Down Beat Blindfold Tests
1st Blindfold Test September 21, 1955
by Leonard Feather for Down Beat
For a long time, Miles Davis and I had
been trying to get together for a blindfold session. I
was determined that when the interview did take place,
it would be something out of the ordinary run of
blindfold tests; and that's just the way it turned out.
Every record selected was one that
featured at least two trumpet players. As you will see,
this selection of material did not faze Miles.
Miles was given no information
whatever, either before or during the test, about the
records played for him.
1. Clifford Brown
Falling in Love with Love
Brown, Art Farmer, trumpets; Bengt Hallberg, piano.
That was Arthur Farmer and
Brownie blowing trumpet. The arrangement was pretty
good; I think they played it too fast, though. They
missed the content of the tune.
The piano player gasses me - I don't know his name. I've
been trying to find out his name. He's from Sweden. . .
. I think he made those records with Stan, like "Dear
Old Stockholm." I never heard anybody play in a high
register like that. So clean, and he swings and plays
his own things; but they had the piano up too loud in
the ensembles. If there's anything that drags me, it's
when they put the piano up too loud in the control room.
Aside from the trumpets, I didn't care for the other
soloists at all . . . also I think that Arthur should
improve his tone and that Clifford should swing more.
Four stars, though.
2. Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie
Eldridge, Gillespie, trumpets; Oscar Peterson, piano;
Herb Ellis, guitar; Louie Bellson, drums.
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. I'd
give it three stars on account of Diz's and Roy's horns.
3. Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff
Love Is Just Around the Corner
Clayton, trumpet; Braff, cornet; Benny Morton, trombone;
Steve Jordan, guitar; Aaron Bell, bass.
Sounded like Buck Clayton; the
other sounded like Charlie Shavers. I don't know who was
on trombone; sounded like Jack Teagarden. I don't know
about that rhythm section.
Maybe they want to play like that, huh? But the bass and
guitar - they always seem to clash when they play 1-3-5
chords that don't vary. You know - C, C, G, G, IV, IV,
V, V, like that - seems to be some clash in there. When
they play straight 4/4, I like it. I did think the
guitar was too loud. Two stars.
4. Don Elliott, Rusty Dedrick
Dick Hyman, composer, arranger, piano; Dedrick, first
trumpet solo; Elliott, second trumpet solo; Mundell
Sounds kind of fine. Sounds
like Howard McGhee and Ray Nance, but I don't know who
it is. The arrangement was pretty nice, but not the
interpretation. Piano, whoever he is, is crazy. That's
about all I can say about it. Tow stars. Guitar was
nice. I preferred the last trumpet solo to the earlier
one for that kind of thing.
5. Metronome All-Stars
Sy Oliver, composer and arranger; Tiny Grimes, guitar;
Flip Phillips, Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Buddy
DeFranco, clarinet; Harry Edison, Cootie Williams, Rex
Stewart, trumpets; Teddy Wilson, piano.
Gee, that sure sounded like an
all-star record! Sounded like Teddy Wilson. I think I
heard Harry Edison, Georgie Auld, Cootie Williams, Al
Killian. Guitar player was nice. I don't know who that
was. Sure was a funny arrangement. I don't know who
could have done that arrangement . . . pretty nice
record, though. It kinda swings. I couldn't tell the
clarinet player; I can't tell anybody but Benny Goodman
and Artie Shaw and Buddy DeFranco. It was sort of a
short solo . . . Give it four stars. I liked that.
6. Charlie Barnet
Clark Terry, Jimmy Nottingham, trumpets.
That was Clark Terry and
somebody; I don't know who the other trumpet was.
Sounded a little like Willie Cook. I don't recognize
that band. I know Duke didn't write these arrangements.
. . . For a moment it sounded like Maynard; but I guess
Maynard would be doing more acrobatics. He always does.
I like Terry. . . . I met him in St. Louis when I was
about thirteen and playing in a school band. He was
playing like Buck Clayton then - but fast, just the way
he is now. So I started trying to play like Terry; I
idolized him. He's a very original trumpet player; but I
don't like to hear him strong-arming the horn just to
try to be exciting.
