Miles Davis - Trumpet; Tony Williams - Drums; Ron Carter - Bass; Wayne Shorter - Tenor Sax; Herbie Hancock - Piano
By the time of Miles Davis' appearance at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, he had settled into a near-telepathic groove with his second great quintet consisting of pianist Herbie Hancock, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. This envelope-pushing ensemble had been in place since January of 1965. Through two and a half years of touring and recording, they had forged a rare, unprecedented chemistry on the bandstand where elements of free jazz playing were gradually introduced into their adventurous hard bop (primarily due to the uncanny listening and intuitive nature of all the individuals on the bandstand). That stretching esthetic was first successfully documented on the legendary Live at the Plugged Nickel, which captured Miles and his young, energetic sideman in high gear on a Chicago engagement from December 22-23, 1965. By the time of this July 2, 1967 Newport appearance, they were performing magic together on the bandstand (which can also be heard on the recent 4-CD boxed set, Live in Europe 1967 from October of that year).
They open their Newport set as if shot out of a cannon with a blazing rendition of Jimmy Heath's bop classic "Gingerbread Boy," paced by Williams' audacious 'creative overplaying' on the kit. Davis solos first against the kinetic pulse of Tony's tumultuous attack, soaring up into the high register with brash, confident statements. The band eases back a bit before Shorter's tenor solo, allowing Carter's insistent bass pulse to seep through. Wayne unleashes with his famous 'scrambled eggs' approach - part Coltrane, part Picasso -- as Hancock slyly feeds him myriad chord voicings to tweak the harmonic direction of Shorter's flight. Midway through Wayne's solo, the band is flying. Suffice it to say, they have left the tenets of bebop and hardbop far behind in their collective exploration. After coming to a boil, things cool down for Hancock's searching piano solo. Again, rather than following the template of previous Davis quintet pianist, the bop-informed Red Garland, Hancock is off into new territory on his solo here, treading in a place where Cecil Taylor dwells. With a thematic blast of his horn, Miles smoothly segues to Shorter's "Footprints," and the band dutifully follows the leader, performing the hypnotic tune that was introduced earlier in the year on Miles Smiles. But this freer version bears little resemblance to the tight, concise studio version heard on that album. The pulse is ever-shifting, due to Williams' astoundingly flexible, mercurial nature and revolutionary approach to time-keeping. Davis' trumpet solo coming out of the harmonized head is aggressive and builds to an ecstatic flurry of high notes, like a boxer sizing up his opponent with jabs before delivering the knock out blow. Shorter's solo here begins in an introspective vein as he freely explores the harmonic terrain in ways not heard on the studio recording of his piece. Once again, Hancock proves to be the sonic provocateur with his cascading arpeggios and dissonant chord clusters that subtly tweak Wayne's choices along the way. The great pianist with the amazing touch follows with another searching solo that pushes the harmonic envelope while exploring dynamics in ways that few pianists were doing in 1967.
Miles paces his Newport set like a flowing suite, segueing from one theme to the next without pause. As Hancock gently signals the end of "Footprints," Davis' bold trumpet cuts the air with a few sparse notes signaling the beginning of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," the very same piece that Miles played at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival that so galvanized the audience and marked his comeback after dropping off the scene for a couple of years while battling his heroin addiction. Miles introductory statements and following solo on this dark-hued ballad are heart-wrenching, but then the mood alters radically as Williams jumps into an uptempo barrage behind Shorter's forceful tenor solo. With Tony sinking back into a loping, midtempo swing feel, Wayne completes his solo with more introspection and harmonic discovery while Hancock plays Cheshire cat on the keys. They close out this extraordinary Newport set with an oldie but goodie, "So What" (from Miles' 1959 landmark, Kind of Blue). But this kinetic version, played with a kind of pent-up fervor not heard on the classic studio recording, burns white-hot from jump, paced by Williams' super-charged pulse on the ride cymbal and his frantic, freewheeling attack on the kit. There is no thought of recreating a faithful version of "So What" from Kind of Blue with this quintet. They are off on their own renegade orbit, creating art with a capital 'A' in the moment. This 1967 Newport Jazz Festival performance is an amazing document of one of the great bands in the history of jazz. And this music sounds as exhilarating, audacious and revolutionary today as it did 45 years ago.
