Songs

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Elton John may have declared Saturday the night for fightin’ and Link Wray may have been ready to “Rumble,” but sure as red, white and blue the soundtrack to a bar fight is honky tonk country. And like all good country music, there’s a story in all the best bar fight songs.

Honky tonks have been a primary setting for country music since Hank Williams crooned “Honky Tonkin'” in 1948, and ground zero in the battle of the sexes ever since Kitty Wells’ responded to a Hank Thompson tune with “It Wasn’t God Who Made the Honky Tonk Angels” four years later.

Other country standards carry an implicit rowdy brawl — there’s no doubt, for instance, that Garth Brooks got his ass kicked after taking the groom’s glass and toasting his “friends in low places,” or that any of several Loretta Lynn hits (“Sweet Thang,” “Fist City,” etc) ended in anything short of a cat fight. Through all those years we were warned rap music would corrupt the youth of America country singers have been treating the tavern like a playground. You’re already familiar with the setting, so let’s introduce you to the redneck mother who’s going to kick your ass…

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“Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” by Jerry Jeff Walker

Oklahoma native Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother,” and chose the tune to open his second album — but it what made it a country standard was a rendition on Jerry Jeff Walker’s live album, A Man Must Carry On. Hubbard’s own explanation of the song’s origin, at a birthday celebration for Walker, is just as funny:

Johnny Paycheck ran into the redneck mother in “Colorado Kool-Aid,” a tune from his hit album Take This Job and Shove It. It was on the flip side of the title track’s hit single, reaching #50 on Billboard’s country singles chart all by itself in 1977. Nearly a decade later, Paycheck walked into the North High Lodge in Hillsboro, Ohio and got into a similar disagreement. This very real bar fight ended with the country singer shooting a .22 at a fan, grazing his head. Paycheck, who was quoted as saying “Do you see me as some kind of country hick?” before firing the gun, eventually served a small portion of his nine-year sentence before being pardoned.

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“Colorado Koolaid” by Johnny Paycheck

One of the very best outlaw country tunes of the seventies was Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider,” which tells the story of a ‘cosmic hippy’ as described by Hubbard getting into a fight with rednecks in a Jackson, Mississippi bar after his car breaks down.

Daniels himself drifted to the right so strongly that his 1988 remake of “Uneasy Rider” is just about the opposite of the original song: the counter-culture is then represented with the same disdain Daniel’s had reserved for the rednecks of the Dew Drop Inn in 1973.

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“Uneasy Rider” by Charlie Daniels

Bobby Weir introduces a novelty number on the Grateful Dead’s Reckoning by saying, “From a song about tragedy impending we’re going to move swiftly to a song about tragedy narrowly averted,” and that’s a fine description for this next song. Lynyrd Skynyrd is, of course, more southern rock than country music, but there are shades of Nashville in all of our favorite of their songs, including “Every Mother’s Son,” “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” and of course “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Gimme Three Steps” is a song about a bar fight we can presume doesn’t happen.

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“Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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“The Winner” by Bobby Bare

What better way to end a playlist of bar fight songs than with “The Winner” by Bobby Bare, a song written by prolific poet Shel Silverstein? Bare’s 1976 album The Winner and Other Losers is best remembered for producing one of the clumsiest country hits, “Dropkick Me Jesus,” but we think of “The Winner” as its best song. And to bring today’s post full-circle, the other side of the single was Bare’s version of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”

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At one point yesterday afternoon it was sunny and snowing at the same time, one of those weird weather phenomenons only us Minnesotans would understand. Just a few days earlier it was damn gorgeous and sunny afternoon here at Hymie’s for our fifth annual block party — that’s the way it is here. If you don’t like the weather, just wait a couple hours.

And that brings us to one of our favorite records to arrive this spring, which has been the second album by Exotik-A-GoGo, the band which has been enjoying a long run as the weekend house band at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge. Our friend Jezebel Jones once hosted a tiki party in the middle of the winter to stick it to the season, and this album would have been the perfect soundtrack. We have loved this group since its inception even though we’re widely known to rarely make it up to northeast, and we’d really like to welcome their new album with a lei and a piña colada.

