THE BIRTH OF THE COOL ON CAPITOL RECORDS
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT (12” LPs)
© James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected, All Rights Reserved
Leonard Feather wrote an extended article on Miles Davis for Down Beat that was published in the July 2, 1964 edition of the magazine. The piece was titled “MILES AND THE FIFTIES” and included an in depth examination of the Birth of the Cool sessions via an interview with Miles and Gerry Mulligan’s recollection of those sessions from an interview that Feather had conducted a few years earlier.
(© Down Beat, 1964, Maher Publications)
Capitol Records reissued MILES DAVIS - THE BIRTH OF THE COOL in 1965 as DT-1974, a release in Capitol’s “Dimensions in Jazz” series. A footnote at the end of the liner notes credited - “These famous recordings were produced for Capitol Records by PETE RUGOLO and WALTER RIVERS. This newest compilation of the recordings in a single album was produced by BILL MILLER.” The tune order on each side of the LP was the same as the previous release in 1957 on T-762. The vocal from the 1950 session, DARN THAT DREAM, was not included.
Down Beat columnist and regular contributor, George Hoefer, wrote an extended review of Birth of the Cool (Capitol DT-1974) tracing the antecedents of the current release on 78 RPM singles and the 10” LP releases that followed.
This is the story of a jazz album, Birth of the Cool (Capitol DT 1974), recorded more than 15 years ago. The music on it, although neglected by most listeners at the time, eventually became the inspiration for a new trend in jazz—the so-called cool school.
No one individual was responsible for the innovation, though the record is under Miles Davis' name; it was the culmination of a group effort involving such prominent modern-jazz figures as Davis, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis,
In actuality, the seeds of the cool style had been planted a decade earlier by the late pianist-arranger-bandleader Claude Thornhill when he started with his own band in 1940.
After having made a name for himself as arranger for Hal Kemp, Ray Noble, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, and the Bob Hope radio show (one of his most famous early accomplishments was the arranging and conducting of Maxine Sullivan's Loch Lomond recording), Thornhill established a band that has gone down in history as one of the most outstanding "musician's bands" of the swing era.
Thornhill had a definite conception of a band sound, and at first he did most of the arrangements himself. As Gil Evans told Nat Hentoff in a 1957 Down Beat interview, Thornhill's basic premise was “a sound based on the horns playing without vibrato, except for specific places where Thornhiil would indicate vibrato
for expressive purposes."
One of the great soloists with the early Thornhill band was Irving Fazola, the blues-oriented New Orleans jazz clarinetist with the liquid tone. Thornhill wrote an obbligato for French horns to accompany a Fazola solo, and the first time the band ran through the number Fazola was unaware of the addition until the pianist signaled the two French horn men to mount the stand—the leader wasn't sure what his clarinetists reaction would be and decided to spring the innovation as a surprise, Fazola was so intrigued with the new sound that he went out and bought himself a bassoon. The French horns became an integral part of the Thornhill bands until 1948.
These two major concepts—the vibrato-less horns and the addition of French horns—were well established before Evans joined the band in late 1941 as arranger, The two men had worked together on the arranging staff of the Hope radio program and Evans had been quite taken with Thornhill’s ideas.
He told Hentoff, "Even then, Claude had a unique way with a dance band. He'd use the trombones with the woodwinds in a way that gave them a horn sound."
Within a year, Thornhill and Evans went into service, but the band had reorganized in late 1946, and Evans, as well as many of the original sidemen including the French hornists, returned. Evans now was the chief arranger, and many of the band's outstanding scores were his (The Thornhill Sound, Harmony 7088); he later was responsible for adding baritone saxophonist Mulligan to play and arrange.
A tuba (Bill Barber's) was added to the sound in mid-1947. Evans also gives credit for this innovation to Thornhill, though in fact, the use of the instrument was a bone of contention between Evans and his boss. The leader liked the static sound of the tuba on sustained chords, while Evans wanted to use it for flexible, moving jazz passages.
Evans was responsible for getting arrangements of Anthropology, Yardbird Suite, and Donna Lee into the Thornhill book, and this resulted in the significant meeting of Miles Davis and Evans: the arranger went to the trumpeter to get clearance for the use of Donna Lee.
Davis at this time was a great fan of the Thornhill band. He told a Down Beat reporter in 1950, "Thornhill had the greatest band, the one with Lee Konitz, during these modern times. The one exception was the Billy Eckstine band with Bird."
When Evans approached Davis on Donna Lee, the trumpeter agreed to the clearance if Evans would give him some instructions on chord structure and let him study some of the Thornhill scores. Davis was fascinated by Evans’ arrangement of Robbins’ Nest with its unusual superimposition of chord clusters. He once commented, "Gil can use four instruments where other arrangers need eight."