Widely considered one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, Miles Dewey Davis's impact on jazz cannot be overstated. A composer of countless tunes that have become part of the jazz canon, he also recorded the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue (that 1959 masterpiece has sold four million copies to date). Composer-arranger Gil Evans once called him "a great singer of songs" for his uncanny lyricism and remarkably expressive nature on trumpet. Duke Ellington once likened him to Picasso for the many different musical styles he traversed in his career. Just as Picasso went through his Blue Period, Rose Period, African Period and Cubist Period, Davis had his bebop period as a young protégé to Charlie Parker, his Birth of the Cool period, his orchestral period in his grand collaborations with Evans on Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess, his modal period with his second classic quintet and his tumultuous electric jazz-rock period with a raucous guitar-fueled ensemble. His restlessly creative, chameleonic nature kept him constantly moving forward without ever looking back on his past accomplishments, and he pursued each new avenue with courage and conviction. As Evans put it, "A lot of other musicians are constantly looking around to hear what the next person is doing and they worry about whether they themselves are in style. Miles has confidence in his own taste, and he goes his own way."
The son of a successful dentist, Davis was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. He had a comfortable upper-middle-class upbringing in East St. Louis and began playing trumpet in school, drawing early inspiration from Duke Ellington's trumpeter Clark Terry as well as Roy Eldridge and Buck Clayton. At age 17, he joined Eddie Randle's Blue Devils, a territory band based in St. Louis. By 1944, at age 18, he had grown confident enough in his abilities to sit in for several nights with the fabled Billy Eckstine Orchestra (which featured such star soloists as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons) when they came to East St. Louis for an extended engagement. Inspired by the experience, he was compelled to come to New York to seek out Parker. Relocating to the Big Apple in September, 1944, Davis enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School, mainly to please his parent. While studying classical music by day, he would seek out Charlie Parker at night on 52nd Street. By early 1945, he dropped out of Juilliard to pursue jazz full time and by 1947 was playing in Parker's group, making his recording debut that year on a Bird session that featured pianist John Lewis, bassist Nelson Boyd and drummer Max Roach.
In the summer of 1948, Davis organized a nonet featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, trombonists Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Employing arrangements by Gil Evans and others, they had an engagement at the Royal Roost in September and by January the following year were in the studio recording this mellow but swinging music for Capitol Records. These historic Birth of the Cool sessions marked the first of many triumphs to come for Davis. Between 1957 and 1959 he led important hard bop sessions for the Prestige label with his working quintet of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones (including Cookin', Workin', Relaxin'). After signing with the major label Columbia Records, he released such classics as Miles Ahead (his first collaboration with Gil Evans, featuring a 19-piece orchestra), Milestones, Porgy & Bess, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain. With his second great quintet, featuring tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and young drumming sensation Tony Williams, Davis released a string of recordings in the '60s that ranks among the greatest in the jazz canon, including My Funny Valentine, E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer and Nefertiti.
The gradual transition to jazz-rock began in 1968 with Filles de Kilimanjaro (his first recording to employ electric piano) and continued with 1969's In A Silent Way (with John McLaughlin on electric guitar and Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea on electric keyboards). The transition was complete with the release of 1970's Bitches Brew, a full-blown fusion manifesto. Davis' tumultuous electric phase continued through the '70s with several groundbreaking releases that combined searing rock firepower and jazz improvisation, including Live-Evil, On The Corner, Big Fun, Get Up With It and Dark Magus. Following his volatile live releases Agharta and Pangaea in 1975, Davis went into retirement, only to return with a new band and a new concept in 1980, leading to such potent Columbia offerings as The Man With The Horn, We Want Miles, Decoy and You're Under Arrest.
Switching to the Warner Bros. label in 1986, Davis released two powerful outings produced by bassist Marcus Miller, Tutu and Amandla. While experiencing frequent lineup changes through the '80s, Miles continued to tour relentlessly with his dynamic band up until his final days. On July 8, 1991, he surprised the world by joining an orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival in performances of his old Sketches of Spain/Miles Ahead/Porgy & Bess material he had done in the late '50s with Gil Evans. It was a rare occasion indeed - the only time that Miles ever looked back rather than forward. He died of pneumonia, respiratory failure, and a stroke within months, on September 28, 1991. Davis' last recording, Doo-Bop, a collaboration with rapper Easy Mo Bee, was released posthumously in 1992. (Bill Milkowski)