Miles blindfold tests with audio

All blindfold tests conducted by Leonard Feather for Down Beat magazine.
Click on the song titles to load the youtube video in a new window. Please let me know about any dead links. I added the info in [square brackets.]

1. Sept 21, 1955
1a. An Open Letter to Miles Davis by Charles Mingus, 30th Nov 1955
2. Aug 7, 1958
3. June 1964
4. June 1968 (in 2 parts)

Thanks to Alessandro Forghieri for collecting these online.

An excerpt from Leonard Feather (An Encounter with Miles Davis) – by Jim Beebe :

+++++I began reading the jazz publications and Feather was a predominant writer. Almost every article or review was negative in tone and usually full of contempt and vicious remarks about “Dixieland” or pre-bop musicians. But even the modern musicians became targets of his poison pen. …
+++++At one point Miles Davis was at the Blackhawk. Bob Scobey was having a bi-weekly Sunday jazz session with guest artists at another club. I was usually there and Scobey’s sessions were in the traditional-dixieland-mainstream bag. I walked in there one Sunday and Miles Davis was the guest artist. I was stunned…I could not believe this because in my mind these guys had to hate each other. Yet here was Miles who was very congenial and joined right in. They did middle-of-the-road stuff that everyone was comfortable with and they seemed to be having a good time musically.
+++++During a break I got up my nerve and went up to Miles. I stammered out something to the effect that I couldn’t believe that he was there playing with Scobey as I had it in my mind from what I read that stylistically they could never play together and they must dislike each other. Right off Miles said, “You’ve been reading that asshole Leonard Feather, haven’t you?” I nodded and Miles neatly and briefly explained that the divisions in jazz were artificial and promoted by writers like Feather.
+++++He said that they were professional musicians and these divisions and contempt for other styles did not exist among professionals, except with some of the younger ones. He explained briefly how the different jazz styles were connected and interwoven.

1. September 21, 1955

+++++For a long time, Miles Davis and I had been trying to get together for a blindfold session. I was determined that when the interview did take place, it would be something out of the ordinary run of blindfold tests; and that’s just the way it turned out.
+++++Every record selected was one that featured at least two trumpet players. As you will see, this selection of material did not faze Miles.
+++++Miles was given no information whatever, either before or during the test, about the records played for him.
1. Clifford Brown – Falling in Love with Love (Prestige)
Brown, Art Farmer, trumpets; Bengt Hallberg, piano.

+++++That was Arthur Farmer and Brownie blowing trumpet. The arrangement was pretty good; I think they played it too fast, though. They missed the content of the tune.
+++++The piano player gasses me – I don’t know his name. I’ve been trying to find out his name. He’s from Sweden. …I think he made those records with Stan, like “Dear Old Stockholm.” I never heard anybody play in a high register like that. So clean, and he swings and plays his own things; but they had the piano up too loud in the ensembles. If there’s anything that drags me, it’s when they put the piano up too loud in the control room.
+++++Aside from the trumpets, I didn’t care for the other soloists at all…also I think that Arthur should improve his tone and that Clifford should swing more. Four stars, though.

2. Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie – Algo Bueno (Clef) [1954. The tune is now called Woody’n’You]
Eldridge, Gillespie, trumpets; Oscar Peterson, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Louie Bellson, drums.

+++++That was Diz and Roy. Sounded like Oscar Peterson on piano. Guitar messed it all up – and the brushes. And one of the four bars that Dizzy played wasn’t too good. One of the fours that Roy played wasn’t too good. They’re two of my favorite trumpet players; I love Roy, and you know I love Diz.
+++++I don’t know why they recorded together…sounded like something of Norman Granz’s…one of his get-togethers. It’s nice to listen to for a while, but Oscar messes it up with that Nat Cole style; and that kind of rhythm section, with brushes.
+++++It’s not that kind of song. You can’t play that kind of song like that, with those chords. There’s another way to swing on that. It could have been much better. I’d give it three stars on account of Diz’s and Roy’s horns.

3. Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff – Love Is Just Around the Corner (Vanguard)
Clayton, trumpet; Braff, cornet; Benny Morton, trombone; Steve Jordan, guitar; Aaron Bell, bass.

+++++Sounded like Buck Clayton; the other sounded like Charlie Shavers. I don’t know who was on trombone; sounded like Jack Teagarden. I don’t know about that rhythm section.
+++++Maybe they want to play like that, huh? But the bass and guitar – they always seem to clash when they play 1-3-5 chords that don’t vary. You know – C, C, G, G, IV, IV, V, V, like that – seems to be some clash in there. When they play straight 4/4, I like it. I did think the guitar was too loud. Two stars.