He's much better when he plays soft, when he sounds like
Buck. I like him when he plays down, instead up, always
upward, phrases. . . . I don't like that arrangement,
though. I know it must be Terry's tune, 'cause it sounds
like him. I'd rate it three stars on account of Terry. I
don't know who that other trumpet player would be.
7. Bobby Byrne - Kai Winding
Hot and Cool Blues
(Dixieland vs. Birdland, MGM).
Byrne, Winding, trombones; Eddie Shu, Mike Baker,
clarinets; Howard McGhee, Yank Lawson, trumpets; John
Lewis, piano; Kenny Clarke, drums; Percy Heath, bass.
Jeez! That was Howard McGhee,
and Percy, wasn't it? Kai Winding. Howard played nice. I
liked the contrast idea . . . but I just don't know what
to say about that record; there's too big a switch when
they go from that riff into the sudden Dixieland. . . .
I like good Dixieland, you know. . . . I like Sidney
Bechet. . . . Kai and Howard swing. I'd give the record
a couple stars on account of Kai and Howard.
8. Louis Armstrong
Bobby Hackett, Armstrong, trumpets; Jack Teagarden,
I like Louis! Anything he does
is all right. I don't know about his statements, though.
. . . I could do without them. That's Bobby Hackett,
too; I always did like Bobby Hackett - anything by him.
Jack Teagarden's on trombone. I'd give it five stars.
9. Duke Ellington
Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Willie Cook, Ray
Nance, Cat Anderson, trumpets; Billy Strayhorn,
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. That band kills me. I
think the musicians should get together one certain day
and get down on their knees and thank Duke. Especially
Mingus, who always idolized Duke and wanted to play with
him; and why he didn't mention it in his blindfold test,
I don't know. Yes, everybody should bow to Duke and
Strayhorn - and Charlie Parker and Diz. . . . Cat
Anderson sounds good on that; Ray ALWAYS sounds good.
The beginning soloist wasn't in Duke's band, the band
wouldn't be Duke... They take in all schools of jazz...
Give this all the stars you can.
2nd Blindfold Test Miles Davis
August 7, 1958
by Leonard Feather for Down Beat
The last time Miles Davis took the
blindfold test, in the issue dated September 21, 1955,
the feature bore the headline "Miles and Miles of
Trumpet Players." Each of the nine records played for
Davis featured at least two trumpet soloists.
This time, by way of contrast, I avoided this emphasis:
in fact, a couple of the records played had no trumpet
at all, and others used the horn only as a secondary
However, just for laughs, I retained one record out of
the previous test, the Elliott-Dedrick "Gargantuan
Chant." In 1955 Davis thought it sounded like Howard
McGhee and Ray Nance, said the arrangement was nice but
not the interpretation, considered the piano great and
liked the guitar, and rated the record two stars.
Davis won't know until he reads this that he was played
the same record twice, three years apart. Now, as then,
he was given no information about the records played.
1. John Lewis
Warmeland (Dear Old Stockholm)
I'll give it ten stars. . . .
On top of that, John loves Sweden, you know. I like John
. . . his interpretation of a song is too much. Last
night, Lennie Hayton played something for me from this
same album, and like Lena Horne says, "All I do is sing
the song like the man wrote it." That's how John plays
the piano. I don't go for guitar at all, and John
complemented him there. . . . All the stars are for
2. Tiny Grimes and Coleman Hawkins
A Smooth One
Musa Kaleem, flute.
"A Smooth One." We used to play
that in St. Louis. I don't know who that flute player
was, but if he was up to the Apollo Theater when Puerto
Rico was living, he would have blown the horn on that
whole record. The guitar player was terrible. . . . I
really can't say anything about it. Give it half a star
just because Coleman Hawkins is on it.
3. Buddy Collette
Collette, arranger, tenor saxophone; Gerald Wilson,
trumpet; Red Callender, bass.
You know what that sounds for
me? It sounds like Gigi Gryce arrangements with Oscar
Pettiford, but I don't know - all those white tenor
players sound alike to me . . . unless it's Zoot Sims or
Stan Getz. It must have been Ray Copeland on trumpet. .
. . I don't know for sure, but I don't like that type of
still trumpet playing.
