how the bread was split. And Dizzy had a sense of humor about it, expressed in his bio, but he had….equanimity.

        A friend of mine told me about having a music lesson from the great jazz pianist, Cedar Walton.(Walton refused to take the agreed-on cash payment for the lesson, by the way:I think he took my friend’s instant
        benefit as the payment). They happened to discuss how to play “Round Midnight”, and Walton demonstrated several unique ways to arrange it. And he reportedly said, laughing, speaking about the NYC music scene: “Be careful in New York. If you don’t play the Miles Davis arrangement, they’ll KILL ya”.

        More Miles theft, and he didn’t even get the royalties!

        Oh, and forgive me for replying to myself on Rifftides. Probably a first, hopefully a last, but I did not want to sound crass on the topic of credit for creativity.

        • David says

          That Cedar Walton quote reminded me of the time I saw Sonny Stitt, who usually travelled solo and picked up a rhythm section in each town. When they got to the end of “Round Midnight” Sonny called out “coda”. The bassist and pianist looked at up each other. Finally the bassist hit a tentative dominant pedal whereupon Sonny scowled and yelled “No!”

          Both George Wein’s memoir and Ted Goia’s new book have funny stories about Miles complaining that Monk played the “wrong changes” on the tune. The 1947 Monk recording has an intro that’s similar to Dizzy’s. I wonder whether Dizzy’s intro was based on Monk’s or visa versa?

          • Terence Smith says

            Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley has something about this on p.190 of “Thelonious Monk: An American Original” : After the July 17, 1955 rendition of “‘Round Midnight, the first thing Miles Davis said to George Wein as he left the stage was, “Monk plays the wrong changes to Round Midnight.” Later that day, as they were driven back to NYC, Monk complained to MD that Davis had not played it correctly, leading to an argument. Monk was so insulted that he asked the driver to stop the car, got out, and walked home!

            I finally got a CD of that (Newport) perfomance on a CD, and I enjoyed it for several reasons. Duke Ellington introduces the band, saying that they play “in the realm that Buck Rogers is trying to reach.” You can hear Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan obviously having a lot of fun on the Monk/Hawkins tune “Rifftide”, with great Monk. If they called it “I Mean You” is anybody’s guess.

            Does anybody have a copy of Dizzy’s “To Be or Not to Bop”? I remember Gillespie has a whole chapter about the crediting of the intro and coda to “‘Round Midnight.”

            Didn’t Dizzy use both intro and coda in a big band version about 1946 (before Monk’s Blue Note of 1947, but of course after Dizzy had hired Monk to pick his brain for tunes, then fired for lateness/unpredictability(?).

    • says

      Only for the record: Since I always try to find the source, the original version of a standard, I have purchased the film Green Dolphin Street (1947) It’s quite a good flick, starring Lana Turner, Glark Gable & Van Heflin and some very impressive earthquake scenes à la Hollywood. Our beloved standard “On Green Dolphin Street” gets never played in full as far as I recall (I’ve watched it only once a few years ago).

      P.S. — “Stella By Starlight” is from an equally forgotten film: The Uninvited (1944), trailer.

  12. Terence Smith says

    Check out Dizzy Gillespie memoir, To Be, or Not…to Bop, the chapter called “Minton’s Playhouse” ( I just bought a used copy). It has many philosophical thoughts on the collaborative aspects of individual creations, and the ownership, joint and otherwise, of ideas and compositions. Here’s a quote from Dizzy, pp.134-135:

    I learned a lot from Monk. It’s strange with Monk. Our influence with one another’s music is so closely related that Monk doesn’t actually know what I showed him. But I do know some of the things he showed me. Like, the minor sixth chord with a sixth in the bass. I first heard Monk play that.It’s demonstrated in some of my music like “Woody’N You,” the introduction to “Round Midnight,” and part of the bridge to “Manterca.”

    Dizzy goes on to explain that the minor 6th with a 6th in the bass is now called, as it appears in parts of “‘Round Midnight” and several other compositions, “c-minor 7 flat five,, or “half diminished.” Dizzy says of that chord, “opening it out, and the various things it can lead to and from,” influenced him and his arrangements in innumerable ways, and that he could give other examples. He also notes that even though he (Dizzy) showed Monk “hundreds of things” on the piano, Monk was the most unique and hermetic of the extremely collaborative Minton’s set.

    • says

      Thanks for mentioning Dizzy’s book, Terrence. — It is such a rich source for anyone: Funny anecdotes, controversial music discussion, or political digressions. And the best is: Not only Dizzy is telling those tales, but his companions, and band members are not too seldom thwarting Dizzy’s recollections.

      Monk’s musical universe was already complete as he appeared on the scene (check out the handful of his earliest recordings from Minton’s). He didn’t write lead-sheets with chord symbols; he was a composer who wrote down elaborate scores, parts for each instrument. And so, a “half-diminished” chord would never be found in any of his notebooks.

      I will never stop to teach my students the correct melodies, keys & chords of “Straight, No Chaser”, “Blue Monk”, or “Well, You Needn’t” (these – and others – are all wrong in several so-called “Real Books”).

  13. Terence Smith says

    Yeah, I guess Dizzy just needed a way to convey it verbally to the reader since he couldn’t play it to you through the book.

    Didn’t Miles Davis say that what he liked about Bill Evans was that Evans didn’t hear and play a “chord”, Bill played a SOUND. And I think Evans would say the same thing about Monk.

    Whatever Dizzy meant there, I bet it’s more than just, Monk showed him one of the “five (chord) qualities”.