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Birth Of The Cool

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Birth Of The Cool
Miles Davis

1. MOVE (2:32)
(Denzil Best)

2. JERU (3:10)
(Gerry Mulligan)

3. MOONDREAMS (3:17)
(Chummy MacGregor-Johnny Mercer)

(Gerry Mulligan)

5. BUDO (2:32)
(Bud Powell-Miles Davis)

6. DECEPTION (2:45)
(Miles Davis)

7. GODCHILD (3:07)
(George Wallington)

8. BOPLIClTY (2:59)
(Cleo Henry)

9. ROCKER (3:03)
(Gerry Mulligan)

10. ISRAEL (2: 15)
(Johnny Carisi)

11. ROUGE (3:13)
(John Lewis)

12. DARN THAT DREAM (3:26)
(Delange-Van Heusen)

MOVE, JERU, BUDO, GODCHILD: recorded January 21, 1949, in New York City.

MILES DAVIS, leader and trumpet; KAI WINDING, trombone; JUNIOR COLLINS, French horn; JOHN BARBER, tuba; LEE KONITZ, alto sax; GERRY MULLIGAN, baritone sax; AL HAIG, piano; JOE SHULMAN, bass; MAX ROACH, drums.

VENUS DE MILO, BOPLICITY, ISRAEL, ROUGE: recorded April 22, 1949, in New York City.

MILES DAVIS, leader and trumpet; J.J. JOHNSON, trombone; SANDY SIEGELSTEIN, French horn; JOHN BARBER, tuba; LEE KONITZ, alto sax; GERRY MULLIGAN, baritone sax; JOHN LEWIS, piano; NELSON BOYD, bass; KENNY CLARKE, drums.

MOON DREAMS, DECEPTION, ROCKER, DARN THAT DREAM*: recorded March 9, 1950, in New York City.

MILES DAVIS, leader and trumpet; J.J. JOHNSON, trombone; GUNTHER SCHULLER, French horn; JOHN BARBER, tuba; LEE KONITZ, alto sax; GERRY MULLIGAN, baritone sax; AL McKIBBON, bass; MAX ROACH, drums, * add KENNY HAGOOD (vocal)

Reissue Art and Production - Franko Caligiuri/Inkwell Inc.

In jazz, as in other musics, some things are of their time, some ahead of it, while others simply know no time at all. The music produced by the Miles Davis Nonet, whose entire recorded output is contained in this album, is all of these and more. Not only was it the product of a specific time and place - and the special grouping of musicians involved in its creation - but it was demonstrably ahead of its time, having influenced a number of jazz developments that followed and took their lead from it. Then too, as listening will make immediately apparent, it's timeless as well, as most perfect things are.

Many things flowed from this seminal source - subsequent developments in Davis' own music and in those of various of its participants, notably Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis; much small group jazz of the '50s and '60s which drew upon various of its elements as well as its underlying philosophy; the whole West Coast jazz movement, and so on. All of which is even more remarkable when one considers how little the Nonet recorded or, more important, performed in public. (The latter generally is the best indication of how musical advances are perceived and received by the listening public.)

Still, while jazz audiences of the late 1940s may have been indifferent to the music of the Nonet, at least to the extent of supporting its New York club dates, jazz players of the time evinced no such resistance but, rather, were quick to recognize the beauty and creative audacity of its music, the quietly revolutionary character of its approach to the small jazz ensemble, and the potential for further development implicit in it. Musicians in fact were the first to respond to what was signaled in the Nonet's recordings, and they did so almost immediately. Within two years of the group's final recording session Gerry Mulligan had incorporated various of the Nonet's musical precepts in the formation of his celebrated pianoless quartet with Chet Baker and was enjoying great success. Trumpeter-arranger Shorty Rogers assimilated its lessons, first into the arrangements he was doing for the Stan Kenton Orchestra and, from 1951 on, even more fully for his small group The Giants from which so much that was viable in the then emerging West Coast jazz idiom took its lead. John Lewis, another Nonet member, had formed and set the musical direction for the Modern Jazz Quartet based largely on his experiences with the Davis group.