That's a very old kind of modern arrangement - like an
old modern picture with skeletons. I'd rate it two
4. Sonny Rollins with Thelonious Monk
The Way You Look Tonight
Tommy Potter, bass; Arthur Taylor, drums.
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 can't understand a record like
this. I don't know who the drummer and bass player are.
Is that "The Way You Look Tonight"? That's what I used
to play behind Bird, only we used to play it twice as
fast, I'll give this 2 on account of Sonny.
5. Eddie Condon
Eddie and the Milkman
Rex Stewart, cornet.
It's Don Elliott. . . . No, I
don't know who that was on trumpet. In fact, Leonard, I
don't know anything about that at all. It has a nice
beat, but it sounded like Don Elliott to me, imitating
somebody, but I know it wasn't him. I like the piece,
but you know Don is always "da, da, da, da, da." I know
it isn't him because he doesn't have that much feeling.
I'll give this four.
6. Don Elliott and Rusty Dedrick
Mundell Lowe, guitar; Dick Hyman, piano.
I don't know who that was,
Leonard. Sounds good in spots, but I don't like that
kind of trumpet playing. The guitar sounds good in
spots, and the piano player sounds good. It's a good
little number except for that interlude and that tired
way of playing trumpet. I'll give that three stars. Who
were those two trumpet players?
7. John Lewis and Sacha Distel
Dear Old Stockholm
Lewis, piano; Distel, guitar; Barney Wilen, tenor
saxophone; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.
I like the tune. I'll give it
four stars, especially for the rhythm section. I think
it was John Lewis and Kenny Clarke, but I'm not sure.
Whoever they were they were very sympathetic and very
I know the two other fellows - I like them very much. I
think I can speak better about the guitar than the
saxophonist - Sacha Distel is the guitarist, and I
believe if he continues to develop, he will be very
good. . . . I don't think he has too individual a voice
yet. I'll give this four stars for the swinging rhythm
8. Bobby Hackett
Dick Cary, E-flat horn; Ernie Caceres, baritone.
I'll give it five stars. . . .
I like that. The trombone player knocked me out. Who was
that playing baritone? . . . That trombone player gassed
me. The trumpet? It sounded better than Ruby Braff. I
don't understand Ruby at all. In that style I like Red
Allen, Louis, and Bobby Hackett plays nice, but I can't
tell anybody else.
9. Shorty Rogers
I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore
Bill Holman, tenor saxophone.
I know it's a West Coast
record. Right? Shorty playing trumpet and I've never
heard James Clay, but I guess it must be him. I don't
know anything about that. I'll give it two stars.
3rd Blindfold Test Miles Davis
by Leonard Feather for Down Beat
"You have to
think when you play; you have to help each other - you
just can't play for yourself. You've got to play with
whomever you're playing. If I'm playing with Basie, I'm
going to try to help what he's doing - that particular
Miles Davis is unusually selective in his listening
habits. This attitude should not be interpreted as
reflecting any general misanthropy. He was in a
perfectly good mood on the day of the interview
reproduced below; it just happened that the records
selected did not, for the most part, make much of an
Clark Terry, for example, is an old friend and idol of
Davis' from St. Louis, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra
has always been on Davis' preferred list.
Davis does not have an automatic tendency to want to put
everything down, as an inspection of his earlier
Blindfold Tests will confirm (DB, Sept. 21, 1955 and
Aug. 7, 1958).
The Cecil Taylor item was played as an afterthought,
because we were discussing artists who have impressed
critics, and I said I'd like to play an example. Aside
from this, Davis was given no information about the
1. Les McCann-Jazz Crusaders
Wayne Henderson, trombone; Wilton Felder, tenor
saxophone; Joe Sample, piano; McCann, electric piano;
Miles Davis, composer.
What's that supposed to be?
That ain't nothin'. They don't know what to do with it -
you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You
don't just play flat notes. I didn't write it to play
flat notes on - you know, like minor thirds. Either you
play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don't
try to play it like you'd play, ah, Walkin' the Dog. You
know what I mean?
That trombone player - trombone ain't supposed to sound
like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano
player had played it by himself, something would have
Rate it? How can I rate that?
