Tag Archive: miles davis


On Sunday, I’ll go to the recording studio to record pre-screening tapes for several music schools including NYU, Eastman School of Music, and the University of Miami (Fl).  I’ll lay down six tunes: “Tune Up,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Black Orpheus,” and “Darn That Dream.”  I will be accompanied by Mike Holmes (piano), Waldo Latowsky (drums), and Bobby Durham (bass).  These tunes are pretty tough, but I have been working on them quite a bit, including working with them every day this week with my band director, Mr. Bob Chandler.  I will post the recordings here as soon as I have them available.  Here’s a little information about the tunes:

“Tune Up” is a be-bop piece by Miles Davis.  The amazing thing about this tune is that it goes through three keys, and has six key changes per chorus.  It starts out in the key of concert D major for the first four bars (IIm-V7-I progression), C major for the next four bars, and Bb major for the next four bars.  Then, there is a four bar turnaround that goes Em-F7-Bbmaj7-A7.  This leads back into the IIm-V7-I in D, then C, then Bb, and then each chorus ends with one last IIm-V7-I in D.  Be-bop is characterized by advanced harmony and often very fast tempos (usually over 200 beats per minute).  Well on the subject of advanced harmony, this tune was later used by John Coltrane as a basis for his tune “Countdown.”  That particular tune has a fairly similar melody, but Coltrane makes his own chord substitutions, and uses quite a bit of tritone substitution.

“Billie’s Bounce” is a Blues in F, but it is not a standard 12 bar blues.  It is a “Bird Blues,” which means that it is written by Charlie Parker, and has his chord substitutions.  Parker made some chord substitutions.  So, the substitutions allow for more harmony, and more advanced improvisational techniques are required to navigate the changes.  The tune is pretty fast, and has a fairly difficult head, unlike most blues.  It is up-tempo, but not terribly fast, I would say around 155 beats per minute.   A normal 12 bar blues in F would be as follows:

F7-Bb7-F7-F7

Bb7-Bb7-F7-F7

Gm7-C7-Fmaj7-Fmaj7

However, a bird blues is as follows:

F7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Cm7 F7

Bb7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Am7 D7

Gm-C7-F7 D7-Gm C7

“Days of Wine and Roses” was written by Henry Mancini, and the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer.  The tune came from the 1962 movie of the same name.  For the most part, the tune is in F major, although there are some spots where one can use the whole tone scale, and even one chord where the F minor scale can be used.  Some bluesy notes (b9 ) work well at times, but it pretty much stays in one key, though there is a very cool turnaround that is showy for a soloist.  The trick with this tune is that it is not a ballad, but it is still pretty slow, which makes it very easy to get ahead of the changes and get lost, which can not happen on Sunday.

“Black Orpheus” is probably the easiest of these tunes.  It is a bossa nova (latin style, straight 8th notes).  For the most part, it hovers around A minor, which is the relative minor of C major.  There are, however, times in the tune where there are some cool chords that one can really play with.  Hitting a G# over an E7 chord works very well, and there is a pretty cool C#dim A7(b9) measure that is good for working outside the key.  There are a couple of bars in D minor, and a couple in E minor as well, but for the most part, the challenge of this tune is playing something melodic.  For me, this will be a showcase on my tone and melody.

The next tune is a bear.  “Darn That Dream.”  An amazingly slow ballad, with more chord changes than grains of sand on a beach.  No, seriously.  At times, there are 4 chord changes per measure!  Often times, they are not very close to each other either.  The first measure contains 3 chords: A major, Cminor, F7.  What?  Voice leading is a HUGE challenge on this song, and you can not get lost, because if you do it is very obvious.  Also, because the tune moves so slowly, the great player can not just play the melody like it is written.  You must take a lot of liberties with the melody in order to keep it from being too boring.

The very last tune is another Miles Davis tune, “All Blues.”  It comes off of the Kind of Blue record, so this will be interesting to try.  It is a pretty standard blues in G, but the tough part of it is that it is in 6/8.  This tune lends itself to being a modal tune, so I will use a lot of mixolydian and dorian scales.  Simple melodies work well, and are necessary to help you keep your place because the tune simply feels so strange.

Also, this will take place on November 14, one day after my late saxophone teacher, Dennis Taylor’s, birthday.  So, happy birthday DT!  Also, a big thanks to Dennis and his wife, Karen Leipziger, for helping to set this up.

Bill Evans

In this portrait, Bill Evans stis at the piano. Evans was one of the most influential pianists in jazz, and was Miles Davis's pianist in the record "Kind of Blue."

“It must have been made in heaven.” – Drummer Jimmy Cobb referring to the record “Kind of Blue.”

As I prepare for my college auditions as a jazz major, I have had to learn quite a few new (and fairly difficult tunes).  Among them are the Miles Davis classic “All Blues,” Charlie Parker’s famous blues, “Billie’s Bounce,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Black Orpheus,” “Valse Hot,” and “Tune-Up.”  In order to prepare these tunes, I must do quite a bit of listening as well.  It was then that I discovered this story.

While listening to Middle Tennessee’s only jazz radio station, WMOT Jazz 89 (89.5 F.M.), I heard a re-run from the program Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz from 1973.  It featured renowned jazz pianist Bill Evans, and he played a number of great tunes, including “Days of Wine and Roses.”  Then, Evans began to discuss the recording of the Miles Davis record, Kind of Blue, one of the most well renowned jazz recordings in history.  It featured Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Cannonball Adderly on alto sax, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.  It is an amazing recording, in fact, Cobb once said, “It must have been made in heaven.”  Anyway, the second track on the album is called “Blue in Green.”  It is an outstanding track, and the credits say that Miles Davis wrote it.

Bill Evans begs to differ.  Evans claims that he was really the one that wrote the song, saying, “Yeah, I wrote it, but it doesn’t really matter.  Miles is getting the royalties, but from getting to play with Miles I got an awful lot of things as well.”  Amazing.  In a world caught up in litigations, here was Bill Evans speaking about the music itself.  Greed did not possess Evans.  He was not worried about who collected the check, he was concerned with making the world of music better.  It was an inspiring story, and I was glad to hear that, especially considering the rest of the Bill Evans story.

Evans died in 1980 at the age of 51.  His death has been called, “the longest suicide ever.”  He was addicted to heroine for much of his life, and when he finally became clean, he fell into the temptation of cocaine.  He died a violent death – a combination of cirosis, a bleeding ulcer and pneumonia.  Evans was often poor or penniless due to his drug addictions.  We can always look at the bad side of Bill Evans, but why should we?  Why not remember Bill Evans for what he was?  He was a musician that changed the world forever, changed the world of jazz, and a man that did it without a whole lot of pride.  A man that let Miles Davis take his recording credit because he felt that he gained more than money from having the opportunity to record an album with such great musicians.  For that, Bill Evans, you deserve a lot of praise.

Also, if you would like to check out Kind of Blue, the first real example of modal jazz, it is a great record.  My favorite track, “Flamenco Sketches,” can be found here.

John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis and Bill Evans record together for the record "Kind of Blue." The record is still considered today one of the most influential jazz recordings of all time.