Throughout jazz, in fact, the most forward-looking younger musicians studied the Nonet's recordings with the closest interest and translated whatever they could to their own music. Nor did its influence end with these and like activities of the '50s, but in the four decades that have elapsed since the Nonet made it’s first recordings has colored the very fabric of small group and, through the further collaborations of Davis and Evans which grew from their work for the Nonet, orchestral jazz as well. Hindsight has shown, and only too clearly, that these are among the landmark recordings of modern jazz, the implications of which continue to resonate in ways large and small through the music even today.

While it would be stretching the truth to say that the Davis Nonet came about through happenstance, there was a certain amount of the fortuitous to it. And like many things labeled revolutionary after the fact, the Nonet's music actually evolved gradually, through a steady process of development and experimentation in which its approach was defined, refined and given final shape.

Its beginnings can be traced to the small group of musicians who from mid-1947 on had taken to gathering at the New York apartment of veteran arranger Gil Evans who they greatly admired for the series of brilliant, venturesome orchestrations of bop masterworks - Anthropology, Thrivin' On A Riff, etc. - he had been devising for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Almost a generation older than those for whom he acted as musical mentor, sage and all-around spiritual advisor, Evans had been serving as something of a conduit for many of the advanced musical theories then charging jazz with such excitement and vitality when Miles Davis entered the picture and brought matters to a head.

At the time a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet, Davis was directly involved in shaping some of the concepts Evans and his circle were investigating in their periodic sessions. While the experience was of inestimable value to the trumpeter's musical development, the challenges posed by performing nightly alongside such a brilliant, prodigiously inventive soloist as Parker ultimately proved somewhat daunting, perhaps even frustrating to the younger musician. Then too, Davis was chafing at the relatively simple arrangements and playing formats used in most small bop groups such as Parker's which struck the trumpeter as being limited when contrasted with the potentialities suggested by the music itself. He had been drawn to Evans' unorthodox writing for the Thornhill band as a possible alternative to conventional ensemble arrangements.

The two met when Evans approached Davis with a request to allow him to arrange the latter's Donna Lee for Thornhill. Davis asked in return that he be permitted to study Evans' charts and thus was brought into the arranger's circle. This took place towards the end of 1947, as the Thornhill band recorded Donna Lee in November of that year. It was not long before the trumpeter, as Gerry Mulligan recalled, "took the initiative, and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players, and generally cracked the whip." Under Davis' catalyzing influence the informal discussions and ad hoc sessions soon developed into something quite different, and ideas that until then had been little more than vague theoretical possibilities soon were being tested and taking shape in the crucible of regular rehearsals.

In its music the Nonet sought to realize a number of interlocking goals. Foremost of these was the development of an approach to ensemble writing that would retain the freshness and immediacy of improvised music and in which would be fused elements from bop, and Parker's music in particular, with a number of jazz practices such as a light, vibratoless tonality and a more subtle approach to rhythm that the boppers largely had eschewed, as well as an attempt at achieving the broadened coloristic and textural palette of the large orchestra while using a relatively small number of instruments. A corollary goal was the production of a balanced, more seamless integration between the music's written and improvised elements than was characteristic of bop, the arrangement in effect leading and anchoring the soloist who was, in turn, expected to return his improvisation and resolve it in reference to the written segment that followed.

Rehearsals took place through much of the ensuing year during which it experimented with varying instrumental combinations from the pool of players available, the core group from Evans' circle occasionally supplemented by friends and associates. A number were drawn from the ranks of the Thornhill orchestra, at least when it wasn't touring - alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, clarinetist Danny Polo, French horn player Sandy Siegelstein, bassist Joe Shulman, tuba player Bill Barber, drummer Billy Exiner and even arranger George Russell - while other players came from several of the bop groups then active in the city - trombonist J.J. Johnson, pianists Lewis and Al Haig, bassists Nelson Boyd and Al McKibbon, and drummers Max Roach and Kenny Clarke. As a result of these experiments it was determined that a basic instrumentation of six horns and three rhythm - trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, alto and baritone saxophones, piano, bass and drums - provided the fullest potentials for expressing the range of tonal colors desired. And it was for this grouping that arrangements soon were being devised.