2. Clark Terry
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor)
Terry, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Kenny Burrell,
Clark Terry, right? You know,
I've always liked Clark. But this is a sad record. Why
do they make records like that? With the guitar in the
way, and that sad fucking piano player. He didn't do
nothing for the rhythm section - didn't you hear it get
jumbled up? All they needed was a bass and Terry.
That's what's fucking up music, you know. Record
companies. They make too many sad records, man.
3. Rod Levitt
(from Dynamic Sound Patterns, Riverside)
Levitt, trombone, composer; John Beal, bass.
There was a nice idea, but they
didn't do nothing with it. The bass player was a
What are they trying to do, copy Gil? It doesn't have
the Spanish feeling - doesn't move. They move up in
triads, but there's all those chords missing - and I
never heard any Spanish thing where they had a figure
that went. That's some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve
Allen's TV band. Give it some stars just for the bass
4. Duke Ellington
(from Money Jungle, United Artists).
Ellington, piano; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach,
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. Now, how are you going to give a thing
like that some stars? Record companies should be kicked
in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and
picket the record company.
5. Sonny Rollins
You Are My Lucky Star
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor).
Don Cherry, trumpet; Rollins, tenor saxophone; Henry
Grimes, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
Now, why did they have to end
it like that? Don Cherry I like, and Sonny I like, and
the tune idea is nice. The rhythm is nice. I didn't care
too much for the bass player's solo. Five stars is real
good? It's just good, no more. Give it three.
6. Stan Getz - Joao Gilberto
from Getz-Gilberto, Verve
Getz, tenor saxophone; Gilberto, vocal.
Gilberto and Stan Getz made an
album together? Stan plays good on that. I like
Gilberto; I'm not particularly crazy about just
anybody's bossa nova. I like the samba. And I like Stan,
because he has so much patience, the way he plays those
melodies - other people can't get nothing out of a song,
but he can. Which takes a lot of imagination, that he
has, that so many other people don't have. As for
Gilberto, he could read a newspaper and sound good! I'll
give that one five stars.
7. Eric Dolphy
(from Far Cry, New Jazz).
Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto
saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.
That's got to be Eric Dolphy -
nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see
him I'm going to step on his foot. You print that. I
think he's ridiculous. He's a sad motherfucker.
Down Beat won't print those words. [But I do!]
put he's a sad shhhhhhhhh, that's all! The composition
is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way
so that you can't hear how things are supposed to be
accented. It's a sad record, and it's the record
company's fault again. I didn't like the trumpet
player's tone, and he don't do nothing. The running is
all right if you're going to play that way, like Freddie
Hubbard or Lee Morgan; but you've got to inject
something, and you've got to have the rhythm section
along; you just can't keep on playing all eighth notes.
The piano player's sad. You have to think when you play;
you have to help each other - you just can't play for
yourself. You've got to play with whomever you're
playing. If I'm playing with Basie, I'm going to try to
help what he's doing - that particular feeling.
8. Cecil Taylor
(from Live at the Cafe Montmartre, Fantasy).
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Taylor, piano.
Take it off! That's some sad
shit, man. In the first place, I hear some Charlie
Parker cliches. . . . They don't even fit. Is that what
the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having
coffee. If there ain't nothing to listen to, they might
as well admit it. Just to take something like that and
say it's great, because there ain't nothing to listen
to, that's like going out and getting a prostitute.
This man said he was influenced by Duke
don't give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I
don't care who he's inspired by. That shit ain't
nothing. In the first place he don't have the - you
know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn't have the
touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of
come off. I can tell he's influenced by Duke, but to put
the loud pedal on the piano and make a run is very
old-fashioned to me. And when the alto player sits up
there and plays without no tone. . . . That's the reason
I don't buy any records.
4th Blindfold Test Miles Davis part
by Leonard Feather for Down
Beat, June 13, 1968
Four years ago, the last time Miles
Davis was blindfold-tested, I remarked that he was
"unusually selective in his listening habits." The only
record that drew a favorable reaction was one by Stan
Getz and Joao Gilberto, which brought a five-star rave.