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“Barbarians at the Gate”

exotik a gogoThe band dug into the fertile fields of Martin Denny-soaked vintage lounge on Go Ape! a few years ago (which made our ‘top ten’ list that year) but only offered a peek at their collective century of experience — on this second record the seeds they started bloom beautifully. Where Exotik-A-GoGo works best is not in lounge music or exotica but in its excellent and interesting jazz. The arrangements draw more focus on vibraphonist Vince Hyman and the guitar parts shared by multi-instrumentalists Tom Cravens and Andy Nelson. Nelson’s tenor sax takes the lead on the riffy and driving “Lounge Leopard Lenny,” and on the flute he salutes “The Girl with the Raven Hair,” the album’s smoothest ballad.

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“The Girl with the Raven Hair”

Drummer Craig Gallas founded the group and the percussion on tunes like “The Girl with the Raven Hair” is as sensitive as work by Chicago’s great avant garde drummers Hamid Drake and Kalil El’Zabar. When the band plays hard bop Gallas provides both an excellent timekeeping groove and exciting fills. Jeff Willkomm plays the bass and essential to the fast tunes like “Shaka Shake” the opening track, “Barbarians at the Gate.”

At its best Exotik-Agogo revive the inspired feeling of really great 90s jazz records like the Dave Holland Quintet’s Prime Directive and Dave Douglas’ tribute to Mary Lou Williams, Soul on Soul. The album works best in this direction, although there are still fun nods to vintage exotica and lounge music like the amusing chant-along vocals on “Emerald Flame,” which could have come from a Les Baxter soundtrack, or “Señor Juan,” a theatrical ensemble piece which leans more towards other favorite 60s film composers like Schifrin and Mancini.

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“Señor Juan”

The band celebrated the release of the album with a show at the Icehouse last week — and we really wanted this to be something we posted in advance, but with the block party and all we fell behind on local releases. We sold out of copies of Exotik-A-GoGo on record store day, which tells us there’s a lot of enthusiasm for local jazz. The album is back in stock and continues to be one of our favorite recent releases. Now if the weather would just get the message and warm up!

Musical moments

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(No. 1, Moderato)

American work longer hours, more days, and take fewer breaks than nearly every other nation in the world. Turns out the forty-hour work week is actually on average nearly a full day longer, forty-seven hours. We’re not making much more (at least those of us down here at the bottom) but we’re sure working for it. What’s worse is that we take fewer vacations — we don’t even have the option of paid leave when we become new parents. We’re one of few countries which offer no paid parental leave, whether through employers or through the government (the others include Papua New Guinea and Liberia).

Rather than ease our burdens, our technological toys allow us to bring our work with us wherever we go. Many of you are reading this on the little screen on a phone or ipad, and this is supposed to qualify as ‘leisure time.’ We’re working ourselves so hard we don’t have time to enjoy the time we don’t have.

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(No. 2, Andante)
What does this have to do with Franz Schubert’s Moment Musicaux, which we have been hearing today? It’s the closest we’ve come to a ‘driveway moment.’ That’s a phrase coined by Public Radio for the moment you can’t get out of your car because you’re so engrossed in the story you’ve to to hear the end even though you’ve reached your destination. Truth is, we’re not talk radio people — we’d rather walk than ride in a car listening to talk radio.

But there are records in which we have found the same ethereal repose. One, for instance, is this 1952 recording by Rudolph Serkin. Its not the first recording of Schubert’s six part piano piece published in 1828, but it is our favorite. Serkin may be best known for his interpretations of Beethoven, but on this record he succinctly shows the innate beauty of Schubert’s songs.

schubertJust a year before making this album for Columbia Records, Serkin founded the Marlboro School of Music near his dairy farm in Vermont, along with his father-in-law, Adolph Busch. Both world-class musicians were for America what you could call the spoils of war, along with a generation of top writers, scientists and others. Although neither were Jewish, both left their homes in Germany after the rise of the Third Reich, unable to tolerate Nazism (Busch once declared he would “return with joy on the day that Hitler, Goebbels and Göring are publicly hanged”). The two became naturalized American citizens and through the Marlboro School mentored a generation of classical performers.

Their greatest influence has been in modern chamber music, beginning in Europe when they performed together in the Busch Quartet, making the first recordings of some Beethoven quartets. The famed Guarani Quartet was formed at their Marlboro School of Music, and Serkin’s son Peter was a member of the Tashi Quartet, whose recording of Oliver Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time we posted a couple years ago.

