NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 39

“What is there to say about the instrument? It’s my voice — that’s all it is…” On hand for that historic summer concert in Newport, RI. was George Avakian, a young music producer from the large corporate recording company called Columbia (now Sony). Miles had been after Avakian for over five years trying to get a recording contract with Columbia which was then the largest and most successful music company in the United States, but Avakian had been cautiously waiting for a sign that Davis had conquered his personal problems and was ready to commit fulltime to his music. Clearly Miles was now ready. Avakian’s brother Aram whispered to George during the concert that he should sign Davis now, before he became a big hit and signed with a rival company instead. Miles, himself nonplussed about the critical acclaim he was finally receiving, wondered what the fuss was all about and maintained that he was simply playing like he always had been. While there was some truth to this assertion it was also clear that Miles’s, highly disciplined demeanor, new responsible attitude, and impeccable playing now indicated his intent on making a new commitment to living a life strictly devoted to his art. Avakian and Columbia representatives met with Davis two days later on July 19, 1955 to sign him to a new contract with the understanding that Davis would first fulfill the remainder of his contract with the Prestige label by doing a series of recordings in the fall of 1955 and the spring and fall of 1956 while at the same time making his first recordings with Columbia that would not be released until after the public appearance of the Prestige sessions. These small label recordings for Prestige would immediately become famously known as the “missing g” sessions (so-called for the dropping of the letter ‘g’ in the titles of these records, (e.g. Walkin’, Workin’, Cookin’, Steamin’, and Relaxin’). As Miles’s first great legendary Quintet this young aggregation (the oldest member of the group was 33 years old) featured then relative unknowns John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. From the very beginning this group and Miles himself would remake Jazz history and become innovative and protean harbingers of great changes to come in the music as well as the general culture. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE —Miles Davis 37 Despite the fact that most of the mainstream audience on hand had only a vague idea of who Davis was, he was a standout sensation in the jam session and his searing performance was one of the most talked about highlights of the festival. Appearing in an elegant white seersucker sport coat and a small black bow tie, thus already demonstrating the sleek, sharp sartorial style that quickly became his trademark (and led to his eventual appearance on the covers of many fashion magazines in the u.s., Europe, and Asia), Davis captivated the festival throng with haunting, dynamic solos and brilliant ensemble playing on both slow ballads and intensely up-tempo quicksilver tunes alike. Taking complete command of the setting with his understated elegance and relaxed yet naturally dramatic stage presence, the handsome and charismatic Davis breezed through two famous and musically daunting compositions by Thelonious Monk (“Hackensack” and “Round Midnight”), and then ended his part of the program by playing an impassioned bluesy solo on a well-known Charlie Parker composition entitled “Now is the Time” which Davis had originally recorded with Bird in 1945. That clinched it. He was a hit. Miles had returned from almost complete oblivion to becoming a much talked about and heralded star seemingly overnight (of course this personal and professional recognition had been over a decade in the making). After a long, arduous struggle as both an artist and individual that began in his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois when he started to play trumpet at the age of 13 in 1939, Miles Davis had finally “arrived.” For the first time since 1950 he was completely clean and off drugs. No longer addicted, Miles now played with a bravura, command, and creative clarity that he had been fervently searching for well before he had become addicted to heroin. It would be the beginning of many more incredible triumphs and struggles that would catapult the fiery young trumpet player to the very pinnacle of his profession and global fame and wealth over the next ten years.