Everything else was put down in varying degrees: Les
McCann, Rod Levitt, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Cecil
Taylor; even his early favorite Clark Terry and his idol
Looking back at earlier interviews with Miles, I am
reminded that he was not always such a tough sale. In
his first test (September 21, 1955), he gave four stars
to Clifford Brown, four to a Metronome All-Stars track,
and five to a record featuring Louis Armstrong, Bobby
Hackett, and Jack Teagarden. Ellington elicited a
twenty-five-star rating - or at least, the wish that
there were such a rating. (He now abstains from using
the rating system.)
Recently, visiting Miles in his Hollywood hotel suite, I
found strewn around the room records or tape cartridges
by James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, the Byrds,
Aretha Franklin, and the Fifth Dimension. Not a single
jazz instrumental. More about this in the next
installment. Meanwhile, here is the first half of a
1. Freddie Hubbard
On the Que-Tee
Hubbard, trumpet, composer.
I don't dig that kind of shit,
man, just a straight thirty-two bars, I mean whatever it
is. The time they were playing was too right, you know.
It's formal, man, and scales and all that. . . . No kind
of sound, straight sound - no imagination. They
shouldn't even put that out. Freddie's a great trumpet
player, but if he had some kind of other direction to go
. . . if you place a guy in a spot where he has to do
something else, other than what he can do, so he can do
that. He's got to have something that challenges his
imagination, far above what he thinks he's going to
play, and what it might lead into, then above that, so
he won't be fighting when things change. That's what I
tell all my musicians; I tell them be ready to play what
you know and play above what you know. Anything might
happen above what you've been used to playing - you're
ready to get into that, and above that, and take that
out. But this sounds like just a lead sheet.
Do you think he's capable of more than that?
if he's directed, because he must have other
imagination, other than this. I wouldn't even put that
shit on a record.
2. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
(Live at the Village Vanguard, Solid State)
Jones, flugelhorn; Garnett Brown, trombone, composer;
Joe Farrell, tenor saxophone; Roland Hanna, piano;
Richard Davis, bass; Lewis, drums.
It's got to be Thad's big band.
. . . I don't understand why guys have to push
themselves and say "wow! wee!" and all that during an
arrangement to make somebody think it's more than what
it is, when it ain't nothing. I like the way Thad
writes, but I also like the way he plays when he writes.
I like when he plays his tunes, without all that stuff -
no solos, you know. It's nothing to play off of.
There was a long tenor solo on that.
but it was nothing; they didn't need that, and the
trombone player should be shot.
Well, who do you think wrote that?
don't really know, but I don't like those kind of
arrangements. You don't write arrangements like that for
white guys . . . [humming]. That ain't nothing.
In the first place, a band with that instrumentation
fucks up an arrangement - the saxophones particularly.
They could play other instruments, but you only get one
sound like that. On that arrangement, the only one that
rates is the piano player. He's something else. And
Richard Davis. The drummer just plays straight, no
shading. I couldn't stand a band like that for myself.
It makes me feel like I'm broke and wearing a slip that
doesn't belong to me, and my hair's combed the wrong
way; it makes me feel funny, even as a listener.
Those guys don't have a musical mind - just playing
what's written. They don't know what the notes mean.
Have you heard that band much in person?
I've heard them, but I don't like them. I like Thad's
arrangements, but I don't like the guys pushing the
arrangements, and shouting, because there's nothing
happening. It would be better if they recorded the
shouts at the end - or at least shout in tune!
3. Archie Shepp
(Archie Shepp in Europe, Delmark, recorded 1963)
Don Cherry, cornet; John Tchicai, alto saxophone; Shepp,
You're putting me on with that!
. . . I know who it is - Ornette, fucking up the trumpet
and the alto. I don't understand that jive at all. The
guy has nice rhythm on saxophone.
People are so gullible - they go for that - they go for
something they don't know about.
Feather: Why do you think they go
Because they feel it's not hip not to go for it. But if
something sounds terrible, man, a person should have
enough respect for his own mind to say it doesn't sound
good. It doesn't to me, and I'm not going to listen to
it. No matter how long you listen to it, it doesn't
sound any good.