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(No. 3, Allegro Moderato)

Franz Schubert’s own short thirty-one years on Earth were shockingly productive: he composed hundreds of songs and in the process built the foundation for the three-minute pop song we, as record collectors, revere. He also wrote nine extraordinary symphonies (seven complete, two so magnificent that it’s never mattered they were unfinished), several operas and a substantial repertoire of piano music. When he died in 1828, only a year after Beethoven, he might have been overshadowed by the great maestro, if it weren’t for the enormous wealth of innovative melody in his music.

Schubert never composed a piano concerto, nor a concerto of any other kind, so his compositions for solo piano are of especially great interest. Moments Musicaux is a six-piece work for solo piano published shortly before his death which suggests in several places (especially in No. 1, Moderato, and No. 5, Allegro vivace) what a Schubert piano concerto may have sounded like.

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(No. 4, Moderato)

In other places Moment Musicaux captures the composers uncanny ability to create simple, sincere and captivating songs. There is a melody in the fourth part that might have been the dominant theme of a symphony, had the composer lived longer.  Schubert’s devotion to his work is evident in the consistency of his catalog – we cannot think of a pop group with a solid a success rate as Schubert had as a songwriter, except for maybe Hickey.

We enjoy playing copies of Moment Musicaux whenever they pass through the shop. People often ask what it is they have been enjoying – Some are disappointed it isn’t some somber post-bop pianist like Bill Evans (whose own solo pieces, like those on Everybody Digs Bill Evans for instance, suggest Schubert’s influence) or a fashionable French outsider like Erik Satie. Others leave the shop with the record that had been playing, and we hope they enjoy it as much as we do our own slightly worn copy Rudolf Serkin’s 1952 recording for Columbia.

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(No. 5, Allegro vivace)

Moment Musicaux is an antidote for anxiety, opening as brightly as a fresh cup of coffee before providing the listener with opportunities for introspection as well as invigoration. Schubert’s graceful Adante, our favorite of the six, is arrestingly serene.

Some say Schubert invented the three minute pop song as we know it. There’s no doubt he refined it as surely as the cup defines the shape of the coffee inside. Bill Evans played Schubert as a young man. Beyoncé from her borrowed from him on her third album. Just this week the BBC launched a documentary by composer Howard Goodall which includes a comparison between Adele’s 21 and Schubert’s song cycles. “Strip away the cultural differences, the clothes and anything that dates them, and there is a strong connection,” Goodall explains in From the Stone Age to the Digital Age. “The musical shape, the architecture of it, the kind of chords, the way the accompaniment works and the voice sits on it, even the subject matter, are remarkably similar.”

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(No. 6, Allegretto)

Maybe some other set of songs provides you the same opportunity for escape. We don’t just collect our records on shelves, we live with them, we care for them and they for us for a period of time. Whatever it is which gives you a moment’s rest, we say play it. Enjoy it and share that record with your friends.

We’re feeling overworked and stressed as we prepared for our fifth annual Record Store Day block party on Saturday. This is our much-needed moment of solace, listening to Schubert in the otherwise silent and dark record store before opening up for the day. Any day which starts like this is going to be a very good one indeed.

Soul singer Percy Sledge passed away yesterday at the age of seventy-four while in hospice care in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife of thirty-five years and twelve children, a few of who became singers themselves. He is remembered in surely all obituaries for his 1966 ballad, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

Even before the song became Hollywood shorthand in the era of major label mining for licensing gold, Sledge’s hit was the subject of a ‘response song’ by Esther Phillips, also recorded for Atlantic. We posted her song, “When A Woman Loves A Man,” in Part II of our series of sequel songs here. That post also included a riotous glimpse at the riotous variety of amateur video you’ll find on Youtube of people performing “When A Man Loves a Woman” at wedding receptions. There are pages of performances of varying levels of awkwardness when you search for the song on Youtube with the word “wedding” added — it brings out something in people like no other song.

The song was recorded at the legendary FAME Studio, subject of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals. Its authorship is disputed between Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright (credited on the single) and the singer, who says he wrote the original tune as “Why Did You Leave Me?” after a breakup. The disagreement is made all the more amusing since the song is based on a melody by Bach which was some two hundred and sixty years old at the time — In fact, Bach’s Air on the G String was one of the first of his pieces to find its way onto a record, having been recorded by Russian cellist Aleksandr Verzhbilovich in 1903. The lovely melody, so called because it is played solely on the G string, is second only to Pachabel’s Canon in D as the most eye-rollingly boring wedding music in the world. It also familiar as the basis of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which was released a few years after “When A Man Loves a Woman.”

