Miles Davis's Miles Ahead: A Timeless 1957 Classic

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Gil & Miles
Gil Evans & Miles Davis

Last night, I listened to Miles Davis’s classic, Miles Ahead, for the thousandth time. Amazingly, it sounded better than ever on my mono vinyl reissue, an original ‘six eyes’ version. I never cease to be astounded and moved by the genius of Gil Evans’s orchestrations, only more so, actually, with each passing listen.

Miles Ahead (1957)

Miles Ahead has been part of my life for a long time now. Back in the mid-/late 1960s, I listened to it every day in my car, at home, or while on duty in my lifeguard tower. It was also the theme song / fill music for Tommy Bee’s KBCA 105.1 FM weekday afternoon radio show. He would play the song after a set and pick it right back up from where he’d previously left off in the subsequent set. By the time his show was over, you would have heard practically the entire album by the time his show was over. Tommy Bee even had a show on KCRW in 1970 before I started. I never met him but he was once a fixture on LA’s jazz airwaves. When I lived in Paris attending Sorbonne in 1970, I had a battery-operated record player and some cheap jazz and classical vinyl that I’d bought on a Latin Quarter street, the Boulevard St. Michel. One of those albums was Miles Ahead. I listened to it everyday and eventually wore the grooves out. It’s just one of those classics you never get tired of. The playing is so rich; the charts divine.

The original album work for Miles Ahead.

The original cover art was of a model on a sailboat, but Miles hated it, so the cover art was changed. It was George Avakian who first brought Miles to Columbia Records in 1955 and produced Miles Ahead. But it was the genius of Gil Evans—whom Miles admired to the hilt—that made this record the classic that it is. I strongly recommend the box set below. Among other things, it includes rehearsal takes that provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it was like in the studio when these two geniuses were at work together. Miles Ahead was Miles and Gil’s second collaboration; their first was Birth of the Cool, recorded for Capitol Records in 1949. Theirs was a new and revolutionary jazz style that contrasted sharply with the fast-paced bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Miles Davis and Evans produced three more classics after Miles Ahead: Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, and Quiet Nights. There is also a great live album recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Click here for a previous post I wrote about a 1959 feature of Miles and Gil on the wonderful but short-lived Robert Herridge CBS-TV show.

Porgy & Bess (1958)