The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles

The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles

by Bob Gluck

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226303390
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/11/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Bob Gluck is a pianist, composer, jazz historian, and rabbi, as well as professor of music at the State University of New York, Albany. He is the author of You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, also published by the University of Chicago Press. 

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The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles

By Bob Gluck

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-30339-0


Miles Goes Electric

For musicians within the world designated "jazz" who sought to expand their horizons, 1969 was ripe with possibilities. An arresting sense of urgency marked both Ornette Coleman's Crisis, symbolized by its album cover image of the Bill of Rights in flames, and Tony Williams Lifetime's searing Emergency, showcasing his new high-volume, high-energy drums, electric guitar, and organ trio. This was but one year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The night after King's death, at a televised concert in Boston, James Brown soothed an audience that was hurting and angry, and cities burned. Meanwhile, a black cultural renaissance was burgeoning. People were proudly assuming Swahili names and wearing dashikis. Politically, the Black Panther Party was at its height.

Nineteen sixty-nine was also the year of the first moon landing, a growing antiwar movement, and Woodstock Nation. Musicians mirrored and generated the high level of imaginative possibilities percolating throughout American culture. While this was the era of the concept album, the best examples display a startling depth and breadth of emotional expressivity and sonic variety across a single recording. Among these are the Art Ensemble of Chicago's People in Sorrow, Herbie Hancock's The Prisoner, and Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat, a mash-up of rock and roll, 1950s doo-wop, exploratory improvisation, Stravinskian angularity, and musique concrète.

Festival programming offered dramatic genre-crossing juxtapositions: in Monterey, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles Davis performed alongside Sly and the Family Stone; at Newport, Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard were paired with James Brown and Led Zeppelin. Even more extreme was the assemblage at Festival Actuel in Amougie, Belgium: an eclectic montage of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sunny Murray, Don Cherry, and Archie Shepp; Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, keyboard whiz Keith Emerson and the Nice; and Musica Elettronica Viva.

The permeability of musical boundaries was being tested and stretched. It is not by chance that 1969 was the year when Miles Davis recorded two albums that meditated on the wealth of musical influences that defined the 1960s. Each took the vantage point of a jazz recording to look outward and inward. On one hand, the albums balanced rock and funk's rhythmic dynamism with a relatively static aesthetic sensibility. On the other, they sought grounding in Davis's lyrical sensibilities while casting off familiar conventions of musical structure.

Along with Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, and Sun Ra (each of whom had released pivotal albums in 1956), Ornette Coleman had opened a new musical passageway with the 1959 release of The Shape of Jazz to Come and premiere performances of the material at the Five Spot in New York City. A growing number of younger musicians were exploring the possibilities his music suggested. Coleman provided a way out of what some, including John Coltrane and Miles Davis, had felt to be the growing tyranny of cyclical chord progressions. In an interview with Martin Williams, Coleman famously remarked: "If I'm going to follow a preset chord sequence, I may as well write out my solo." What he meant was that the repeated cycle of harmonic movement shaped expectations of note choices based on what is suggested by functional harmony. Within bebop, harmony had expanded to accommodate broader note choices. But Coltrane demonstrated the limitations of this approach. His recording of "Giant Steps" (1959) traversed rapid-fire, cascading chord changes as if to say: "You want chords? I'll give you chords!" An overabundance of chords pointed to the need for new structural principles and the desire to balance freedom of the individual with membership in a collective.

Saxophonist Sam Rivers described the new music of the period as "freeform," a "revitalizing force" in jazz. In place of the detailed intricacies of bebop, the goal was to play with "no pre-conceived plan," to "make every performance different, to let your emotions and musical ideas direct the course of the music, to let the sound of the music set up its own impetus, to remember what has been stated so that repetition is intentional, to be responsive to myriads of color, polyrhythms, rise and fall, ebb and flow, thematic variations, etc., etc."

Although Davis publicly expressed scorn and, frankly, jealousy toward what he believed to be unwarranted attention given to Coleman, he was clearly listening.