4. Don Elliott, Rusty Dedrick – Gargantuan Chant (Riverside).
Dick Hyman, composer, arranger, piano; Dedrick, first trumpet solo; Elliott, second trumpet solo; Mundell Lowe, guitar.

+++++ Sounds kind of fine. Sounds like Howard McGhee and Ray Nance, but I don’t know who it is. The arrangement was pretty nice, but not the interpretation. Piano, whoever he is, is crazy. That’s about all I can say about it. Two stars. Guitar was nice. I preferred the last trumpet solo to the earlier one for that kind of thing.

5. Metronome All-Stars – Look Out (Victor) [1946]
Sy Oliver, composer and arranger; Tiny Grimes, guitar; Flip Phillips, Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Harry Edison, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, trumpets; Teddy Wilson, piano.

+++++Gee, that sure sounded like an all-star record! Sounded like Teddy Wilson. I think I heard Harry Edison, Georgie Auld, Cootie Williams, Al Killian. Guitar player was nice. I don’t know who that was. Sure was a funny arrangement.
+++++I don’t know who could have done that arrangement…pretty nice record, though. It kinda swings. I couldn’t tell the clarinet player; I can’t tell anybody but Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and Buddy DeFranco. It was sort of a short solo…Give it four stars. I liked that.

6. Charlie Barnet – Terry Tune (Columbia) [Town Hall Jazz Concert]
Clark Terry, Jimmy Nottingham, trumpets.

+++++That was Clark Terry and somebody; I don’t know who the other trumpet was. Sounded a little like Willie Cook. I don’t recognize that band. I know Duke didn’t write these arrangements. …For a moment it sounded like Maynard; but I guess Maynard would be doing more acrobatics. He always does.
+++++I like Terry. …I met him in St. Louis when I was about thirteen and playing in a school band. He was playing like Buck Clayton then – but fast, just the way he is now. So I started trying to play like Terry; I idolized him. He’s a very original trumpet player; but I don’t like to hear him strong-arming the horn just to try to be exciting.
+++++He’s much better when he plays soft, when he sounds like Buck. I like him when he plays down, instead up, always upward, phrases. …I don’t like that arrangement, though. I know it must be Terry’s tune, ’cause it sounds like him. I’d rate it three stars on account of Terry. I don’t know who that other trumpet player would be.

7. Bobby Byrne, Kai Winding – Hot and Cool Blues (Dixieland vs. Birdland, MGM).
Byrne, Winding, trombones; Eddie Shu, Mike Baker, clarinets; Howard McGhee, Yank Lawson, trumpets; John Lewis, piano; Kenny Clarke, drums; Percy Heath, bass.

+++++Jeez! That was Howard McGhee, and Percy, wasn’t it? Kai Winding. Howard played nice. I liked the contrast idea…but I just don’t know what to say about that record; there’s too big a switch when they go from that riff into the sudden Dixieland. …I like good Dixieland, you know. …I like Sidney Bechet. …Kai and Howard swing. I’d give the record a couple stars on account of Kai and Howard.

8. Louis Armstrong – Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Victor) [The Great New York Town Hall Concert, 1947]
Bobby Hackett, Armstrong, trumpets; Jack Teagarden, trombone.

+++++I like Louis! Anything he does is all right. I don’t know about his statements, though. …I could do without them. That’s Bobby Hackett, too; I always did like Bobby Hackett – anything by him. Jack Teagarden’s on trombone. I’d give it five stars.

8. Duke Ellington – Stormy Weather (Capitol) [1940]
Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Willie Cook, Ray Nance, Cat Anderson, trumpets; Billy Strayhorn, arranger.

+++++Oh, God! You can give that twenty-five stars! I love Duke. That sounded like Billy Strayhorn’s arrangement; it’s warmer than Duke usually writes. Must be Billy Strayhorn.
+++++That band kills me. I think the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke. Especially Mingus, who always idolized Duke and wanted to play with him; and why he didn’t mention it in his blindfold test, I don’t know. Yes, everybody should bow to Duke and Strayhorn – and Charlie Parker and Diz. …Cat Anderson sounds good on that; Ray ALWAYS sounds good.
+++++The beginning soloist wasn’t in Duke’s band, the band wouldn’t be Duke…They take in all schools of jazz. …Give this all the stars you can.