By mid-1948, the jazz business was at low ebb, partly because of the second record ban. Thornhill's band was doing badly on a financial basis, and the pianist disbanded for a while. Evans’ one-room apartment on W. 55th St. in New York City became an informal salon and workshop with the participants including Davis; Parker; Mulligan; Lewis, then pianist and arranger with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band; and composers George Russell, John Benson Brooks, and Johnny Carisi.
Mulligan said in later years, "We all gravitated around Evans." Davis pushed the idea of getting a nonet organized, as suggested by Evans and Mulligan, whose basic idea was an experimental band with the smallest ensemble that would still give the writers the maximum possibilities. They decided on six horns plus rhythm.
Davis, who had enjoyed a comparatively long stay at the Royal Roost during the summer of 1948, was able to get a two-week date for the nonet at the Roost in September as a relief unit during Count Basie's engagement. He broke precedent by insisting the sign in front of the club should read "Miles Davis Band, Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis."
The personnel for the date was Davis, trumpet; *Ted Kelly, trombone; Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Mulligan, baritone saxophone; Junior Collins, French horn; Bill Barber, tuba; Lewis, piano: Al McKibbon, bass; Max Roach, drums. Kenny (Pancho) Hagood, a former Gillespie vocalist, sang with the band.
This two-week engagement was the only time the band performed outside the recordlng studio or Nola's rehearsal hall. Basie was tremendously impressed and told a music journal writer, "Those slow things sounded strange and good. I didn't always know what they were doing, but I listened, and I liked it."
When the record ban ended in December, 1948, two major labels, RCA Victor and Capitol, decided to go all out with bebop recording programs. Capitol had the more definitive and less commercial approach; it signed Davis, pianist Tadd Dameron, singer Babs Gonzales, pianist Lennie Tristano, singer Dave Lambert, and clarinetist Buddy de Franco.
Trumpeter Davis had a contract calling for 12 sides, which were recorded in New York City at three separate sessions—
January, 1949; April, 1949; and March, 1950—with Pete Rugolo as A&R man.
On the first session, there were three changes in personnel from that heard at the Roost: Kai Winding, with whom Davis
had been playing in Oscar Pettiford's group at the Three Deuces on 52nd St., replaced trombonist Kelly; pianist Al Haig replaced Lewis, and bassist Joe Shulman replaced McKibbon. Five of the participants—Mulligan. Konitz, Collins, Barber, and Shulman—were Thornhill alumni.
They cut two arrangements by Mulligan and two by Lewis. The opener was Jeru, composed and arranged by Mulligan (the title derived from Davis' pet name for Gerry). This was followed by a Lewis scoring of a 1947 tune, Move, written by George Shearing's drummer, Denzil Best, who originally titled it Geneva's Move, in honor of his daughter; a Mulligan treatment of George Wallington's Godchild; and the closing number, Lewis' arrangement of Bud Powell's and Davis' Budo.
The Capitol brass must have been pleased with the results because they put out the pairing of Move and Budo on the label's popular 78-rpm series (Capitol 15404) within several weeks. The other two sides were held for their first bop releases in April.
On April 21, 1949, the second session was held with revised personnel: J.J. Johnson, who had Just left the Illinois Jacquet band, was the trombonist; Sanford Siegelstein (ex-ThornhillJ played French horn; Lewis was the pianist; Nelson Boyd, who had replaced McKibbon with Gillespie's band, was on bass; and Kenny Clarke, then using his Moslem name of L. A. Salaam, was the drummer.
This date brought forth the Gil Evans arrangement of Boplicity. a number composed by Davis under the pseudonym, Cleo Henry. When asked in 1950 for his favorite example of his own work on record, Davis answered, "Boplicity, because of Gil's arrangement,” and in the same interview he cited the bridge he played on Godchild. His reaction regarding the composition is interesting, Once asked why all the boppers hadn't recorded Boplicity, he replied that "the top line isn't very interesting, but the harmonization is," thereby giving all the compositional credit to Evans' scored ensembles.
The second number recorded on that April day was Israel, a blues in a minor key, written and arranged by Carisi. This number, along with Godchild, evoked the most praise at the time of their release.
Two other originals, one by Mulligan and the other by Lewis, completed this session, made while Capitol was still happy with the bebop idea. These were Venus de Milo by Mulligan and Rouge by Lewis.
Israel was paired with Boplicity and was released with the second and last batch of the bebop series of 78s in October.
Mulligan’s Venus was held and released in late 1950, backed by Darn That Dream, recorded during the third session. Rouge did not see the light of day until 1954.
That the third date, to permit Davis to complete the remaining four sides called for by his contract, did not take place until March 9, 1950, would indicate there may have been some arm-twisting necessary. The personnel changes for this last date included Gunther Schuller on French horn in place of Siegelstein, McKibbon back on bass, and Roach again as the drummer. Hagood was added to do the vocal on Darn That Dream.