Davis writes: "I used to go and check them out when I was in town, even sat in with them a couple of times." His reading of what happened could be viewed as reportage or as braggadocio: "I could play with anybody, in any style. ... But Ornette could play only one way back then. I knew that after listening to them a few times, so I just sat in and played what they played." He caustically adds: "He just came and fucked up everybody. Before long you couldn't buy a seat in the Five Spot. ... They were playing music in a way everyone was calling 'free jazz' or 'avant-garde' or 'the new thing' or whatever."

Critic Larry Kart reports Coleman's memories of the encounter, confirming Davis's presence at the Five Spot but adding an ulterior motive:

Years later Ornette said, "I'm not mentioning names, but I remember one trumpet player who came up to me and said, 'I don't know what you're doing, but I want to let the people see me playing with you. Why don't you play some blues and let me come up and play.' So I said, 'Ok,' and we did some song that he had played with Charlie Parker. Then when they asked him what he thought of my music, he said, 'Oh, the guy's all messed up — you can tell that just by listening to him.' And it wasn't true."

Davis commented that he liked Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry as people but saw them as neither talented nor original and revolutionary. He reserved particular scorn for Cherry: "I didn't like what they were playing, especially Don Cherry on that little horn he had. It just looked to me like he was playing a lot of notes and looking real serious." Davis challenged not only Coleman's choice of this fellow trumpeter but Coleman's own performance on trumpet and violin, for which he lacked formal training: "[He was disrespecting] all those people who play them well." But this wasn't the first time Davis had disparaged a musician. Robin D. G. Kelley reports a screaming match Davis had with Thelonious Monk at Monk's house in the early 1950s; while playing one of the pianist's compositions, Davis reportedly told him that he wasn't playing the music correctly. Monk's father asked Davis to leave.

Davis's rivalry with Coleman seems at least in part generational, as both men were close in age. Coleman's dramatic appearance on a scene where Davis had staked a claim as a central innovator could not have been easy for him. Even with fifteen years of history in New York, he was already contending with the rising star of another contemporary, former sideman John Coltrane. In his autobiography, Davis expresses appreciation for Coltrane's late work, both musically and in terms of its sociopolitical meaning for young black people. But it was Coleman who commanded the attention that had previously been directed Davis's way; rattled by this, he sought to reassert his dominance. Davis's tensions with Coleman can also be viewed with respect to the comparative ease and esteem with which a younger generation of musicians related to Coleman. Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and drummer Jerome Cooper, all of whom we will meet in this book, were among the many who saw Ornette Coleman as a mentor and generous supporter.

Despite his complicated feelings toward Coleman, Davis learned from him. Although years later he continued to diminish the import of Coleman's method and execution, he acknowledged the significance of his methodology: "[The group was] just being spontaneous in their playing, playing 'free form,' bouncing off what each other was doing ... it had been done before, only they were doing it with no kind of form or structure ... that's the thing that was important about what they did, not their playing." And Davis added a respectful postscript: "Now, what Ornette did a few years later was hip, and I told him so."

The influence of Coleman's approach, his use of intuition to govern improvisation and his application of a democratic principle to guide collectivity, can be heard in Davis's quintet of the 1960s as the band turned toward open forms. By 1965, it was deeply engaged in what Chick Corea calls "that thing of vaporizing themes and just going places." "Going places" was the result of a collective musical mind at work. Davis's new electric quintet of 1969 was primed to take these principles further.

The musically democratic principle had gained influence across North America and Europe. In 1964 in New York, a cluster of creative musicians participated in a four-day festival named the October Revolution in Jazz; some of these players later formed the Jazz Composers Guild. The next year in Chicago, black musicians gathered under the banner of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), with sister groups springing up in other parts of the United States. London had its own "free jazz" scene; among its participants were guitarist John McLaughlin and bassist Dave Holland, future musical associates of Miles Davis.

From where else did Davis draw inspiration during this time? Drummer Tony Williams was an important source of new ideas within Davis's 1960s quintet. His own first two recordings, Lifetime and Spring!, anticipate the developing musical abstraction soon to be found within that band. By the late 1950s, when Williams was thirteen years old, he had played with saxophonist Sam Rivers's band and participated with those musicians in the Boston Improvisational Ensemble.