Anyone can tell that guy's not a trumpet player - it's
just notes that come out, and every note he plays, he
looks serious about it, and people will go for it -
especially white people. They go for anything. They want
to be hipper than any other race, and they go for
anything ridiculous like that.
Feather: Actually, you got that one
wrong - it wasn't Ornette. It was an Archie Shepp date
with John Tchicai on alto and Don Cherry on trumpet.
Davis: Well, whoever it is, it sounds the
same - Ornette sounds the same way. That's where Archie
and them got that shit from; there sure ain't nothing
4. Fifth Dimension
Prologue, the Magic Garden
(The Magic Garden, Soul City).
Jim Webb, composer, arranger.
That record is planned, you
know. It's like when I do things, it's planned and you
lead into other things. It makes sense. It has different
sounds in the voicing, and they're using the stereo -
they can sure use stereo today, coming out from
different sides and different people making statements
and things like that. That's the way you should record!
Yeah, that's a nice record; it sounds nice. I liked the
composition and the arrangement. It's Jim Webb and the
Fifth Dimension. It could be a little smoother - they
push it too hard for the singers. You don't have to push
that hard. When you push, you get a raggedy edge, and an
edge gives another vibration.
I liked the instrumental introduction too. We did things
like that on Porgy and Bess - just played parts of
I told Diahann Carroll about an idea I had for her to
record, based on things like that. There are certain
tunes - parts of tunes - that you like, and you have to
go through all that other shit to get to that part - but
she can just sing that part. She could sing it in any
kind of musical form - eighteenth century, today's beat,
and she can say the statement over and make the
background change the mood and change the time. They
could also use her as an instrument; instead of the
strings under her, she could be in the strings, and have
her coming out from each side of the stereo. She told me
to set it up for her, and I was trying to do it for her.
Jimmy Webb would be great for her. I think Wayne could
do it for her, too; but I told her to get a guy like Mel
to put the story together.
Feather: Which Mel?
Tormé. And you could have the music in between, to
change the mood to whatever mood she wanted to sing in.
She was interested and insisted that I produce it, but I
don't want to get involved in that end of it.
4th Blindfold Test Miles Davis part
by Leonard Feather for Down
Beat, June 27, 1968
As I pointed out in the first part of
this test [June 13, 1968], Miles Davis's hotel room was
cluttered with pop vocal records. Why? There are several
explanations, but the simplest and most logical, it
seems to me, is that when you have reached the aesthetic
mountaintop, there is no place to look but down.
Instead of judging other artists in terms of their own
ideas and ideals, Miles looks for every other trumpet
player, every other combo leader, to achieve what he has
Clearly this must lead to disappointment, for not every
pianist today can be a Herbie Hancock, not every drummer
a Tony Williams, or every saxophonist-composer a Wayne
Shorter. Finding nothing that measures up to the
standards he has set and met, Miles turns to other
idioms. He relies on pop music for entertainment and
classical music for serious listening.
There is nothing unprecedented about this. Walking into
Charlie Parker's apartment, you were more likely to find
him listening to Bartok than to some contemporary
saxophonist. Similarly, there was nothing Art Tatum
could learn from other pianists.
The taped interview was slightly censored; otherwise it
represents Davis's precise comments on the records,
about which he was given no information.
1. The Electric Flag
(A Long Time Comin', Columbia)
Barry Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield, composers.
Who was that? Leave that record
here, it's a nice record. I like guys that get into what
they're supposed to be singing, and the guys that play
behind it really get into what they're doing - when the
mood changes they go right in it. It makes the record
smooth; makes it mean something.
It's a pleasure to get a record like that, because you
know they're serious no matter what they do. . . . I
liked the rhythm on that. I mean, if you're going to do
something like that, man, you've got to do it. You know
what I mean? If you're going to play like that - good -
but don't jive around.
I like to cop myself - I don't like to miss. I like to
get into the meat of things, and sometimes it don't
happen and sometimes it does; when it does, it feels
great, and it makes up for the times when it doesn't.
But if you know it's going to happen one night, it keeps
2. Sun Ra Brainville
(Sun Song, Delmark, recorded in 1956)
Dave Young, trumpet; Sun Ra, composer.