An Open Letter to Miles Davis

by Charles Mingus – 30th Nov, 1955

+++++Four editions of Down Beat come to my mind’s eye–Bird’s “Blindfold Test,” mine, Miles’, and Miles’ recent “comeback story”–as I sit down and attempt to honestly write my thoughts in an open letter to Miles Davis. (I discarded numerous “mental” letters before this writing, but one final letter formed last night as I looked through some pictures of Bird that Bob Parent had taken at a Village session.) If a picture needs to go with this story, it should be this picture of Bird, standing and looking down at Monk with more love than I think we’ll ever find in this jazz business!…
+++++Bird’s love, so warmly obvious in this picture, was again demonstrated in his “Blindfold Test.” But dig Miles’ “Test”! As a matter of fact, dig my own “Blindfold Test”! See what I mean? And more recently, dig Miles’ comeback story. How is Miles going to act when he gets back and gets going again? Will it be like a gig in Brooklyn not too long ago with Max, Monk, and me when he kept telling Monk to “lay out” because his chords were all wrong? Or even at a more recent record date when he cursed, laid out, argued, and threatened Monk and asked Bob Weinstock why he hired such a nonmusician and would Monk lay out on his trumpet solos? What’s happening to us disciples of Bird? Or would Miles think I’m presuming too much to include myself as one?
+++++It seems so hard for some of us to grow up mentally just enough to realize that there are other persons of flesh and bone, just like us, on this great, big earth. And if they don’t ever stand still, move, or “swing,” they are as right as we are, even if they are as wrong as hell by our standards. Yes, Miles, I am apologizing for my stupid “Blindfold Test.” I can do it gladly because I’m learning a little something. No matter how much they try to say that Brubeck doesn’t swing–or whatever else they’re stewing or whoever else they’re brewing–it’s factually unimportant.
+++++Not because Dave made Time magazine–and a dollar–but mainly because Dave honestly thinks he’s swinging. He feels a certain pulse and plays a certain pulse which gives him pleasure and a sense of exaltation because he’s sincerely doing something the way he, Dave Brubeck, feels like doing it. And as you said in your story, Miles, “if a guy makes you pat your foot, and if you feel it down your back, etc.,” then Dave is the swingingest by your own definition, Miles, because at Newport and elsewhere Dave had the whole house patting its feet and even clapping its hands….
+++++Miles, don’t you remember that “Mingus Fingers” was written in 1945 when I was a youngster, 22 years of age, who was studying and doing his damnedest to write in the Ellington tradition? Miles, that was 10 years ago when I weighed 185. Those clothes are worn and don’t fit me any more. I’m a man; I weigh 215; I think my own way. I don’t think like you and my music isn’t meant just for the patting of feet and going down backs. When and if I feel gay and carefree, I write or play that way. When I feel angry I write or play that way–or when I’m happy, or depressed, even.
+++++Just because I’m playing jazz I don’t forget about me. I play or write me, the way I feel, through jazz, or whatever. Music is, or was, a language of the emotions. If someone has been escaping reality, I don’t expect him to dig my music, and I would begin to worry about my writing if such a person began to really like it. My music is alive and it’s about the living and the dead, about good and evil. It’s angry, yet it’s real because it knows it’s angry.
+++++I know you’re making a comeback, Miles, and I’m with you more than you know. You’re playing the greatest Miles I’ve ever heard, and I’m sure you already know that you’re one of America’s truly great jazz stylists. You’re often fresh in a creative sense and, if anything, you underevaluate yourself–on the outside–and so with other associates in the art. Truly, Miles, I love you and want you to know you’re needed here, but you’re too important a person in jazz to be less than extra careful about what you say about other musicians who are also trying to create….
+++++Remember me, Miles? I’m Charles. Yeah, Mingus! You read third trumpet on my California record dates 11 years ago on the recommendation of Lucky Thompson. So easy, young man. Easy on those stepping stones….
+++++If you should get around to answering this open letter, Miles, there is one thing I would like to know concerning what you said to Nat Hentoff about all the tunes you’ve recorded in the last two years. Why did you continue to record, session after session, when you now say you don’t like them except for two LPs? I wonder if you forgot the names of those tunes; also, how a true artist can allow all this music, which even he himself doesn’t like, to be sold to the jazz public. Or even accept payment for a job which you yourself say wasn’t well done.

Good luck on your comeback, Miles.

