Miles Davis: “Birth of Cool” a little hotter than expected

 

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Having been introduced to the iconic “Ascenseur pour l’échafaud” I finally “got” Miles Davis and the significance of “Cool”. A historically important departure from swing-derived rythmically-driven Bop, to a very different place and temperature. ( Remember, I am still new to jazz!)

I had been looking out for an original copy of the seminal recording “Birth of Cool”, when one turned up in the sale of a large collection of Miles work. Obviously the hoard of a “completist” who had gone to a better place – perhaps to chat with Miles “personally”, poor fellow (Miles, that is).  I left the bidding war over the original copy of “Kind of Blue” to others, having already secured a copy a while back. Three desirable titles came my way, among them this original pressing UK first  early release of ” The Birth of Cool”.

Knowing very little about it other than the name of the record and its classic cover, the recordings, from around 1949, came as something of a shock. The recording itself sounds “boxy” and compressed, as is typical of the period, Movietone News. I expected to find a “Blue Revolution”, replete with moody atmosphere and cigarette smoke against a midnight  New York night skyline. Instead I found something very different: 1940’s Big Band orchestras, Gerry Mulligan on baritone sax, somewhere a tuba and trombone, all romping along, nothing “cool” about it at all, apart from Miles occasional plaintive wailings.

Being no scholar of Jazz – merely a listener – I was grateful to have a historically important recording in a pressing from the mid fifties, albeit the UK first release. Slowly making the connection, only time will tell when it finds its rightful place. But it’s alway good to have “an original”. They are not making the past any more.

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Collector’s Corner

Give us a break, I was in short pants in 2011! I knew nothing!

 

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10 thoughts on “Miles Davis: “Birth of Cool” a little hotter than expected

  1. Long before these recordings were issued on 12-inch LP, I had purchased all of the 78s. To do so, i had to hunt diligently through record stores in Boston and Brookline, Mass. They were not readily available. I was in junior high at the time and could not drive. I depended on my father to take me to suburban stores. Boston stores I could reach by subway. One day, a friend came to visit. I had temporarily placed all the Capital Davis 78s on a chair. Before I could warn him, he sat in the chair and broke all the records. It was my fault, not his. Since I wanted new copies. It took me years to replace them. I still have them, most in new, unplayed condition. Along the way, I bought the 12-inch LP when it came out. I still have it. I didn’t want the 10-inch LP issue tracks so I did not buy any 10-inch capitals. Later, I acquired the Dutch copy that had the “Darn That Dream” track not on the original 12-inch LP.

  2. This is NOT the “first UK release”. Not by a long shot (from Land’s End to John o’ Groats). The material started to be released on UK Capitol in piecemeal fashion on 78s already in 1949, the pre-LP era – the first UK LPs only appeared in June 1950.

    This 12″ LP from July 1957 is actually the eleventh (!!!) UK release to contain some of the “Birth of the Cool” material; and for some of the tracks, already the fourth time they appeared on a UK release. The ten earlier releases were, in chronological order:

    1) Capitol CL 13156 (78), October 1949
    2) Capitol CL 13249 (78), February 1950
    3) Capitol CL 13255 (78), February 1950
    4) Capitol CL 13429 (78), December 1950
    5) Capitol LC 6561 “Classics in Jazz – The Modern Idiom” (10″ LP), December 1952
    6) Capitol LC 6579 “Classics in Jazz – Trumpet Stylists” (10″ LP), June 1953
    7) Capitol LC 6598 “Classics in Jazz – Cool & Quiet” (10″ LP), August 1953
    8) Capitol LC 6683 “Classics in Jazz – Miles Davis” (10″ LP), September 1954
    9) Capitol EAP 1-459 “Classics in Jazz – Miles Davis, Part 1″ (7” EP), May 1955
    10) Capitol EAP 2-459 “Classics in Jazz – Miles Davis, Part 2″ (7” EP), May 1955

    And the individual tracks appeared on them as follows:

    Move – 2, 6
    Jeru – 1, 8, 9
    Moon Dreams – 8, 9
    Venus de Milo – 4, 8, 9
    Budo – 2, 5
    Deception – 8, 9
    Godchild – 1, 8, 10
    Boplicity – 3, 7
    Rocker – 8, 10
    Israel – 3, 8, 10
    Rouge – 8, 10

    Oh, you say, but it’s still the first UK release to collect together all the tracks from the three “Birth of the Cool” sessions! Well, that’s not true either. The twelfth track “Darn That Dream” (the flipside of the “Venus de Milo” 78) was not released on a UK LP until “Jazz Of The Forties, Vol. 2 – Bebop Into Cool” (Capitol T 20578) in 1964, and not on a “Birth of the Cool” LP until the Dutch “Capitol Jazz Classics, Vol. 1 – The Complete Birth Of The Cool” (Capitol 5C 052-80798) in 1971.

    Good record though, in any format.

  3. I try to separate out in my mind the audiophile bit from the content bit. Only it doesn’t work as well as it might. You end up back with that hoary old joke “Beethovens music is better than it sounds”. Thanks for the input.!

  4. You should check out the Classic Records vinyl reissue of Birth Of The Cool as it sounds quite a bit better than the original US (or UK) pressings. While it doesn’t work miracles with this early recording, all the earlier pressings were done from a copy tape and this was the first time the master tapes were used for an LP.

    • Listening to the 2001 RVG edition lately has made me return here. The liner notes say: “The original tapes of each tune have recently been discovered. And they sound considerably better. Rudy Van Gelder returned to these masters, transferred them in 24-bit to digital and worked his sonic magic on them.”

      I would rather he hadn’t.

      I still prefer the “Complete” CD, followed by the original Capitol LP. I do not know the Classics version, but I have no reason to doubt your verdict, Aaron.

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