In September of 1948 Monte Kay secured the group its first playing engagement, a two-week stand at The Royal Roost where it alternated with the Count Basie Orchestra. Personnel for this date comprised Davis; trombonists Ted Kelly or Mike Zwerin; Junior Collins, French horn; Barber; Konitz; Mulligan; Lewis; McKibbon; Roach and vocalist Kenny Hagood. Reaction to its music was at best mixed. While a number of critics and musicians, Basie included, reacted with great enthusiasm, club patrons largely were indifferent to the Nonet's experiments. The group did not perform in public again until the following year when it played a brief engagement at The Clique Club.

Fortunately for us, however, Davis had managed to secure a contract with Capitol Records for which has was engaged to record twelve sides. This in itself was something of a small miracle for as it turns out there was no great enthusiasm for the Nonet's music among Capitol's recording executives at the time. The firm's three chief staff producers, Lee Gillette, Voyle Gilmore and Dave Dexter, the latter an avowed jazz afficianado, not only failed to recognize its innovative character but were wholly indifferent to it, not surprising given their predilection for big bands, Swing and popular jazz-inflected vocalists such as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat Cole. None was interested or actively involved in modern jazz developments such as bop, its offshoots or later developments-at least to the extent of recording them.

What is surprising is that the Nonet was recorded at all. Credit for this falls to Walter Rivers, a relative of songwriter and Capitol Records co-founder Johnny Mercer who was briefly employed by the label during the late 1940s and early' 50s. It was Rivers who, based in Capitol's New York offices, arranged for and supervised the Nonet's recordings, apparently the only recordings he produced while with the label. And for this we're in his debt.

Several years after they had been released as singles, eight of the Nonet's recordings were collected onto a 10" LP (H-459) as part of Capitol's "Classics In Jazz" album series. Three years later, in February of 1957, with the addition of the tracks Move, Budo and Boplicity omitted from the earlier album, all 11 of the Nonet's instrumental performances were released on a 12" LP (T-762) under the title by which they've been known ever since - The Birth of The Cool. The title apparently was coined by Pete Rugolo, the arranger-conductor then serving as a Capitol A&R executive who was responsible for supervising the album's compilation.

Let's reaffirm something here: catchy album title notwithstanding, the music of the Miles Davis Nonet was, is anything but cool. Controlled, lucid, tightly focused, succinct - yes. It's all these and more, but cool in the sense of being dispassionate or otherwise lacking in the fundamental emotional character one always associates with the best jazz, no! As anyone familiar with the Nonet's music can attest, it possesses an abundance of focused emotional power all the more effective for being so low-keyed, so apparently subdued in character.

This resulted directly from Davis' and Evans' desire not only for a lighter textured and rhythmically subtle music but for one possessing a total coherence of design among all its elements - presentation of its thematic materials and development of their implications through the ordered succession of written and improvised parts in interestingly nuanced arrangements devised by their writers for a specific grouping of players whose capabilities and special qualities were well known to them. In this they succeeded brilliantly. Among these 12 performances is to be found some of the most arresting, resourceful, richly textured and abidingly creative small - ensemble writing in all of jazz history as well as an abundance of powerful, focused, assured soloing, much of it of classic stature.

Chief of the soloists was leader Davis himself who, in Martin Williams' estimation of these recordings, "was finding a superb and individual solo voice, partly by acknowledging his technical limitations and working within them, and also through an ability to imply bop rhythms in his time without stating them directly; Lee Konitz was breaking away from the rigid lessons of his teacher, (Lennie) Tristano; and J.J. Johnson was continuing to show himself an exceptional and inventive instrumentalist." He concluded, "by themselves, the solos on these recordings might make them classics."