2. August 7, 1958

+++++The last time Miles Davis took the blindfold test, in the issue dated September 21, 1955, the feature bore the headline “Miles and Miles of Trumpet Players.” Each of the nine records played for Davis featured at least two trumpet soloists.
+++++This time, by way of contrast, I avoided this emphasis: in fact, a couple of the records played had no trumpet at all, and others used the horn only as a secondary instrument.
+++++However, just for laughs, I retained one record out of the previous test, the Elliott-Dedrick “Gargantuan Chant.” In 1955 Davis thought it sounded like Howard McGhee and Ray Nance, said the arrangement was nice but not the interpretation, considered the piano great and liked the guitar, and rated the record two stars.
+++++Davis won’t know until he reads this that he was played the same record twice, three years apart. Now, as then, he was given no information about the records played.
1. John Lewis – Warmeland (Dear Old Stockholm) (Atlantic)

+++++I’ll give it ten stars. …On top of that, John loves Sweden, you know. I like John…his interpretation of a song is too much. Last night, Lennie Hayton played something for me from this same album, and like Lena Horne says, “All I do is sing the song like the man wrote it.” That’s how John plays the piano. I don’t go for guitar at all, and John complemented him there. …All the stars are for John.

2. Tiny Grimes and Coleman Hawkins – A Smooth One (Prestige)
Musa Kaleem, flute.

+++++“A Smooth One.” We used to play that in St. Louis. I don’t know who that flute player was, but if he was up to the Apollo Theater when Puerto Rico was living, he would have blown the horn on that whole record. The guitar player was terrible. ….I really can’t say anything about it. Give it half a star just because Coleman Hawkins is on it.

3. Buddy Collette – Cycle (Contemporary)
Collette, arranger, tenor saxophone; Gerald Wilson, trumpet; Red Callender, bass.

+++++You know what that sounds for me? It sounds like Gigi Gryce arrangements with Oscar Pettiford, but I don’t know – all those white tenor players sound alike to me…unless it’s Zoot Sims or Stan Getz. It must have been Ray Copeland on trumpet. …I don’t know for sure, but I don’t like that type of still trumpet playing.
+++++That’s a very old kind of modern arrangement – like an old modern picture with skeletons. I’d rate it two stars.

4. Sonny Rollins with Thelonious Monk – The Way You Look Tonight (Prestige).
Tommy Potter, bass; Arthur Taylor, drums.

+++++I know that’s Sonny Rollins, but I don’t see how a record company can record something like that. You know the way Monk plays – he never gives any support to a rhythm section. When I had him on my date, I had him lay out until the ensemble. I like to hear him play, but I can’t stand him in a rhythm section unless it’s one of his own songs.
+++++I can’t understand a record like this. I don’t know who the drummer and bass player are. Is that “The Way You Look Tonight”? That’s what I used to play behind Bird, only we used to play it twice as fast, I’ll give this 2 on account of Sonny.

5. Eddie Condon – Eddie and the Milkman (MGM).
Rex Stewart, cornet.

+++++It’s Don Elliott. …No, I don’t know who that was on trumpet. In fact, Leonard, I don’t know anything about that at all. It has a nice beat, but it sounded like Don Elliott to me, imitating somebody, but I know it wasn’t him.
+++++I like the piece, but you know Don is always “da, da, da, da, da.” I know it isn’t him because he doesn’t have that much feeling. I’ll give this four.

6. Don Elliott and Rusty Dedrick – Gargantuan Chant (Riverside)
Mundell Lowe, guitar; Dick Hyman, piano.

+++++I don’t know who that was, Leonard. Sounds good in spots, but I don’t like that kind of trumpet playing. The guitar sounds good in spots, and the piano player sounds good. It’s a good little number except for that interlude and that tired way of playing trumpet. I’ll give that three stars. Who were those two trumpet players?

7. John Lewis and Sacha Distel – Dear Old Stockholm (Atlantic).
Lewis, piano; Distel, guitar; Barney Wilen, tenor saxophone; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

+++++I like the tune. I’ll give it four stars, especially for the rhythm section. I think it was John Lewis and Kenny Clarke, but I’m not sure. Whoever they were they were very sympathetic and very swinging.
+++++I know the two other fellows – I like them very much. I think I can speak better about the guitar than the saxophonist – Sacha Distel is the guitarist, and I believe if he continues to develop, he will be very good. …I don’t think he has too individual a voice yet. I’ll give this four stars for the swinging rhythm section.

8. Bobby Hackett – Albatross (Capitol).
Dick Cary, E-flat horn; Ernie Caceres, baritone.

+++++I’ll give it five stars. …I like that. The trombone player knocked me out. Who was that playing baritone?…That trombone player gassed me. The trumpet? It sounded better than Ruby Braff. I don’t understand Ruby at all. In that style I like Red Allen, Louis, and Bobby Hackett plays nice, but I can’t tell anybody else.

