Celebrating Miles and ’Trane’s Magical Month 57 Years Later

News | May, 4th 2016

Let’s take a moment to travel back in time.

On April 22, 1959, Miles Davis’s sextet finished recording Kind of Blue. The album featured pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Kind of Blue was a groundbreaking record: its modal compositions were moody masterpieces that eschewed the fast, complicated chord changes that were then in vogue. The album would go on to become the highest-selling—and perhaps most influential—jazz record of all time.

Fifty-seven years ago this week — and only two weeks after Kind of Blue’s final session — Coltrane was back in the studio recording his fifth studio album, Giant Steps. Featuring bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Tommy Flanagan, and drummer Art Taylor, the album’s compositions — in stark contrast to those on Kind of Bluewere harmonic labyrinths that put improvisers to the ultimate test. The album was the perfect showcase for Coltrane’s “sheets of sound,” the dense improvisational approach that he had refined during his time in Davis's groups.

In just one month, Miles Davis and John Coltrane had given jazz two bold new ways forward. Kind of Blue injected a new layer of expressiveness into the music and Giant Steps pushed bebop as far as it could go and then some. As a testament to the influence of these albums, several of the pieces they featured have become jazz standards, including “Naima,” “Giant Steps,” “So What,” “Blue in Green,” and “Freddie Freeloader.”

To celebrate the year in which both Davis and Coltrane would have turned 90 (Davis’s birthday is May 26; Coltrane’s is September 23), Jazz at Lincoln Center will host the Miles & ‘Trane Festival next weekend. Headlining the festival will be the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Their show The Sorcerer will debut new arrangements and revisit favorites from Davis’s legendary body of work; catch it in the House of Swing from May 12-14 and at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center on May 15.

On May 13 and 14, Joe Lovano will be in the Appel Room performing music from A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s musical declaration of God’s presence in his life, alongside the tenor titan’s son, Ravi. And in Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola from May 12-15, trumpeter Keyon Harrold — who recently recorded original trumpet parts for the soundtrack to the Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead— will lead an exploration of Miles Davis’s music followed by Patrick Bartley and his ensemble ending the night with a tribute to Coltrane. As always, check jazz.org/live for a schedule of free webcasts taking place during the Miles & ‘Trane Festival.

In the absence of a time machine, the festival will be the best way to celebrate an epochal month in the history of jazz and two legends whose horns and vision led the music to bold new places.

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Let’s face it: jazz is a dense genre of music and sometimes it can be hard to find some of the genres hidden gems. So, what do you do when you’re ready to branch out and find something new? In our new series, we’ll recommend some of the greatest sidemen, bandleaders, and related artists.

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From supporting the Indiegogo campaign to helping Cheadle learn trumpet and more, learn how Jazz at Lincoln Center supported Miles Ahead.


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