This time the scores used included two Evans arrangements of popular tunes, Johnny Mercer's Moon Dreams and the Van Heusen-Delange Darn That Dream (the only side not included in Birth of the Cool); a Miles Davis original Deception; and the now well-known Mulligan score of Rocker (first titled The Coop).
The first of these sides released (in November, 1950) was Darn That Dream, backed by Venus from the previous session. Mike Levin, Down Beat's reviewer of the time, thought Hagood's vocal was "too tense,” but he praised Evans' background scoring. "Here is an arranger who has learned the individual instruments and their sound possibilities," was Levin's comment. It never has been issued on LP.
The other Evans score, Moon Dreams, along with Rocker (this Mulligan original was later recorded by the baritonist's tentet and released a year before this initial recording of the tune), and Deception were put on a Miles Davis 10-inch LP in May, 1954 (Capitol H-439).
Prior to the Birth of the Cool LP, several of these classics had been issued singly in Jazz LP collections. Davis was represented in The Modern Idiom (Capitol H-325) by Budo and in Trumpet Stylists (Capitol H-326) by Move, both released in mid-1952. A year later Boplicity appeared in Cool and Quiet (Capitol H-371).
The 1954 Davis LP included re-releases of Jeru, Godchild, Israel, and Venus de Milo in addition to the initial offerings of Rouge, from the second date and the three tunes already mentioned from the third session. In 1957 this set was expanded to include Budo, Move, and Boplicity for the 12-inch LP Birth of the Cool (Capitol T 762, recently re-released on DT 1974).
It is not true that these historic recordings went unnoticed at the time of their original release. Down Beat's Levin said Jeru's "sounds are extremely earable, far mellower than many bopped sounds" and that Godchild's "sounds blend, and somebody actually worried about dynamics.” He wrote equally favorable about the other tunes released in 1949-50. Metronome, too, gave the releases high ratings, but their comments were tempered by their reviewer's high enthusiasm for Lennie Tristano's group. Jeru., the review read, '"sounds, with tricky accents, a little like a tune of the '30s in its use of instrumental ensemble. And why didn't Lee Konitz get a solo?”
During 1950-51 Bill Russo and Lloyd Lifton used four columns in their Jazz on Record feature for Down Beat in analyzing the Davis solos on Godchild, Israel, Move. and Konitz' alto solo on Move.
Many musicians expressed praise at the time. The late pianist Herbie Nichols wrote a letter to Down Beat saying, "Miles proves melody and harmony in sufficient amounts will win out in the end.” Bandleader Elliott Lawrence, who employed Mulligan as an arranger in 1950, said, “There is so much bad music that it is a relief when you come across something like those great Miles Davis sides on Capitol. Mulligan made up some of the numbers for us.” Even antibopper Eddie Condon was impressed on a Blindfold Test when he heard Move: “There’s a lot of stuff going on; the arranger exercised his imagination, I like the whole sound—can't make much out of the solos. It's the ensembles that hold this bebop performance together."
Andre Hodeir, the French critic and musician, devoted part of a chapter of his 1956 book, Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence, to this Davis band. He was greatly impressed by the arrangements, and in his summation of the band's importance he wrote, "Men like Evans and Mulligan seem to have understood that the principal objective of the arranger should be to respect the personality of each performer while at the same time giving the group a feeling of unity."
A lot has happened in the last decade that can be traced back to the experience derived from the collaborative effort of the nonet: the Miles Davis-Gil Evans musical partnership, John Lewis and his Modern Jazz Quartet, the Gerry Mulligan Concert Band, to name only a few.
Jazz record buyers may have missed the boat back in 1949, but today there are many who listen to the Birth of the Cool
with the same affection the old-timers have for the Louis Armstrong-King Oliver duets on Gennett.
*[Research has established that it was Mike Zwerin at the Royal Roost sessions.]
Hoefer, George. “The Hot Box - The Birth of the Cool.” Down Beat, 7 October 1965, 13, 40.
(© Down Beat, 1965, Maher Publications)
Hoefer, George (b Laramie, WY, 1909; d Brielle, nr Spring Lake, NJ, 19 Nov 1967). Writer. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a degree in engineering (1930), moved to Illinois, and from 1935 until the end of World War II worked as an engineer in Chicago. He took a great interest in jazz recordings and from 1935 to the 1960s contributed a column entitled “The Hot Box” to Down Beat; this contained important discographical and biographical material on jazz musicians. In the mid-1940s he also wrote for Esquire’s Jazz Book. Hoefer moved in 1951 to New York, where he wrote for the periodicals Metronome, Jazz, and Melody Maker, and from 1958 to 1961 was an editor of Down Beat. His writings are notable for their accuracy and unusual attention to detail.
Zager, Daniel. “George Hoefer.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, ed. Barry Kernfeld, 531. New York: St. Martins Press, 1994.