8. Shorty Rogers – I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore (Victor).
Bill Holman, tenor saxophone.

+++++I know it’s a West Coast record. Right? Shorty playing trumpet and I’ve never heard James Clay, but I guess it must be him. I don’t know anything about that. I’ll give it two stars.

3. June 1964

+++++‘You have to think when you play; you have to help each other – you just can’t play for yourself. You’ve got to play with whomever you’re playing. If I’m playing with Basie, I’m going to try to help what he’s doing – that particular feeling.’
+++++Miles Davis is unusually selective in his listening habits. This attitude should not be interpreted as reflecting any general misanthropy. He was in a perfectly good mood on the day of the interview reproduced below; it just happened that the records selected did not, for the most part, make much of an impression.
+++++Clark Terry, for example, is an old friend and idol of Davis’ from St. Louis, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra has always been on Davis’ preferred list.
+++++Davis does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down, as an inspection of his earlier Blindfold Tests will confirm.
+++++The Cecil Taylor item was played as an afterthought, because we were discussing artists who have impressed critics, and I said I’d like to play an example. Aside from this, Davis was given no information about the records played.
1. Les McCann, Jazz Crusaders – All Blues (Pacific Jazz)
Wayne Henderson, trombone; Wilton Felder, tenor saxophone; Joe Sample, piano; McCann, electric piano; Miles Davis, composer.

+++++What’s that supposed to be? That ain’t nothin’. They don’t know what to do with it – you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don’t just play flat notes. I didn’t write it to play flat notes on – you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else…but don’t try to play it like you’d play, ah, Walkin’ the Dog. You know what I mean?
+++++That trombone player – trombone ain’t supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.
+++++Rate it? How can I rate that?

2. Clark Terry – Cielito Lindo (3 in Jazz, RCA Victor)
Terry, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar.

+++++Clark Terry, right? You know, I’ve always liked Clark. But this is a sad record. Why do they make records like that? With the guitar in the way, and that sad fucking piano player. He didn’t do nothing for the rhythm section – didn’t you hear it get jumbled up? All they needed was a bass and Terry.
+++++That’s what’s fucking up music, you know. Record companies. They make too many sad records, man.

3. Rod Levitt – Ah! Spain (Dynamic Sound Patterns, Riverside)
Levitt, trombone, composer; John Beal, bass.

+++++There was a nice idea, but they didn’t do nothing with it. The bass player was a motherfucker, though.
+++++What are they trying to do, copy Gil? It doesn’t have the Spanish feeling – doesn’t move. They move up in triads, but there’s all those chords missing – and I never heard any Spanish thing where they had a figure that went
+++++That’s some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve Allen’s TV band. Give it some stars just for the bass player.

4. Duke Ellington – Caravan (Money Jungle, United Artists).
Ellington, piano; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums.

+++++What am I supposed to say to that? That’s ridiculous. You see the way they can fuck up music? It’s a mismatch. They don’t complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can’t play with them, and they can’t play with Duke.
+++++Now, how are you going to give a thing like that some stars? Record companies should be kicked in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and picket the record company.

5. Sonny Rollins – You Are My Lucky Star – (3 in Jazz, RCA Victor).
Don Cherry, trumpet; Rollins, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.

+++++Now, why did they have to end it like that? Don Cherry I like, and Sonny I like, and the tune idea is nice. The rhythm is nice. I didn’t care too much for the bass player’s solo. Five stars is real good? It’s just good, no more. Give it three.

6. Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto – Desafinado (Getz-Gilberto, Verve)
Getz, tenor saxophone; Gilberto, vocal.

+++++Gilberto and Stan Getz made an album together? Stan plays good on that. I like Gilberto; I’m not particularly crazy about just anybody’s bossa nova. I like the samba. And I like Stan, because he has so much patience, the way he plays those melodies – other people can’t get nothing out of a song, but he can. Which takes a lot of imagination, that he has, that so many other people don’t have.
+++++As for Gilberto, he could read a newspaper and sound good! I’ll give that one five stars.

7. Eric Dolphy – Mary Ann (Far Cry, New Jazz).
Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.

+++++That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker.
LF: Down Beat won’t print those words. (But I do!)
MD: Just put he’s a sad shhhhhhhhh, that’s all! The composition is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way so that you can’t hear how things are supposed to be accented.
+++++It’s a sad record, and it’s the record company’s fault again. I didn’t like the trumpet player’s tone, and he don’t do nothing. The running is all right if you’re going to play that way, like Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan; but you’ve got to inject something, and you’ve got to have the rhythm section along; you just can’t keep on playing all eighth notes.
+++++The piano player’s sad. You have to think when you play; you have to help each other – you just can’t play for yourself. You’ve got to play with whomever you’re playing. If I’m playing with Basie, I’m going to try to help what he’s doing – that particular feeling.

