Something for Thursday (posted on Friday because of WRITING WRITING WRITING edition)

Despite my best efforts in high school and college–and I did make a lot of efforts–I never did become a “jazzman,” as the term was back then. (I have no idea if the jazz world has adopted a more inclusive expression or not.) I played in the jazz bands, and occasionally dabbled with some friends at small-group work, but eventually I had to admit that the best I could ever hope to be was a decent “session musician”, a decent bandmate but not really a soloist or creator. I admire jazz and even love a lot of it, but it’s not in my blood the way music needs to be if it’s going to be your music.

But I can, and did, and still do, admire the hell out of Miles Davis.

I first became aware of Davis in the way that a lot of young people become aware of major musicians, by wanting to know about famous musicians who play the same instrument as themselves. Young clarinetists likely know about Benny Goodman and Richard Stoltzman, and young flautists about Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway. As a trumpeter I certainly knew about Wynton Marsalis, Maurice Andre, Adolph Herseth, and Miles Davis. Funny thing about Davis, though: the more I listened to him (and though his music has fallen off my radar the last bunch of years, I listened to him a lot back then), the less I heard him through the aural prism of his trumpet playing and the more I heard him as a musician. Again, I think that any young musician goes through such a thing, if they’re serious about the whole affair of music.

Miles Davis’s music was not the kind of flashy, loud, fast, “big band” kind of jazz. He almost seemed more of a jazz chamber musician, a creator of introspective music that combined many influences and always seemed to be teeming with bright intellectual life. Davis’s most famous album is almost certainly Kind of Blue, for many reasons, but I feature here not that work but another of his greats, Sketches of Spain. For this album Davis used several classical works by Spanish composers as a starting point, including Rodrigo’s famous (perhaps the most famous classical work by a Spanish composer) Concierto de Aranjuez. The album is an early blend of jazz and world music, and it is informed throughout by Davis’s often-haunting trumpet playing.

Here is Sketches of Spain, by Miles Davis.

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