Miles Davis and that bilateral either/or thing


The Ken Price tribute gig last night at LACMA was terrific. Got there towards the end of Brian Swartz’s Chet set. He did that stuff so beautifully. He had a helluva cold, turned out, which made for even more effective vocals…just the right touch of feeble. He used the rhythmic trio of the LA Jazz Quartet..Larry Koonse on guitar, Darek Oles on bass and filling in very ably once again for Mark Ferber was Kendall Kaye on the drums. Koonse has to be the piano player’s nightmare…I mean he does what he does so well you never notice that there’s no piano player. And he’s so much nicer than a piano player. Swartz, though, was the star….I’d never heard him play like that, like Chet Baker, that purer than pure tone, the elongated notes, the light swing like the airiest be bop you ever heard. Those LAJQ guys, man, they know how to lay it on without ever laying it on too much.

John Beasley’s quintet did the Miles half of the night, so it wasn’t exactly pretty as Chet’s music but cool, way cool…when it wasn’t kicking up a storm. Keith Fiddmont has the great middleweight tone. That’s what they called Hank Mobley, the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone. But western civilization is so stuck on the bilateral either/or thing  that we divide everything into polar opposites, so tenor saxes are either heavy or light. You have Trane as the heavy and say Stan Getz as the light and of course they must be in eternal conflict so we’re raised hearing how heavyweight Trane and lightweight Getz hated each other and battled to the death at Newport and Trane won with “My Favorite Things” and Getz was humiliated forever.  You laugh but that was the legend as I first heard it in the 70’s. Turns out Getz played the night before, and went down a sensation of course. But that was the legend. There was no middleweight in that cosmology. No Hank Mobley at all.  No Rickey Woodard and no Keith Fiddmont either. But man that sound is so good, and Fiddmont tore it up last night right down the center and was a joy to hear. 

But the real surprise was the trumpeter, last name of Ross, who was absolutely magnificent, nailing Miles but not exactly like him either… Mixing both Chet and Miles a friend said afterward. But it was more about Ross doing his own thing on Miles and Chet and maybe even Clifford Brown here and there, when the stories hung on a note or two before running along in an ornate narrative that reminded me of Brownie. I always think trumpet solos are stories, the good ones.  The trumpet is so much like speech…a stream of air that forced the right way can make but one sound at a time, one simple variation, and it’s how you can take that simple stream of air and shape it with the tongue or control it with the keys to make that melodic line. The same way we  control our forced exhalation with our front teeth or off the roof of the mouth to produce the phonemes, the bits of sound, that we turn into morphemes into words into sentences ….that’s where the story telling comes in. If you listen you can hear a trumpeter telling his story the way you, talking, tell a story.  Clifford Brown could tell a story (one of my favorites is the story his horn tells between Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson on Dinah Washington’s live take on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”), and every once in a while I’ll hear a trumpeter with that Miles thing break into a story and I’ll think wow, Clifford Brown. It doesn’t happen that often I think that, but I did tonight after one extended showcase run that began like cool Miles and ended like hot Miles. The trumpeter took his time and finessed the wonderful little tale before finishing to vast applause. Then my buddy said that it had sounded like Terrell Stafford which was a lot more accurate, kind of ruining that Clifford Brown solo running through my head for the zillionth time. When I wrote for the Weekly and couldn’t just run on to excess like this I used to think about that Clifford Brown solo from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and I’d edit what I was writing severely, just keeping the right words. But blogging is like Freddie Hubbard, better yet it’s like Trane going on and on not being able to stop. Miles would say it’s easy, man, just stop writing.

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