8. Cecil Taylor – Lena (Live at the Café Montmartre, Fantasy).
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Taylor, piano.

+++++Take it off! That’s some sad shit, man. In the first place, I hear some Charlie Parker cliches. …They don’t even fit. Is that what the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having coffee. If there ain’t nothing to listen to, they might as well admit it. Just to take something like that and say it’s great, because there ain’t nothing to listen to, that’s like going out and getting a prostitute.
LF: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.
MD: I don’t give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don’t care who he’s inspired by. That shit ain’t nothing. In the first place he don’t have the – you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn’t have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.
+++++I can tell he’s influenced by Duke, but to put the loud pedal on the piano and make a run is very old-fashioned to me. And when the alto player sits up there and plays without no tone. …That’s the reason I don’t buy any records.

4. June 13, 1968

Part 1 of 2

+++++Four years ago, the last time Miles Davis was blindfold-tested, I remarked that he was “unusually selective in his listening habits.” The only record that drew a favorable reaction was one by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, which brought a five-star rave. Everything else was put down in varying degrees: Les McCann, Rod Levitt, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor; even his early favorite Clark Terry and his idol Duke Ellington.
+++++Looking back at earlier interviews with Miles, I am reminded that he was not always such a tough sale. In his first test (September 21, 1955), he gave four stars to Clifford Brown, four to a Metronome All-Stars track, and five to a record featuring Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, and Jack Teagarden. Ellington elicited a twenty-five-star rating – or at least, the wish that there were such a rating. (He now abstains from using the rating system.)
+++++Recently, visiting Miles in his Hollywood hotel suite, I found strewn around the room records or tape cartridges by James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, the Byrds, Aretha Franklin, and the Fifth Dimension. Not a single jazz instrumental. More about this in the next installment. Meanwhile, here is the first half of a two-part test.
1. Freddie Hubbard – On the Que-Tee (Backlash, Atlantic)
Hubbard, trumpet, composer.

+++++I don’t dig that kind of shit, man, just a straight thirty-two bars, I mean whatever it is. The time they were playing was too right, you know. It’s formal, man, and scales and all that. …No kind of sound, straight sound – no imagination. They shouldn’t even put that out.
+++++Freddie’s a great trumpet player, but if he had some kind of other direction to go…if you place a guy in a spot where he has to do something else, other than what he can do, so he can do that. He’s got to have something that challenges his imagination, far above what he thinks he’s going to play, and what it might lead into, then above that, so he won’t be fighting when things change.
+++++That’s what I tell all my musicians; I tell them be ready to play what you know and play above what you know. Anything might happen above what you’ve been used to playing – you’re ready to get into that, and above that, and take that out.
+++++But this sounds like just a lead sheet.
LF: Do you think he’s capable of more than that?
MD: Yes, if he’s directed, because he must have other imagination, other than this. I wouldn’t even put that shit on a record.

2. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis – Bachafillen (Live at the Village Vanguard, Solid State)
Jones, flugelhorn; Garnett Brown, trombone, composer; Joe Farrell, tenor saxophone; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass; Lewis, drums.

+++++It’s got to be Thad’s big band. …I don’t understand why guys have to push themselves and say “wow! wee!” and all that during an arrangement to make somebody think it’s more than what it is, when it ain’t nothing. I like the way Thad writes, but I also like the way he plays when he writes. I like when he plays his tunes, without all that stuff – no solos, you know. It’s nothing to play off of.
LF: There was a long tenor solo on that.
MD: Yes, but it was nothing; they didn’t need that, and the trombone player should be shot.
LF: Well, who do you think wrote that?
MD: I don’t really know, but I don’t like those kind of arrangements. You don’t write arrangements like that for white guys…[humming]. That ain’t nothing.
+++++In the first place, a band with that instrumentation fucks up an arrangement – the saxophones particularly. They could play other instruments, but you only get one sound like that. On that arrangement, the only one that rates is the piano player. He’s something else. And Richard Davis. The drummer just plays straight, no shading. I couldn’t stand a band like that for myself. It makes me feel like I’m broke and wearing a slip that doesn’t belong to me, and my hair’s combed the wrong way; it makes me feel funny, even as a listener.
+++++Those guys don’t have a musical mind – just playing what’s written. They don’t know what the notes mean.
LF: Have you heard that band much in person?
MD: Yes, I’ve heard them, but I don’t like them. I like Thad’s arrangements, but I don’t like the guys pushing the arrangements, and shouting, because there’s nothing happening. It would be better if they recorded the shouts at the end – or at least shout in tune!

