Other Places: Young Miles Davis Speaks Out

Young MilesThanks to Michael Cuscuna and his colleagues at Mosaic Records for a reminder in their Daily Gazette of an interview with the forthright Miles Davis. Nat Hentoff spoke with the 29-year-old Davis for a 1955 Down Beat article. Full of opinions, the trumpeter took on conventional wisdom about a number of players and genres. For instance, this observation about a hot new band, the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet:

I don’t like their current group too much because there’s too much going on. I mean, for example, that Richie Powell plays too much comp. Max needs a piano player that doesn’t play much in the background. Actually, Brownie and Max are the whole group. You don’t need anybody but those two. They can go out on stage by themselves. What happens is that the band gets in Brownie’s way the way it is now.

And this about Dave Brubeck:

Well, Dave made one record I liked—‘Don’t Worry ’bout Me.’ Do I think he swings? He doesn’t know how. Desmond doesn’t swing, either, though I think he’d play different with another rhythm section. Frankly, I’d rather hear Lennie (Tristano). Or for that matter, I’d rather hear Dizzy play the piano than Brubeck, because Dizzy knows how to touch the piano and he doesn’t play too much.

On clarinetists:

I only like Benny Goodman very much. I don’t like Buddy DeFranco at all, because he plays a lot of cliches and is very cold. Tony Scott plays good, but not like Benny, because Benny used to swing so much.

To read the entire Hentoff piece for Davis’s thoughts about Stan Kenton, Jimmy Giuffre, Charles Mingus and Charlie Parker, among others, go here.

As for Davis’s work in 1955, here’s a sample, Davis playing a Ray Bryant composition that used intriguing altered blues changes, hence the piece’s title. His colleagues are Bryant, piano; Milt Jackson, vibes; Percy Heath, bass; Arthur Taylor, drums. August 5, 1955.

Earlier in 1955 Davis appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival with an all-star group that also included Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims, Thelonious Monk, Percy Heath and Connie Kay. He was so well received that his flagging career revived. Before the year ended, he established his quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones and went on to become one of the most successful jazz artists of the 20th century.

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  1. Charlton Price says

    Miles is and will always be memorable — for his groups through 1965, for some unparalleled collaborations (e.g. with Gill Evans), and his occasionally right-on opinions. But I’ve always believed that if Clifford Brown had lived, he, not Miles, would be in our pantheon.

  2. David says

    Those who can’t get enough outrageous Miles’ quotes may be interested in a compilation called The Miles Davis Companion which includes a number of interviews. Miles explains, among other things, why “Body & Soul” is obsolete, why women are evil, and how families are ruining the world. Asked about hobbies, he replies “Making fun of white folks on television. That’s my main hobby.”

    • Doug Ramsey says

      The other collection chronicling Davis is the superb A Miles Davis Reader, edited by Bill Kirchner. It includes “An Afternoon at Miles’s,” in which pianist, composer, arranger and author Sy Johnson discloses irony and tenderness that Davis rarely displayed as facets of his non-playing persona.