The organist who played the slow descending riff was Spooner Oldham, who was also a successful songwriter along with Dan Penn. They wrote many successful songs together, including one of Sledge’s later hits, “It Tears me Up.” The horns are not quite in key but it doesn’t seem to matter. “When A Man Loves A Woman” was one of the earliest records to capture the unique quality of the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Sledge’s success continued through the sixties, and he enjoyed a surprise revival after his song became a huge hit in England because it was used in a blue jeans commercial. In the 90s he released a blues album which featured Steve Cropper and Bobby Womack and received rave reviews. He recorded his last album, The Gospel of Percy Sledge, just two years ago.

Its no surprise, however, that obituaries today begin and end with his first single, which Atlantic Records released almost exactly forty-nine years ago on April 16, 1966. “When A Man Loves a Woman” is a beautiful song, but you’ve probably heard it plenty of times (and if you clicked on the Youtube link above you’ve likely heard it too many times!) — we thought we’d close today with a different song.

any day now percy sledgePercy Sledge’s recording of “Any Day Now,” a Bacharach tune (co-written with Bob Hilliard) came a couple years after “When A Man Loves A Woman,” but features his familiar full-throated delivery. It’s our favorite version of the popular song, and seems like a fitting farewell for the soul legend who sang it.

 

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“Any Day Now”

 

 

Win Twins!

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This is the best version of the “Win Twins!” song we’ve ever heard. Hopefully the rest of the season will go better than last night!

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People make a lot of jokes about the weird things Minnesotans do to survive the long, cold winters, although we’re so used to weird around your friendly neighborhood record shop that there’s not a lot left to surprise us. One tradition which has over more than three decades become a local institution is the Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands.

The rules are fairly simple: Your band gets 20 minutes. Your band has to include at least three traditional jug band instruments instruments — examples include jugs (duh), comb & tissue (ie, kazoo), washboard, washtub bass, spoons, etc. No electrified instruments. The competition for the coveted Holliwood Waffle Iron provides for a weekend of rowdy fun split over a couple West Bank bars.

Each year’s bill reads like a “funny band name” list — last year’s included The She Goats, The Hump Night Thumpers, The West Bank Temperance League and Show Me Your Jugs, for instance. Few of these pickup groups play regular gigs — although a striking exception is two-time winners of the Waffle, The Roe Family Singers, who have been playing every Monday night at the 331 Club for nearly a decade. The Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands has grown in recent years, in terms of the crowd and the number of contestants. It’s even the subject of an upcoming documentary (though we can’t say the trailer has us enticed to make it our once-a-year trip to the movies).

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“She Broke my Heart in 3 Places”

dumpy jug bumpersOne veteran of the annual event is the Dumpy Jug Bumpers, who have been playing a lot of show — just last month they had two residencies, one at Fulton Brewery’s Tap Room and one at the 331 Club. Their debut disc, Dumpin’ at the Savoy, will celebrate its release this weekend at our fifth annual Record Store Day Block Party, where the Bumpers will be joined by fourteen other awesome acts in a fun-filled full day of live music on two stages.

Dumpin’ at the Savoy is a lively tour of string and jug band esoterica. Nearly everything on the album comes from the twenties and thirties. The songs come from folks like the Mississippi Sheiks and the Hoosier Hot Shots, a big little jug band which enjoyed an extraordinary half-century run on records and in film and influenced none other than the man who murdered music himself, Spike Jones. Others are from lesser-known sources, like “Take A Look at that Baby,” a kazoo-y tune first recorded by the Two Poor Boys in the late 20s.

Some of the songs had a short hippy revival, like Gus Cannon’s “Viola Lee Blues,” written by his harmonica player Noah Lewis in 1928 and recorded by the Grateful Dead as an extended jam on their first LP. Still don’t confuse their “Take a Look at that Baby” with John Fahey’s song (he just used the title) or their “If You Don’t Want me Don’t Dog Me ‘Round” (originally the “Alabama Blues”) with J.B. Lenoir’s alarmingly contemporary 1965 song, “Alabama Blues.” The thing about traditional music is it’s not as static as the sticks in the mud would like. Titles come and go, and jug band music is a magically informal format.

