Miles Davis: The Complete Birth Of The Cool

During the years from roughly 1947-1950, Miles Davis assembled his first group as a leader, having previously been a sideman in Charlie Parker’s quintet. The loosely organized group of musicians gathered periodically in arranger Gil Evans’ apartment, seeking to develop a different style of jazz from the prevailing be-bop of the time. Eventually a set instrumentation coalesced from these experiments and the Miles Davis nonet was born. This group consisted of alto and baritone saxophones, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, and a three-piece rhythm section. Although the personnel varied a little over its short tenure, some of the brightest rising stars in jazz were featured in this group, including Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Gunther Schuller, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, John Lewis, Max Roach, and Kenny Clarke.

The songs recorded by this group have a rather convoluted history. The studio cuts were recorded over three sessions in 1949 & 1950. Capitol Records originally released them as singles. In 1953, they collected 8 of the tracks on a 10″ record. In 1957, the first 12″ LP called “Birth Of The Cool” was released, containing 11 tracks.  In 1971, a previously unreleased vocal track was added to the record. In 1998, the “Complete Birth Of The Cool” was released on CD, which featured an additional 13 tracks that were recorded live at the Royal Roost in New York in 1948, where the band opened for Count Basie.

The group proved to be a little ahead of its time and was not financially successful, so it broke up after the final studio recording session. However, the innovative arrangements of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis laid the foundation for what became known as “cool” or “West Coast” jazz and paved the way for Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Chet Baker. As Miles stated about the album,

“Bebop didn’t have the humanity of Duke Ellington… it didn’t have harmonic lines that you could easily hum out on the street with your girlfriend trying to get over with a kiss… but ‘Birth of a Cool’ was different because you could hear everything and hum it also.”

Miles Davis was at the forefront of changing styles in jazz, from be-bop to cool to modal to free to jazz-rock. This album started it all, being his first recordings as a leader and first of several celebrated collaborations with Gil Evans. Nobody ever personified cool like Miles. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Frank Tirro. The Birth of the Cool of Miles Davis and His Associates.