70 years ago, in a nondescript basement room behind a Chinese laundry located at 14 West 55th Street in midtown Manhattan, a group of like-minded jazz modernists formed a groundbreaking collective.
Among them were jazz headliners soon-to-be: Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Max Roach, John Lewis, the arranger Gil Evans and significantly, the 22-year-old trumpeter Miles Davis, who became the leader of the project.
To be released June 7 by Blue Note/UMe, The Complete Birth of the Cool chronicles the brief yet monumental importance of the Miles Davis Nonet.
Honoring the 70th anniversary of the initial Birth of the Cool sessions, The Complete Birth of the Cool presents together all the music created by this collective.
Recently YRB Executive Editor, Jonn Nubian spoke with Erin Davis (son of Miles Davis) and Vince Wilburn, Jr. (nephew of Miles Davis and bandleader of the Miles Electric Band) about the vinyl release.
YRB: I think I haven’t seen you guys since the Kind of Blue Whiskey event. How is everything?
Vince Wilburn Jr.: Everything is great!
YRB: It’s been 70 years since The Birth of the Cool was released. Was it released in conjunction with the new documentary Stanley Nelson directed?
Vince Wilburn Jr.: No, the documentary is separate from this release. It’s just happens to share the same title of that beautiful record.
YRB: This is the first time all these recordings have been together on vinyl. What was that process like?
Erin Davis: That’s more of a question for the guys at Universal. They really put a lot of work into this, it’s not just another repacking effort. I was excited we when received some early copies it’s killer!
Vince Wilburn Jr.: When you put the needle to it, it’s so warm! (laughter)
YRB: What’s your take on the documentary?
Vince Wilburn Jr.: One word. Amazing! We love it.
Erin Davis: I’ve seen it a few times and it’s better and better each time. It’s very well done. Stanley knows what he’s doing. We got that feeling from him the first time we met him years ago. He knows how to make a great movie. We are just thankful that he was able to it.
YRB: What’s the release date for the film?
Vince Wilburn Jr.: The theatrical release is slated for October with a soundtrack.
YRB: What’s new with the Miles Electric Band?
Vince Wilburn Jr.: Lenny White and I are producing a new album with a who’s who that includes Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, John Scofield , Wallace Roney, Bernard Wright, Vernon Reid and more so we’re excited!
YRB: What’s else is coming up?
Erin Davis: We are working on a Dolby Atmos mix of Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain.
It’s the most immersive kind of environment to listen to music in. It’s feels like you’re in the room with the musicians. A lot other things are in the works, we hope everyone enjoys this new release of The Complete Birth of the Cool.
YRB: Thank you guys!
The music this historic nine-piece group created together in 1949 and 1950 — in the studio and onstage — came and went with little notice at first. Seven years later, when the music was collected on a full LP for the first time, the world came to understand its impact: a true watershed moment in postwar music, dubbed with the name that remains one of the best known in modern jazz: Birth of the Cool.
Available now for pre-order in 2LP vinyl, CD, and digital formats, the collection includes the twelve sides they recorded in 1949/‘50, as well as the ensemble’s only extant live recordings, recorded at the Royal Roost. The new release marks the first time since 1957 that the recordings have been remastered for vinyl and the first time all the Birth of the Cool performances — studio and live – are available together on LP.
The seeds of Birth of the Cool were planted in the Manhattan basement apartment of the arranger/composer Gil Evans, who hosted informal musical meetings in which ideas about arranging, jazz, and classical music were shared and explored among a younger generation of musicians. The meeting of Evans and Davis in this humble location led not only to the triumph of Birth of the Cool, but predicted future collaborations, as well, for albums that are regarded as cornerstones of modern jazz — Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.
The cross-racial and intergenerational friendship of Miles Davis and Gil Evans is one of the stories told in Kahn’s The Complete Birth of the Cool liner notes essay, as well as the big band leader/pianist Claude Thornhill and his role as a source-point to Birth of the Cool. Also explored is the perceptive support of Capitol Records producer Pete Rugolo, who recorded the group initially, and who in 1957 oversaw the album’s reissue and was credited for coming up with the title Birth of the Cool. The importance of Davis’ fellow soloist, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz is also covered in the essay, with new comments from the jazz legend.
The Complete Birth of the Cool is an invitation to understand the music within the context it was born. To the ears of music fans in 1949, the sound of Birth of the Cool was as entrancing as it was strange: intricate in its big band arrangements, but with solos and rhythm section breathing the fire of bebop. There’s the flavor of modern classical music on some ensemble passages, and at times musical devices — like counterpoint — one would not expect to hear in popular music of the day. There are instruments then-familiar and unfamiliar (French horn, tuba) to the jazz world. The melodies are fresh and hummable, but with unusual titles like “Move” and “Godchild,” “Deception” and “Venus De Milo,” “Jeru” and “Rocker.”
Photos by: Herman Leonard