Even their name is flexible: You can rearrange the letters and always come up with something fun. The Dumpy Jug Bumpers, The Juggy Dump Buggers, The Buggy Jump Duggers. Drew Temperante tells us the band evolved out of Alas, Alas, a great band which rarely plays because its members are scattered around the country. Hymie’s first heard Alas, Alas through our friends in El Le Faunt and his Travelling Circus, and we were lucky enough to once host a memorable Alas, Alas show around the holidays.

Teperante goes on to explain how the band went through nearly a dozen players before settling on its current line-up last fall, in which he’s joined by Tom Phelan on the harmonicas, Aaron ‘Muskrat’ Barck on the parlor guitar, kazoo and all-essential jug, and bassist Liz Draper. Rather than a jug band, the Dumpers consider themselves “a string band on the more blue, jazz and ragtime end of the spectrum,” he explains. “We pay close attention to detail in trying to emulate the feel in all these styles, including the classic jug band sounds, and tha’ts something we strive for as a band, whichever style song we’re playing.”

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“Milwaukee Blues”

There’s an awesome revival of what we called “the good stuff” (in our post about Patty & the Buttons’ XXX hokum album) — folks are discovering songs nearing their centennial and giving them a new spin. The Twin Cities is full of bands playing traditional folk and blues, but enthusiasm for tunes from this era has been a growing nationally for years. The commercially-acclaimed Carolina Chocolate Drops have featured Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues” and our favorite Gillian Welch song (“Wayside/Back in Time” from Soul Journey) borrows lines from “Peaches in the Springtime” — They might not seem like it at first, but the Jumpy Bug Dumpers aren’t so far behind the times.

Of course, one thing which makes Dumpin’ at the Savoy especially fun is the band’s single original, “I Got the Stuff.” Just like Patty and the Buttons and so many other local favorites of ours, the Dumpys fit a new tune into a set of old ones seamlessly. We were genuinely surprised it was a new song!

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“I Got the Stuff”

When we asked if the band would bring in more new songs, Temperante said they’ve been writing new material since recording Dumpin’ at the Savoy, but they’ll continue to focus on the making the original numbers fit in with the old stuff. “Learning the old songs is just so fun for us. We love the music so much we want to learn it and play it and make it exist beyond just the old recordings. It feels different than covering a contemporary song. It doesn’t feel like covering a song at all actually. It feels like the old songs are something we all own now, as a part of American cultural heritage.”

You can hear the Duggy Bump Juggers recreate the past at our fifth annual Record Store Day block party, which will also serve as a CD release celebration for Dumpin’ at the Savoy. Details on our website here and on Facebook (of which the Jumpers do not approve) here.

birth of the cool 1In the 1940s Gil Evans was in his thirties, living behind a Chinese laundry on New York’s 55th Street, and writing arrangements for bandleader Claude Thornhill. Gerry Mulligan described the apartment in 1998: “[It] had all the pipes for the building as well as a sink, a bed, a piano, a hot-plate and no heat.” Hardly famous, the aspiring arranger would soon have an enormous influence on the post-bop development of jazz, simply by encouraging musicians to explore new directions. Working with Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and others, jam sessions at his apartment would inspire some of the most celebrated jazz records of the era.

Evans’ employer, Thornhill, had established a name for himself early in the decade with hits like “Snowfall” and left a lucrative contract with the Paramount Theater to enlist in the Navy during the Second World War. When he returned in 1946 he retained Evans as his arranger adding a number of younger musicians to his orchestra, which included many of its pre-war members like Mulligan. With the talented band, Evans began to explore what would evolve in to cool jazz.

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“La Paloma” by Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra

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“Anthropology” by Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra

Evans’ swinging arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s manic “Anthropology” was recorded by the Thornhill Orchestra in September 1947, and is one of our favorite big band interpretations of bop. The band melds the frantic energy of Gillespie’s changes, with its smoother style. By comparison, Gillespie’s own big band arrangement of the tune he’d written with Charlie Parker is distinctly more angular and rhythmically modern.