Rivers described the group in this way: "We'd go to museums and we'd play the lines on the paintings, he [an art historian and musician who led the group] would explain the painting, and then we'd play the music like this. ... The usual Dada kind of stuff. We'd throw ink splats on the paper, and do the rise-and-fall of this." He refers here to the way some musicians interpreted graphic scores, translating visual information into sound.

Three years later, in 1963, following dates with icons of the avant-garde, pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonist Eric Dolphy, Williams joined saxophonist Jackie McLean's band. He gained Miles Davis's ear, netting an invitation to join his quintet; in 1965, he subbed for Elvin Jones with the John Coltrane Quartet.

Coltrane's work during this period was of great interest to Davis, Trane's former employer, and to his band. Coltrane's quartet took an expansive approach to the concept of soloist-with-accompaniment, offering the kind of distinct flexibility and adaptability that saxophonist Wayne Shorter could build on with Davis.

Regarding Davis's influence, trumpeter Wallace Roney, a protégé of his, observes:

This band had participated and assimilated the innovations of The John Coltrane Quartet, Ornette Coleman Quartet, and Miles Second Great Quintet and utilized them freely with the new Pop avant-garde. They were on the front line of these innovations along with individual members of the Second Quintet, and Miles himself! The difference between the Second Quintet and the Lost Quintet was the second Quintet innovations were conceived adjacent to the John Coltrane Quartet and although inspired by the happenings of that Quartet, and by Ornette and Mingus, they were developing their ideas, whereas the lost Quintet was free to use both concepts at any given time. In other words the lost Quintet might play things pioneered by the Second Quintet behind Miles, play something pioneered by the John Coltrane Quartet behind Wayne or vice versa or a hybrid behind either one, or play totally abstract.

As the Miles Davis Quintet evolved during its most exploratory period, 1965–68, Davis sought something akin to what in politics is sometimes called a "third way." He kept one foot planted in inherited forms and the other in the new order. While seeking musical cohesion in the qualities of sound, he was not yet prepared to depart from song forms. His own playing remained committed to melody and a rootedness in the blues. But his band was also beginning to embrace spontaneous collective invention. By the late 1960s, the idea of weaving sonic fabric from melodic or rhythmic germs — concepts developed by Coleman, Coltrane, and Taylor — had worked its way into Davis's creative imagination.

My favorite example is from the quintet's appearance at the Paris Jazz Festival, held at Salle Pleyel on November 6, 1967. Wayne Shorter's "Masqualero," a constant on the November 1967 European tour, receives a striking treatment, beginning with a dramatic and forceful statement of the theme. This opening is followed by a quiet, spare solo by Davis, punctuated by short spikes by Herbie Hancock, a steady pulse by Tony Williams, and a stream of repeated notes by bassist Ron Carter. Suddenly, Hancock initiates a change in course by playing a downward, stepwise series of chords, which Davis imitates in his solo line, echoed by Hancock. As Davis's solo unleashes an outpouring of faster notes, the rhythm section builds energy and tension, reaching a peak, and then shifting to a pastoral mood. It is difficult to tell whether one musician has initiated this shift or it is simply a collective action. Either way, the entire band is instantaneously together. When Davis plays a more upbeat phrase, the band again responds, shape-shifting as a unit.

This reconfiguration of mood, texture, and intensity occurs again and again throughout the performance. It happens next at the start of a Shorter solo that begins with a beautiful yet simple figure, juxtaposed to an equally lovely Hancock accompaniment. Again, it is difficult to tell who has initiated the change. Thirty seconds into his solo, Shorter reaches into a higher register to play a variant of his starting motif, then descends slowly. Before we know it, another moment of musical grace unfolds, beginning with a spontaneous, new Shorter melody, maybe a recasting of the previous one, joined by Hancock. Williams and Carter are immediately present to capture the subtle shift in mood. For most of the solo, Williams has played a repeated-stroke snare figure, akin to a very gentle military cadence. With only a slight shift in volume and intensity, the same material has been transformed into a perfect complement for the new emotional tone.