3. Archie Shepp – The Funeral (Archie Shepp in Europe, Delmark, 1963)
Don Cherry, cornet; John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Shepp, tenor saxophone.

+++++You’re putting me on with that!…I know who it is – Ornette, fucking up the trumpet and the alto. I don’t understand that jive at all. The guy has nice rhythm on saxophone.
+++++People are so gullible – they go for that – they go for something they don’t know about.
LF: Why do you think they go for it?
MD: Because they feel it’s not hip not to go for it. But if something sounds terrible, man, a person should have enough respect for his own mind to say it doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t to me, and I’m not going to listen to it. No matter how long you listen to it, it doesn’t sound any good.
+++++Anyone can tell that guy’s not a trumpet player – it’s just notes that come out, and every note he plays, he looks serious about it, and people will go for it – especially white people. They go for anything. They want to be hipper than any other race, and they go for anything ridiculous like that.
LF: Actually, you got that one wrong – it wasn’t Ornette. It was an Archie Shepp date with John Tchicai on alto and Don Cherry on trumpet.
MD: Well, whoever it is, it sounds the same – Ornette sounds the same way. That’s where Archie and them got that shit from; there sure ain’t nothing there.

4. Fifth Dimension – Prologue, the Magic Garden (The Magic Garden, Soul City).
Jim Webb, composer, arranger.

+++++That record is planned, you know. It’s like when I do things, it’s planned and you lead into other things. It makes sense. It has different sounds in the voicing, and they’re using the stereo – they can sure use stereo today, coming out from different sides and different people making statements and things like that. That’s the way you should record!
+++++Yeah, that’s a nice record; it sounds nice. I liked the composition and the arrangement. It’s Jim Webb and the Fifth Dimension. It could be a little smoother – they push it too hard for the singers. You don’t have to push that hard. When you push, you get a raggedy edge, and an edge gives another vibration.
+++++I liked the instrumental introduction too. We did things like that on Porgy and Bess – just played parts of things.
+++++I told Diahann Carroll about an idea I had for her to record, based on things like that. There are certain tunes – parts of tunes – that you like, and you have to go through all that other shit to get to that part – but she can just sing that part. She could sing it in any kind of musical form – eighteenth century, today’s beat, and she can say the statement over and make the background change the mood and change the time. They could also use her as an instrument; instead of the strings under her, she could be in the strings, and have her coming out from each side of the stereo. She told me to set it up for her, and I was trying to do it for her.
+++++Jimmy Webb would be great for her. I think Wayne could do it for her, too; but I told her to get a guy like Mel to put the story together.
LF: Which Mel?
MD: Mel Tormé. And you could have the music in between, to change the mood to whatever mood she wanted to sing in. She was interested and insisted that I produce it, but I don’t want to get involved in that end of it.

Part 2 of 2

+++++As I pointed out in the first part of this test, Miles Davis’s hotel room was cluttered with pop vocal records. Why? There are several explanations, but the simplest and most logical, it seems to me, is that when you have reached the aesthetic mountaintop, there is no place to look but down.
+++++Instead of judging other artists in terms of their own ideas and ideals, Miles looks for every other trumpet player, every other combo leader, to achieve what he has achieved.
+++++Clearly this must lead to disappointment, for not every pianist today can be a Herbie Hancock, not every drummer a Tony Williams, or every saxophonist-composer a Wayne Shorter. Finding nothing that measures up to the standards he has set and met, Miles turns to other idioms. He relies on pop music for entertainment and classical music for serious listening.
+++++There is nothing unprecedented about this. Walking into Charlie Parker’s apartment, you were more likely to find him listening to Bartók than to some contemporary saxophonist. Similarly, there was nothing Art Tatum could learn from other pianists.
+++++The taped interview was slightly censored; otherwise it represents Davis’s precise comments on the records, about which he was given no information.
1. The Electric Flag – Over-Lovin’ You (A Long Time Comin’, Columbia)
Barry Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield, composers.

+++++Who was that? Leave that record here, it’s a nice record. I like guys that get into what they’re supposed to be singing, and the guys that play behind it really get into what they’re doing – when the mood changes they go right in it. It makes the record smooth; makes it mean something.
+++++It’s a pleasure to get a record like that, because you know they’re serious no matter what they do. . . . I liked the rhythm on that. I mean, if you’re going to do something like that, man, you’ve got to do it. You know what I mean? If you’re going to play like that – good – but don’t jive around.
+++++I like to cop myself – I don’t like to miss. I like to get into the meat of things, and sometimes it don’t happen and sometimes it does; when it does, it feels great, and it makes up for the times when it doesn’t. But if you know it’s going to happen one night, it keeps you going.