That's gotta come from Europe.
We wouldn't play no shit like that. It's so sad. It
sounds funny to me. Sounds like a 1935 arrangement by
Raymond Scott. They must be joking - the Florida A. & M.
band sounds better than that. They should record them,
rather than that shit. They've got more spirit than
that. That ain't nothing.
Why put that on record? What does that do? You mean
there's somebody around here that feels like that? Even
the white people don't feel that sad.
Feather: Do you think that's a
trumpet player didn't sound white. . . . I don't know,
man. You know, there's a little thing that trumpet
players play to make a jazz sound, that if you don't
have your own sound, you can hear an adopted jazz sound,
which is a drag, especially in the mute. I mean you can
tell when a guy's got his own thing.
People should have good friends to tell them. "Man, that
ain't it, so don't play trumpet." you know what I mean?
Or, "Don't play drums, 'cause you don't have anything."
I'd rather have that said to me than to go on playing
trumpet when it doesn't sound like I want it to sound. I
know he doesn't want it to sound like that, so he should
work at it, or play another instrument - a lower
When an arrangement's tight like that, you have to play
every chord, because the background parts when they
record, like they play them single, instead of making it
smooth - and it's hard to play like that. You have to
play each chord, then play the other chords or you never
connect anything, and in between it's just blank.
3. Don Ellis
(Electric Bath, Columbia)
Ellis, trumpet; Hank Levy, composer.
Who's that supposed to be? It's
too straight, man. You know, You'd be surprised, this
trumpet player probably can play, he sounds all right,
but with a strong rhythm like that - if you have a
straight rhythm like that, the band has to play against
the rhythm, because the rhythm is never gonna change,
and that's very hard to do. The best way to do that is
for the rhythm to play real soft.
You don't need a trumpet in something like that. It was
just one of those major, minor, major. . . .
It's a kind of mood tune. I would play it slower and
have the band way down, so they could have got some kind
of feeling into it. You could tell they don't feel like
playing this. Somebody was impressed with 5/4 time, but
what difference does that make? What's so great about a
whole number in 5/4? In our group we change the beat
around and do all kind of things with time, but not just
to say, "Look at me, I'm playing 5/4!" There's nothing
there, but I guess the critics will have something to
Feather: It was Don Ellis. Have you
ever heard him?
Davis: Yeah, I heard
him. He's no soloist. I mean, he's a nice guy and all
that, but to me he's just another white trumpet player.
He can't play in a chord, can't play with any feeling;
that's the reason I guess they use all that time shit.
Anybody can make a record and try to do something new to
sell; but to me a record is more than something new, and
I don't care how much it sells. You have to capture some
feeling - you can't just play like a fucking machine.
You can't even turn on with any kind of dope and get any
feeling to play if you don't have it in your heart. No
matter what you do, it won't make you play any better.
You are what you are, no matter what you do. I can be
loud and no good, soft and no good, in 7/8 and no good.
You can be black and no good, white and no good. . . . A
guy like Bobby Hackett plays what he plays with feeling,
and you can put him into any kind of thing and he'll do
4. Al Hirt
Goin' to Chicago Blues
(Live at Carnegie Hall, RCA).
It's Al Hirt. I think he's a
very good trumpet player. For anyone that feels that
way, I guess he hits them. He's a good trumpet player,
but that's some corny-ass shit he plays here.
They want him to be fat and white and funny and
talented, but he ain't. They want something that looks
good on television; fat, with a beard, and jovial and
jolly. He's like a white Uncle Tom. And he's a nice guy;
it's a drag. You know, white folks made Negroes tom a
long time ago by giving them money. To do this in front
of some white people, to play you to have that kind of
personality, like him, it's tomming. I can't see why a
guy like Al Hirt . . . I guess if he was thin he
wouldn't do it.
Harry James is a good trumpet player, and he never did
tom or no shit like that. Harry had some feeling.
For a guy to shake his unattractive body and think
somebody thinks it's funny - it ain't funny, it's
disgusting. He can't entertain me like that; he can
entertain some corny ofays, but all the colored folks I
know would say, "Oh, fuck! I don't want to hear that!