08/08/11

Artist's Choice: Lenny White on Miles Davis

Lenny White picks his 10 favorite tracks by the legendary trumpeter and bandleader

Miles Davis is probably my biggest musical influence. The trumpet/drum relationship has always been a very dynamic one. I think that through his many musical directions I was opened to hear all the other musical influences that have shaped my personal musical approach. His loyalty and commitment to his musical roots, along with his willingness to take chances, was what made him and all of his musicians heroes for me.

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Michael Weintrob

Lenny White

“So What”
Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)
This is one of the greatest ensemble performances, on arguably the greatest jazz recording ever made. I know every note of every solo; it is the epitome of cool. Any music lover can respect the performances of the first of Miles’ legendary quintets.

“Gingerbread Boy”
Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1967)
This band with Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter was Miles’ second great quintet, and what they did with this Jimmy Heath composition is remarkable. This is an example of pushing the limits while still playing form. Piano chords did not bind the tonal center.

“Footprints”
Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1967)
Wayne Shorter had recorded his 3/4 blues on his Adam’s Apple album on Blue Note. Nobody was ready for what Miles, Tony, Ron, Herbie and Wayne did with it on Miles Smiles. This is one of the greatest examples of metric modulation ever recorded. The tune still remained in six, but in the middle of Miles’ solo, Tony played a samba four feel on top while Ron kept the original quarter-note six feel. Never before had I experienced anything like this. What a ride! The shifting angles, to this day, are pure excitement.

“Nefertiti”
Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968)
Another Wayne Shorter masterpiece. What is so innovative about this recording is that it became a rhythm section feature with the horns continuously repeating the melody. This created a hauntingly beautiful sound, surrounded by Tony’s crashing cymbals and complex drumming and harmonic explorations by Herbie and Ron.

“Gone”
Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1958)
This is a Gil Evans composition based on a George Gershwin piece from Porgy and Bess: a great feature for Miles and drum legend Philly Joe Jones and a very tricky arrangement. Gil makes great use of space with the band and Philly Joe plays some legendary fills. Philly Joe was a master when it came to rudimentary execution along with space. Miles, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe swing hard.

“Summertime”
Porgy and Bess (Columbia, 1958)
Another track from the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration Porgy and Bess. This is probably my favorite rendition of the classic George Gershwin melody. Miles plays as only Miles can, within the melody while making it his own. With his Harmon mute signature sound, he “sang” the words as beautifully and lyrically as any vocalist had and has ever done. Gil’s arrangement swings so hard it’s undeniable. All versions of “Summertime” are judged by this one. Miles and Gil were a match made in musical heaven.

“Ah-Leu-Cha”
’Round About Midnight (Columbia, 1957)
A Charlie Parker tune done by Miles, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and the ever-dynamic Philly Joe Jones. This is a true definition of the jazz artistry—the great contrapuntal melody and the easygoing confidence these master improvisers play with.

“Frelon Brun”
Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1969)
I think by now Miles had made a decision to include more contemporary instruments and beats in his music, but again this was Miles Davis’ idea of contemporary, not everyone else’s. Tony Williams played his version of a James Brown “Cold Sweat” beat, but he played it backwards, forwards and in and out, giving an amazing, virtuosic performance. This was also Chick Corea’s first involvement with the electric piano.

“Concierto de Aranjuez”
Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960)
Here we have Miles and Gil Evans once again. There is so much depth in this rendition of Rodrigo’s guitar concerto that you forget there are no strings and no guitar. Again, it’s amazing how Miles uses his musical voice to sing these great melodies. Miles once played me the recording of a Spanish singer he listened to while recording the project. It was amazing to hear how close he got to sounding like this voice.

“Billy Boy”
Milestones (Columbia, 1958)
Here is a study in virtuosity. First, for Miles to give a whole feature to just his rhythm section says something about what he thought about them. Miles had always expanded his repertoire to include popular songs, and this arrangement of the nursery rhyme is a masterpiece. Red Garland’s solo sounds like a big band accompanying a soloist. Paul Chambers’ bowed solo is pure genius. The four-bar breaks played by Philly Joe are arguably the greatest ever recorded. It’s amazing how this trio sounded like a full big band—this is a study in orchestration, too.

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