Miles Davis: And The Modern Jazz Giants

One of the giants assembled for this 1954 session - here back on vinyl - was Thelonious Monk, whom Davis couldn't stand as an accompanist


Miles Davis began re-establishing himself on the New York scene in 1954 after a brief hiatus due to personal problems. Early in April he recorded with Dave Schildkraut on a session that introduced Solar to the repertoire. Later that month, with JJ Johnson and Lucky Thompson, he gave us the seminal Walkin’.

In June the same year, on a date with Sonny Rollins, he debuted three of the tenor-man’s classic originals – Airegin, Oleo and Doxy. He completed the year on Christmas Eve with The Modern Jazz Giants on a date that was not without problems.

Bob Weinstock wanted to feature three members of the MJQ – Milt Jackson, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke – with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. The pianist had his own difficulties at the time because he had lost his cabaret card which prevented him from working in New York clubs.

Ian Carr, in his definitive Miles biography, points out that Monk had given harmony lessons to the trumpeter in the mid 40s but that said, Miles complained in the studio about Monk’s accompaniment. Years later he explained to Nat Hentoff: “I love the way Monk plays and writes but I can’t stand him behind me. He doesn’t give you any support.” Bemsha Swing is the only title where Monk accompanies the trumpet solos.

On the first take of Bags’ Groove the leader stretches out inventively for nine choruses, which is one of his longest solos from the period. With just Percy Heath’s impeccable bass to guide the way, the beauty of Miles’s horn is shown in sharp relief. Jackson then digs in for an earthy, down-home exposition of the blues.

Miles gives a sentimental reading to the Man I Love, leading to Jackson doubling the tempo, really building up a head of steam. Monk is at his most idiosyncratic here, humorously playing with the time and the theme throughout his chorus.

Bags’ Groove (take 1); Bag’s Groove (take 2); Bemsha Swing; The Man I Love (take 1); The Man I Love (take 2); Swing Spring (57.00)
Davis (t); Milt Jackson (vib); Thelonious Monk (p); Percy Heath (b); Kenny Clarke (d). New Jersey, 24 December 1954.
Jazz Wax Records JWR 4602