Evans added subtle color to the Thronhill Orchestra with a low brass section consisting of two french horns and a tuba, as well as a relaxed atmospheric sound by discouraging vibrato — both ideas being just about the opposite of Stan Kenton’s “progressive jazz,” which produced a dynamic, dense sound. On “Anthropology” the tuba, played by Harold Weskel, plays a more classical role rather than the taking the traditional jazz role of timekeeper given to low brass.

miles moveThe jam sessions in Evans’ apartment because a meeting spot for musicians interested in the new style — one might run into Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker or trumpeter (and Glenn Miller Air Force Band veteran) John Carisi. The group began to put together arrangements for a novel new form, a jazz nonet to sound like the Thornhill Orchestra. The new band led by Davis played its first gigs during the intermissions of Count Basie’s residency at the Royal Roost. While many musicians loved the new style of the nonet (including Basie), the audience’s reaction was cool, and not cool in a good way.

Still, Davis convinced Capitol Records to record twelve tracks by the group over three sessions 1949 and 1950, eight of which were issued on 78rpm singles credited to Miles Davis and his Orchestra. The remaining four made their first appearance several years later on Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis, a 10″ LP in one of Capitol’s first jazz series at 33rpm. In 1957, all twelve tunes was collected as The Birth of the Cool in the LP format which has been in its infancy when the recordings were made. Ironically, the recordings were given this now-famous name by one of Stan Kenton’s arrangers, Pete Rugolo. The opening track was “Move,” the first of the singles released in 1949.

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“Move”

The Birth of the Cool recordings represent the post-bop interest in European classical music, especially the work of the French impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The cool jazz approach to polyphony is unique from New Orleans jazz and the music of the swing era, where horns often “battled” one another. Cool jazz arrangements found the horns working together much as voices do in choral music, creating richly textured, almost narrative landscapes. The Miles Davis-led nonet was carefully established to feature complimentary pairs: the trumpet and alto in the high range, the trombone and french horn in the middle range, and the baritone saxophone and tuba in the low range. Note there is no tenor sax, and that no individual soloist plays a consistent leading role throughout the twelve recordings.

Evans thought Charlie Parker would be the perfect musician to lead the group, but found his interest in his own development as a soloist didn’t fit the concept. Miles Davis had the right attitude towards ensemble collaboration, as well as the unique timbre necessary to compliment Lee Konitz’s alto sax.

During the band’s first residency with the Count Basie Orchestra the Royal Roost, Davis had a sign put on the sidewalk which read “featuring arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis [of the Modern Jazz Quartet]” to emphasize the novel nature of the nonet. Ciresi also contributed, arranging his own composition “Israel.” He also created controversy simply by leading an integrated band.

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“Israel”

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A 1998 deluxe edition remastered the original Capitol LP from 1957 and added surviving recordings from two sets of the Royal Roost stand with Count Basie’s Orchestra. Included in these tracks is a nineteen-second “Birth of the Cool” theme credited to Evans and drawn from his arrangement of “Anthropology.” Davis’ solos stand out on the live recordings, as on this performance of “Godchild” by George Wallington, which the band later recorded at the first of the Capitol sessions.

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“Birth of the Cool Theme”

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“Godchild”

If you dig out your copy of ‘Round About Midnight, the first album by the Miles Davis Quintet after being signed to Columbia Records by producer George Avakian in 1957, you’ll find a description of the ‘Birth of the Cool’ nonet which was just receiving its overdue LP issue by competitor Capitol: “Miles embarked briefly on a medium-sized band venture which was a great success musically but one of the grandest failures the jazz nightclub scene has ever known. It was a frankly experimental group, with some of the most unusual arrangements ever offered by a jazz band up to that time, and its brass section was augmented by a French horn and a tuba. In order to eat, Miles went back to working with Parker and others on 52nd Street.”

Davis was directionless before forming the quintet featured on ‘Round About Midnight and four fantastic albums for Prestige Records (all actually recorded after he signed the Columbia contract). His resentment of the success of cool jazz on the west coast — often featuring former members of his ‘frankly experimental’ nonet — was famous and vitriolic, a recurring theme of his autobiography published in 1989.

Sadly, few of the successful west coast groups really went in the same direction as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ band (a rare exception being Mulligan’s short-lived but wonderful ‘ten-tette’). It was truly one of the most original and singular experiments in jazz and the recording are an absolute joy to listen to today because there’s still nothing else quite like them.

 

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