Miles spent a considerable time putting together tapes of music for friends and relatives usually with accompanying notes. The following is an extract from a letter written to his brother-in law, Keith, in Canada, who had expressed an interest in learning more about Jazz.
At long last I have got round to the much promised tape of jazz, and having done one and enjoyed doing it (great excuse to get out records and play them) I hope to do another one soon. My only criterion was to dig up stuff which might intrigue you and might get you to write and say, Hey, I’d like to hear more of him. Some of the stuff you probably won’t like, which is fair enough; if you liked it all, I’d be amazed, I don’t like it all myself every time. Herewith a tune by tune sketchy run down…
Winston Mankunk - Yho! Yho! This is off a South African record that they gave us out in South Africa. Nice sort of jumpy jazz, with Winston Mankunku, of whom I have never heard, doing a nice job on tenor saxaphone.
Duke Ellington - John Hardy’s Wife. I put this on because I remembered that it was on one of the Jim Galloway records, and I think this recording, although done way back in 1941, has bags more life than Galloway’s version. Well, Duke did write it after all, and knew how to play it. But for some reason 1941 sounds a lot less tame than the modern version.
Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen - Marie. Pedersen is Danish and an amazing bass player – he is Oscar Peterson’s favourite bass player, which isn’t bad. On this record he plays just with a Belgian guitarist called Philip Catherine, and I really like the sound they make together. It’s extraordinary the way Pedersen carries the tune, like a very high cello, to begin with, and then takes the first solo like a horn. Can’t take too much of this sort of thing, but he opts out before he gets boring and then Catherine does a really nice little solo…
Eddie Lockjaw Davies, Junior Mance, Johnny Griffin - Light and Lovely. Davies and Griffin are two of my favourite tenor players. They used to have a quintet in the early 60s when this was recorded, and stand up and blow at each other, separated just by the pianist, in this case Junior Mance, who was the funky pianist of the hour. It was good honest straightahead jazz, but if you listen hard it’s full of subtleties. For instance, Griffin, who solos after the piano solo, can play faster with more notes than almost anyone in jazz, but here he starts out his solo very simply and keeps it that way much longer than you’d expect.
George Russell - Kentucky Oysters. Not sure why I put this on. George Russell, who plays piano and leads on this 1960 record, is actually a good composer and not particularly a good pianist, but I really quite liked this sextet because it seemed pretty advanced at the time. Trombone solo is worth waiting for, because it is in 2/4 on top of the group’s 3/4, which is hard to play and interesting to hear.
James Booker - Life. A New Orleans pianist who in his prime (1970s/1980s) was the torch bearer for New Orleans piano – very rhythmic and infectious and a rotten singer. He got into drugs in a bad way, and when Caroline and I were in New Orleans had just been carted off to hospital after being dramatically sick over the keyboard at a big concert. He died a bit later.
Sandy Brown - Legal Pets. Sandy Brown was a Scots clarinettist I knew slightly and loved a lot. He was an acoustic architect who built many a studio. He used to specify in the contract that he should get a free recording session. This was recorded at one.
Loose Tubes… Yellow Hill. Loose Tubes are a great young big band which formed about five years ago in Britain out of a lot of young guys who just wanted to write and play and instead of folding as most such bands do, they found they were too talented and keen for it to happen, and became a success. Their writing is tremendously precise but they play it with great spirit, and they don’t sound like just another swinging and boring big band. This one is actually probably much more precise than they sound now; they’ve made another LP recently which I haven’t got into.
Gerry Mulligan… Blues Going Up. Nobody says much about Gerry Mulligan these days. Isn’t life unfair? But in the 1950s and 1960s he was a great figure. He played baritone fast and tunefully, which is hard enough by itself, and also led a very clean nice quartet which young white college kids thought was the hippest thing ever. His first partner, trumpeter Chet Baker, not only had a hip name (Chet Baker) but looked like James Dean and took drugs like Charlie Parker and played like a white Miles Davis. Unfortunately, he isn’t on this record, but the trumpeter who is, Jon Eardley, is just as good. The reason I put this track on, from a mid 1950s concert, is that it is truly and wonderfully spontaneous. You can hear Mulligan say, at the start of the track, “Maybe I’ll play some blues while you get seated”, and the quartet then plays a totally improvised 12 bar blues in which nothing is planned at all. I still find it pleasing stuff.
Zbigniew Namyslowski… Konitkotko. Namyslowski was (is) a Polish alto player who suddenly appeared for a tour in Britain about 1965 with a quartet. I though he was fucking marvellous. He made this record in London for Decca, and when it was put in the shops I was the only person who bought a copy. A lot of the tunes had Polish folk overtones and though the other guys in the quartet were ordinary enough (but OK), he had a wild keening feel in his sound, I thought, which made me feel that this was how Polish blues ought to sound. This slow tune still gets to me, all the space in it being vey effective… He is still playing. Maybe he is even greater now, but I haven’t heard him for years.
Gordon Beck - Lady V. A British pianist, very fast and facile and modernish, who never gets his due praise. This was off a solo LP. And I sorta liked the bluesy feel of this track, though it’s probably very conventional. But I still like it.
Trio Con Tromba - Et Maitenant, and Bilingual. Yes, two tunes by this group! It’s a Swedish trio of Bengt Hallberg (piano), Jan Allan (trumpet) and George Riedel (bass). No drums, notice. Bengt Hallberg is one of my all-time heroes. In the 1950s I started collecting his cool, elegant, poised piano playing on record, and have never grown out of it. This is the trio which came to London for one date two years ago, and the only time I have ever seen him in the flesh. From a distance, the group sounds lightweight, but if you listen hard the music is tough all right
Louis Armstrong - A Song Is Born. A real oddity, this. A mid 1940s recording of one of those strange all-star groups they used to get together, with Benny Goodman, Louis, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Willie Smith on alto, Teddy Wilson on piano, Lionel Hampton on vibes and God knows who else. Reason you might like it, apart from its qualities as a bit of hard swing and genuine period stuff, is that it was taken from a rehearsal recording, and there is a point near the end when musicians don’t come in for their little bits, and the band starts laughing and breaking up. They carry on manfully to the end, mostly because Louis keeps them going, but after they stop, there is a wonderful burst of laughter from all and sundry.
29th St Saxophone Quartet - Love For Sale. Heard this group in the Bath Guildhall once. Sensational. Four saxes and nothing else… wonderful… At the end they paraded round the hall, playing in and out the aisles and we all clapped and laughed and danced, and it was most un-British.
Ray Bryant - Monkey Business. Yes, the very same man we heard at the Café des Copains. This is the bluesy mood I remembered him best for, which he didn’t show us much of that evening. But this is really quite nice stuff. Recorded about 1959. About 200 years ago.
Bengt Hallberg and Ove Lind… Annie Laurie and Younger Than Springtime. My God, another two tracks from that Swedish pianist, this time in duets with a really nice clarinettist called Ove Lind. Very sweet, very delicate, but quite swinging. And something fairly soft and gentle to end with.
I wrote the foregoing half-asleep. Hope you enjoy the tape. Anything you like on it I have more of. And tell me what you don’t like, too.