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Collection The Gerry Mulligan Collection

Miles Davis

Photo of Miles Davis taken from [Portrait of Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, and Max Roach, Three Deuces, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947]. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Gerry describes the dynamics of Miles Davis's band as it worked in recording, rehearsals, and performance. He finds the players' level of cooperation to be very different on stage from in the studio, and also elaborates on what kind of sound they were trying to achieve.

Edited Transcript

Well, the engagement at the Royal Roost1--it was fun playing that stuff in public and all that, but the band didn't really settle down and gel because when we got down to the club situation and the thing that we were trying to do, we really needed to concentrate more on how to do it. If you start stretching out too many solos on those arrangements--to me this always happens in arrangements anyway--if the solos are too long then the composed parts lose their continuity; they lose their connection with each other. And that's what Miles [Davis] started to do in the club, play more and more choruses on the things, so that the band never really solved those problems, and Miles wasn't considering them. John Lewis used to get really mad at him because he wouldn't assume the responsibility and wouldn't consider the band--because the band was a unique thing. It's not like going into the club with a sextet. It functioned well as a rehearsal band, because as a rehearsal band you're in an altogether different world than when you're out functioning as a working group in front of an audience. It's an altogether different kettle of fish and it takes focus and concentration, and it takes consideration. It takes awareness of what's going on on the bandstand and in the audience, and you have to be able to nudge the guys towards each other if they are not doing it naturally. Of course, ideally, you get musicians who think like that in the first place. But, we were a bunch of guys, each going in his own direction, and nothing was pulling it together.

[Portrait of Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis, Three Deuces, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1947]. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Recording sessions are different because you're concentrating on one thing. You're not dealing with an audience. You're dealing with the music and you're dealing with your part in the music and your part in the ensemble, so everybody is doing his best to cope with the problems. They sent Pete Rugolo in from Capitol2, sent him in from Los Angeles, to supervise the dates and, of course, Pete hadn't been around the band and hadn't been around me or any of us and didn't really know what the hell we were trying to do. He told me at one point when we took a break, "Gerry, we are having a hell of a time in the control room and I don't know what to tell the engineer. We just really are not getting it." I said, "Well, I don't know what to tell you about how to record it because I don't know that much about the microphone and the techniques. All we're trying to do is get a natural balance between the six horns." We were trying to blend with each other and we were set up so that we were all facing in on the microphones, so ideally we should have been able to hear each other to a certain extent. I think probably what they needed to do--I don't know if they had the facilities then before any kind of stereo--was to have more microphones than we used. I don't know what the limitations were on the equipment, but that's really what it seemed like it needed. It needed more control of the definition on the inside of the ensemble. And I really realized that a couple of years ago when I was putting things together for the "Rebirth of the Cool" album3 and the concert tour; so that's what I did with it. Trying to hear the inner voices and lower voices, there's no definition at all. Now a lot of those things I wrote, so if anybody should be able to hear them I should be able to hear them, and I can't hear any definition between them. It has the sound of the chords and so on, but there's no real telling who's playing what. They just had no definition. But what they did have was the overall quality and atmosphere of the band, and it had the melodic sense of all of the things that were going on. So, in a strange way there was a kind of perfection about those original "Birth of the Cool" things, that with all of the imperfections as far as the technology or even in the playing, the musical perfection is there because of the stuff that it was played on.

Rocker / Gerry Mulligan. Performed by Miles Davis.
From the album, "Birth of the Cool." [1963]

[Portrait of Howard McGhee, Brick Fleagle, and Miles Davis, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947]. William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

And Miles was brilliant on those things, Miles and Lee both. Absolutely brilliant, the way they played in and out of the arrangements--wonderful. That made everything worthwhile. Another thing that made it worthwhile was Max Roach on the first date. The first set of dates was really wonderful. He was far and away the best drummer for the thing because he could approach the things as a composer and he took the kind of care with playing with the ensemble that showed his compositional awareness.


  1. The Royal Roost opened at Broadway and 47th Street around 1945, becoming one of the major jazz clubs of the late 40s and 50s. It featured bop and cool, presenting Davis, Parker, Tristano, and Young, among others. [Return to text]
  2. Capitol, a major record company, founded by songwriters Johnny Mercer and Buddy de Sylva with Glenn Wallichs of the Liberty Music Stores, started in Los Angeles in 1942 briefly under the name of Liberty and almost immediately changed its name to Capitol. In 1948, British Decca began to distribute Capitol abroad. In 1955, EMI acquired controlling interest in British Capitol, but the American company continued independently until 1979, when the label became an EMI subsidiary. [Return to text]
  3. Re-birth of the Cool, a new 1992 recording of the original twelve pieces that appeared on the historic Birth of the Cool album released by Capitol in 1957, was produced by Gerry Mulligan and John Snyder for GRP (GRD-9679) with Gerry on baritone, Bill Barber (tuba), Dave Bargeron (trombone), Phil Woods (alto), Wallace Roney (trumpet), John Clark (French horn), Dean Johnson (bass), John Lewis (piano), Ron Vincent (drums) and Mel Torme (vocal on "Darn That Dream"). [Return to text]
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