While Miles Davis was exploring — and, in a sense, mainstreaming — abstraction and spontaneous invention, other musical worlds beckoned to him from beyond the jazz realm: rock, rhythm and blues, and funk. His eyes and ears were trained simultaneously on both abstract and populist principles. Chick Corea remarks: "In retrospect if I look at it now, it's pretty obvious where Miles was going. He wanted to reconnect with audiences. And to do that, he put a groove and rhythm back into his music. He more and more put flavors of the youth of the times into his presentation, the way he dressed, the musicians he hired, the way they played, the electric guitar." Davis's repertoire began to draw from vamps and grooves, the steady, repetitive rhythmic pulses and bass lines of rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.

His path would lead from the blues-gospel bass line of "It's About That Time" (from In a Silent Way, 1969) through the funk riffs of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone that ground his 1970 recording A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and ultimately to his vigorously percolating, multilayered, polyrhythmic guitar and electric organ bands that produced Dark Magus (1974), Agharta (1975), and Pangaea (1975).

While a youthful, more contemporary black aesthetic was guiding Davis toward a more pronounced, regular metric pulse, his music continued to tap into a deep well of experimental influences. As Corea notes: "Experimentation and the search for new combinations was definitely 'in the air.' ... The excitement over search for new forms was at a peak, and as improvisers, the best place to start seemed to be with free-form improvisation, where the rules were made up as you go." Aspects of this sensibility continued to shape his even more funk-oriented music until his first retirement in 1975.


Excerpted from The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles by Bob Gluck. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 Miles Goes Electric
2 “Bitches Brew,” in the Studio and on the Road
3 Anthony Braxton: Leroy Jenkins, Musica Elettronica Viva, and the “Peace Church” Concert
4 Interlude: Musical Rumblings in Chelsea
5 Miles Davis’s Increasingly Electric 1970, and a Reflection on His 1971– 75 Bands
6 Circle
7 The Revolutionary Ensemble
8 Ornette Coleman’s Children: Comparisons and Contrasts Inside and Outside the Jazz Economy

Appendix 1: Timeline
Appendix 2: Reconsidering Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East (1970) in Light of Miles at the Fillmore (2014)
Appendix 3: Circle’s Performance of Its Members’ Compositions


What People are Saying About This

Michael Cuscuna

“Gluck’s The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles goes the distance to dispel the simplistic notion that the ’70s was the decade of fusion and funk. Focusing on three ensembles whose innovations and influence exceeded their popularity is a brilliant move. While I could quibble with a few conclusions, Gluck expertly analyzes the music without ignoring the all-important political, cultural, social, and economic contexts in which the music was created—making this book invaluable.”

George E. Lewis

“This book presents a radical challenge to accepted portrayals of the networks that animated experimental music-making in the crucial decade of the 1970s. Moving beyond stereotypes of genre, Gluck lays out a compelling, cosmopolitan, yet intimate vision of the relationships among a set of highly innovative musicians who shaped the future of music itself.”

Stanley Cowell

“Replete with anecdotes, published quotes, reviews, plus documentation, this is a very readable, honest, informed—even scholarly—effort by Gluck in chronicling the influences, motives, and participants circa 1960 through early ’75 of Miles Davis and ‘. . . Other Revolutionary Bands.’ This will be an important contribution to music literature and study.”

Victor Svorinich

“Gluck’s new work is written with much heart, warmth, and intelligence. I hope this starts a new wave of academic books that focus on good narrative, new concepts, and sophistication without having to fall into the academic jargon charade. Gluck explores cultural, sociological, and philosophical elements of some of the late sixties’ and early seventies’ most cutting edge groups, but in a way that is most essential: from a musical perspective. I am flattered to see a mention of my Listen to This: Miles Davis and Bitches Brew in the text, for I feel this new volume is a perfect complement, exploring many of Davis’s outlooks and sociological surroundings with a fresh and well developed perspective. I must admit, I know very little of some of the more avant-garde bands Gluck writes passionately about, but I enjoyed learning about them, and the whole New York loft scene of the seventies. Some of Gluck’s conclusions are new takes on matters, especially with the relationship with the avant-garde and Davis, which offer much to ponder and debate.”

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