Still, excellence of the solos notwithstanding, what most distinguishes the work of the Nonet is the meaningful form achieved in its music, the result of the thoughtful, disciplined integration of the written and the improvised, the prearranged and the spontaneous. The balance struck and maintained between these sometimes opposing forces, and the poised, artful ways in which it was brought about is tribute to the sensitivity of the music's arrangers. Five of those involved with the Nonet are represented in the recordings made for Capitol. With four of the total 12, pride of place falls to Gerry Mulligan who was responsible for Godchild, a George Wallington composition, the originals Venus De Milo and Rocker, and the ballad Darn That Dream, a feature for vocalist Kenny Hagood. Pianist John Lewis arranged Move, a piece written by drummer Denzil Best when he was a member of the George Shearing Quintet, Davis' and Bud Powell's Budo (also recorded by Powell as Hallucinations), and the original Rouge. Johnny Carisi orchestrated his own original blues Israel, as did Davis on his Deception. Gil Evans is responsible for Boplicity, a piece he and Davis had composed (and for which Evans had taken the name of the trumpeter's mother, Cleo Henry, as a writing pseudonym) and the languid Moon Dreams.

There can be little doubt that the Miles Davis Nonet, through the example of its disciplined, lucid, quietly audacious music, introduced to jazz a refreshing new musical sensibility which helped set it on a new course of development. The implications of the approach signaled in its recordings have carried jazz through several decades of sustained growth and creative discovery, influenced countless groups, musicians and arrangers and altered the very fabric of the music itself. Nor can it be assumed that even after 40 years its influence is ended or its potentialities for further elaboration exhausted. Every generation of musicians since its time has been stimulated, enriched by and found ample food for thought in its music, nor is this likely to change much in coming years. This music, which breathes the spirit and dedication of all involved in its creation, has touched and transfigured all who have heard it and will continue to do so long into the future.

- Pete Welding


I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be part of Miles' band. I'd been on the road a couple of years with various bands by that time, but with Gil's encouragement I decided to stay in New York. With all the great bands that were around then, big and little, it was an exciting time musically. And everybody seemed to gravitate to Gil's place. Everybody influenced everybody and Bird was no. 1 influence on us all.

Gil lived in a room in a basement on 55th Street, near 5th Avenue. Actually it was behind a Chinese laundry and had all the pipes for the building as well as a sink, a bed, a piano, a hot-plate, and no heat. Some of the more-or-less regulars at Gil's I remember:

John Carisi, almost as hot-headed in an argument as I am. Anyone who writes a piece like "Israel" can't be all bad, right?

John Lewis, our resident classicist.

George Russell, our resident innovator. (Wrote a couple of fine, interesting charts for Claude Thornhill's band that I suppose there's no trace of now.)

John Benson Brooks, our dreamer of impossible dreams.

Dave Lambert, our itinerant practical yankee.

Billy Exiner, drummer with Thornhill and our home philosopher, with his beautiful attitude toward life and music.

Joe Shulman, bassist with Thornhill; he believed Count Basie had the only rhythm section.

Barry Galbraith, the Freddy Greene of the Thornhill rhythm section and an altogether beautiful musician.

Specs Goldberg, blithe spirit. A fantastic intuitive musician who had a tough time trying to channel his free-wheeling imagination.

Sylvia Goldberg (no relation), piano student and whirlwind.

Blossom Dearie, blossom is blossom.

And Miles, the bandleader. He took the initiative and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players, and generally cracked the whip.

Max Roach, genius. I can't say enough about his playing with the band. His melodic approach to my charts was a revelation to me. He was fantastic and for me the perfect drummer for the band. (No small statement in view of the fact that Miles brought in Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke on the later dates.)

Lee Konitz, genius. Lee had joined Claude's band in Chicago and knocked us all out (including Bird) with his originality.

For the rest of the band, J.J. and Kai alternated on trombone. It wasn't too easy to find French horn players who were trying to play jazz phraseology but among those at our rehearsals were Sandy Siegelstein (from Thornhill), Junior Collins (who could play some good blues) and probably Jim Buffington. And Bill Barber on tuba. He used to transcribe Lester Young tenor choruses and play them on tuba. What a great player. As I recall, Gil and I also wanted Danny Polo on clarinet but he was out with Claude's band all the time and there was nobody to take his place. Not long before Danny died we had some jam sessions at which he played the best modern clarinet jazz I've ever heard.

As I said at the beginning, I consider myself fortunate to be there and I thank whatever lucky stars responsible for placing me there. There's a kind of perfection about those recordings and I'm pleased that all the material is finally being released on one set. And without electronic “stereo." To paraphrase an American innovator, Gertrude Stein: a band is a band is a great band.

May 1971

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