2. Sun Ra – Brainville (Sun Song, Delmark, 1956)
Dave Young, trumpet; Sun Ra, composer.

+++++That’s gotta come from Europe. We wouldn’t play no shit like that. It’s so sad. It sounds funny to me. Sounds like a 1935 arrangement by Raymond Scott. They must be joking – the Florida A. & M. band sounds better than that. They should record them, rather than that shit. They’ve got more spirit than that. That ain’t nothing.
+++++Why put that on record? What does that do? You mean there’s somebody around here that feels like that? Even the white people don’t feel that sad.
LF: Do you think that’s a white group?
MD: The trumpet player didn’t sound white. …I don’t know, man. You know, there’s a little thing that trumpet players play to make a jazz sound, that if you don’t have your own sound, you can hear an adopted jazz sound, which is a drag, especially in the mute. I mean you can tell when a guy’s got his own thing.
+++++People should have good friends to tell them. “Man, that ain’t it, so don’t play trumpet.” you know what I mean? Or, “Don’t play drums, ’cause you don’t have anything.” I’d rather have that said to me than to go on playing trumpet when it doesn’t sound like I want it to sound. I know he doesn’t want it to sound like that, so he should work at it, or play another instrument – a lower instrument.
+++++When an arrangement’s tight like that, you have to play every chord, because the background parts when they record, like they play them single, instead of making it smooth – and it’s hard to play like that. You have to play each chord, then play the other chords or you never connect anything, and in between it’s just blank.

3. Don Ellis – Alone (Electric Bath, Columbia)
Ellis, trumpet; Hank Levy, composer.

+++++Who’s that supposed to be? It’s too straight, man. You know, You’d be surprised, this trumpet player probably can play, he sounds all right, but with a strong rhythm like that – if you have a straight rhythm like that, the band has to play against the rhythm, because the rhythm is never gonna change, and that’s very hard to do. The best way to do that is for the rhythm to play real soft.
+++++You don’t need a trumpet in something like that. It was just one of those major, minor, major…
+++++It’s a kind of mood tune. I would play it slower and have the band way down, so they could have got some kind of feeling into it. You could tell they don’t feel like playing this. Somebody was impressed with 5/4 time, but what difference does that make? What’s so great about a whole number in 5/4? In our group we change the beat around and do all kind of things with time, but not just to say, “Look at me, I’m playing 5/4!” There’s nothing there, but I guess the critics will have something to write about.
LF: It was Don Ellis. Have you ever heard him?
MD: Yeah, I heard him. He’s no soloist. I mean, he’s a nice guy and all that, but to me he’s just another white trumpet player. He can’t play in a chord, can’t play with any feeling; that’s the reason I guess they use all that time shit.
+++++Anybody can make a record and try to do something new to sell; but to me a record is more than something new, and I don’t care how much it sells. You have to capture some feeling – you can’t just play like a fucking machine. You can’t even turn on with any kind of dope and get any feeling to play if you don’t have it in your heart. No matter what you do, it won’t make you play any better. You are what you are, no matter what you do. I can be loud and no good, soft and no good, in 7/8 and no good. You can be black and no good, white and no good. …A guy like Bobby Hackett plays what he plays with feeling, and you can put him into any kind of thing and he’ll do it.

4. Al Hirt – Goin’ to Chicago Blues (Live at Carnegie Hall, RCA).
Hirt, trumpet.

+++++It’s Al Hirt. I think he’s a very good trumpet player. For anyone that feels that way, I guess he hits them. He’s a good trumpet player, but that’s some corny-ass shit he plays here.
+++++They want him to be fat and white and funny and talented, but he ain’t. They want something that looks good on television; fat, with a beard, and jovial and jolly. He’s like a white Uncle Tom. And he’s a nice guy; it’s a drag. You know, white folks made Negroes tom a long time ago by giving them money. To do this in front of some white people, to play you to have that kind of personality, like him, it’s tomming. I can’t see why a guy like Al Hirt…I guess if he was thin he wouldn’t do it.
+++++Harry James is a good trumpet player, and he never did tom or no shit like that. Harry had some feeling.
+++++For a guy to shake his unattractive body and think somebody thinks it’s funny – it ain’t funny, it’s disgusting. He can’t entertain me like that; he can entertain some corny ofays, but all the colored folks I know would say, “Oh, fuck! I don’t want to hear that!”