Frances Davis (Miles’ wife) on the cover
Columbia Records – CS-8456
In what was his seventh studio release for Columbia Records, Miles Davis came into Columbia’s famed 30th Street Studio with an all-star lineup that included John Coltrane on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb behind the drum kit and Hank Mobley, in his only Miles Davis Quintet recording, on sax. Philly Joe Jones sat in for Cobb on “Blues No.2″ (but not included on the original release) and the group laid down this masterpiece in three sessions (March 7, 20, and 21, 1961). Miles uses a mute throughout much of the recordings – including the title track – and plays glissando – a music term which indicates sliding from one pitch to the next. Mobley is the journeyman on the title track and gets blown away by Coltrane’s solo. In a review by AllMusic, they noted that Trane’s solo on SMPWC is “so deep within the harmony that it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere else”.
(l-r) Hank Mobley, Miles Davis – Carnegie Hall, NYC – 1961
Davis had adopted a standard approach to recording at Columbia of alternating big band projects with small group sessions. Coming off of 1960’s Sketches of Spain release (with Gil Evans producing), Miles turned to Ted Macero to take the production helm of Someday My Prince Will Come (SMPWC).
It is interesting here to look at what was going on in the jazz world in the period of 1960/1961. Not long after the success of Kind of Blue (no doubt Davis’ masterwork), the jazz world began to embrace free jazz with Ornette Coleman leading the way. By late 1959, Coleman had secured a residency at the Five Spot in NYC and the critical view of his purer improvisational approach on albums such as The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959) and Free Jazz (1960) took much of the spotlight away from Miles.
At the same time, Miles band was going through some big changes. Cannonball Adderley had left to team up with his brother Nat thus making Miles’ sextet a quintet. Cobb and Kelly had come on board in 1958 but Coltrane left to form his own band and, given the stature of his talent, that was a big blow to Miles. He went through a few sax players – including the phenomenal Sonny Stitt – before bringing in Hank Mobley in late 1960, Coltrane did stick around for a short tour and came back to lend his talents to the title track and to track #5 “Teo”. The rest are all Mobley.
- “Someday My Prince Will Come” (Churchill / Morey)
- “Old Folks” (Robison / Hill)
- “Pfrancing” (aka “No Blues”) – (Miles Davis)
- “Drad-Dog” (Miles Davis)
- “Teo” (Miles Davis)
- “I Thought About You” (Van Heusen / Mercer)
The 1999 CD reissue version provides the missing “Blues No.2″ (with Philly Joe on drums) plus a shorter alternate take of SMPWC.
The selection of tunes for the album included three originals and three pop standards but the shiniest gem on this album remains, for me, the title track. (The first track is actually the only sextet piece here as the balance of the tracks are quintet works.) The three original compositions used here are all named after people. Davis’ wife (Frances), the president of Columbia Records (Goddard), and producer Teo Macero respectively get the tributes. In addition to SMPWC, which I expand on below, “Old Folks” is a Willard Robison tune, famous for his standard “Cottage for Sale” while “I Thought of You” is a Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer tune from 1939 that was a very popular result of their short-lived collaboration.
With regard to “Someday My Prince Will Come”, the song is from the 1937 Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It is a beautiful melody and the combination of Miles’ horn and Trane’s tenor is spectacular in both virtuosity and phrasing.
The melody of SMPWC was penned by Frank Churchill in 1937. Churchill was originally a pianist in cinema houses, went on to work with Disney on numerous films starting in 1930 and by the ’40’s had become musical director at Disney Studios. It was originally written as a waltz and Miles was not the first to provide a jazz interpretation.
It was first performed as a jazz piece by a group of musicians (The Ghetto Swingers) at a German concentration camp in 1943. It was subsequently recorded by other musicians including pianist Dave Brubeck who included it on his 1957 release Dave Digs Disney. (By the way, I should mention that I had the pleasure of being tipped to Brubeck’s album 30 years ago and have enjoyed it ever since. It’s a wonderful interpretation of Disney compositions by a true jazz legend. I’ll explore that in another post.)
SMPWC remains a popular song among jazz musicians to this day. Following Miles’ 1961 treatment it was subsequently recorded by guitarist Grant Green, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, and Chet Baker. The Davis Sextet’s original pianist Wynton Kelly re-recorded it for a solo album of the same name. Pianist Wynton Kelly, who performed on Davis’ version, recorded the track as a trio later that year on his own album of the same name later in 1961. Kelly was always known for being at home with the great standards and this is no exception.
If you’re looking for a good introduction to Miles Davis, this is a good album to include. If picking just one I’d recommend starting with “Kind of Blue” (the most widely sold jazz album in history) but SMPWC would be an excellent second choice.