Sadism and Perversity at Work
Miles Davis in Person Friday and Saturday Nights
at the Blackhawk, Complete
Miles Davis, conflict was a tool for the manufacture of inspiration.
He routinely pitted bandmembers against one another or gave advice in
the form of insults or cutting criticism. When John Coltrane told Davis
he was having trouble winding down his saxophone solos, the trumpeter’s
infamous response was “Try taking the horn out of your mouth.” In
the early 1970s, saxophonist Gary Bartz told Miles he didn’t like
what keyboardist Keith Jarrett was playing behind his solos. Davis immediately
called Jarrett in, privately, and told him Bartz loved his playing, and
wanted him to play even more.
A charitable observer would probably interpret these episodes, and
all the others like them, as Miles’ attempt to get the best out
of his players, even if they didn’t understand at the time. But
in light of his treatment of women and non-bandmembers throughout his
it’s easy to imagine there was a fair amount of simple sadism
and perversity at work.
||In light of his treatment
of women and non-bandmembers throughout his life, it’s easy to
imagine there was a fair amount of simple sadism and perversity at work.
In Person Friday And Saturday Nights At The
Blackhawk, Complete documents
a San Francisco weekend from April 1961 — three sets on Friday,
four on Saturday. In the early 1960s, Miles was in musical flux.
with which he recorded what’s commonly regarded as his greatest
album, 1959’s Kind Of Blue, lost its saxophonists — Coltrane
and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley — immediately
thereafter. The rhythm section (pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul
drummer Jimmy Cobb) remained. For a few months, Sonny Stitt filled
chair, but he didn’t work out, and in December 1960 he was
replaced by Hank Mobley, who’s heard on these four CDs.
was a hard bop player who’d made his name on Blue Note records,
first with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and then as a leader.
His musical foil, on each of their albums as well as Blakey’s,
was trumpeter Lee Morgan. A brash player with a ferocious command
horn’s entire range, Morgan was the perfect partner for Mobley.
Hard bop’s melodies were rooted in an amped-up blues, and
that combination of simplicity and improvisational creativity was
of jazz virtually anyone could enjoy. The music achieved a popularity
it hadn’t enjoyed since the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll
era, particularly among black audiences.
With Mobley on board, Miles’ music
moved in the direction of hard bop. His live repertoire hadn’t
changed much — standards
like “All Of You,” “If I Were A Bell,” and “Bye
Bye Blackbird” still shared time with bop chestnuts like
Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” and Thelonious Monk’s “Round
Midnight.” Some tunes from Davis’ one album with Mobley,
Someday My Prince Will Come, also made the live set, including
the title track and “Neo.” But the way all this material
was played changed quite a bit.
When the front line was Davis and
Coltrane, the rhythm section had swung hard but stretched out quite
a bit, too. Even in the
saxophonist was already spinning long, elaborate solos which allowed
the bassist and drummer, in particular, to explore their instruments
in some depth as well. When Miles was soloing, though, they shifted
gears to accompany his darting, subtle style. In this way, the
an intricate and highly nuanced rhythm machine, able to handle
just about anything, and forcing the audience to pay close attention
changes in direction.
With Mobley on board, though, the blues became
the dominant mode, which created a kind of flattened groove. The band
swung just as
as ever, possibly even more than before, but Mobley was a down-the-middle
player, uninterested in the wild flights of fancy favored by
Coltrane. He played to the audience — never crass but never alienating
in the way some of his predecessor’s more introspective
journeys could be.
This straightahead, hard bop approach worked
beautifully on Miles’ bluesier
tunes like “Walkin’” and the somewhat ironically
Blues.” But on “So What,” the piece that opened
Kind Of Blue and brought the modal style of jazz to public attention,
work nearly as well. The track is taken extremely fast, nearly
double the pace of the studio version, and much of the melodic
subtlety is gone
from it, lost in pursuit of a simplistic, herky-jerky swing.
that’s only one track out of 29. The vast majority of music
on these four CDs is bluesy swing that almost any jazz fan, new
or old, can enjoy. In his autobiography, Miles said that he was
with this band the whole time Mobley was his front-line partner
because the saxophonist didn’t challenge him. That may
well be true. But challenge isn’t everything. Miles may
well have believed that the greatest creativity came out of conflict,
but he was wrong, at least
in this case. The Blackhawk recordings show that just playing
good music, with an eye toward pleasing the audience, can be
more than enough.