Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Miles Davis Blindfold Tests

I love blindfold tests, especially when the subjects are on their game and show off how good their ears and knowledge of jazz are.  “A Blog Supreme” kindly provided links for the blindfold tests of Miles Davis for 1955, 1958, 1964, and 1968.  Miles says some pretty wild stuff, but he also shows what an amazing musical mind and ears he had.  Some passages I especially liked:  

1954: "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.” 

Miles can criticize one of each of the four bars Dizzy and Roy Eldridge played (and Oscar Peterson)?  What an ear!  Also, a few times throughout the blindfold tests Miles notes how things don’t work in a tune or don’t fit together properly; he was apparently very sensitive to how things fit together.
Talking about  a performance of “Stormy Weather” by the Duke Ellington Band: “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.”  And he’s right, it was Strayhorn’s arrangement.  Amazing to think that he could tell who the arranger was by how “warm” the arrangement sounds.
In the 1958 test, talking about a record by Sonny Rollins with Thelonious Monk:  “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’m as much of a Monk admirer as anybody, so I think it’s a hoot to hear Miles criticizing him for not supporting rhythm sections. 

In the 1964 test, Miles seemed in a particularly bad mood.  Here’s what he says about a recording with Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, and Max Roach (!), again getting to the idea of how things fit together: “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.”  And the things he has to say about Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor--ouch. 
Check out the full text of the tests; they not too long and they’re lots of fun.   

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