Friday, March 20, 2015

10 Essential Dave Brubeck Albums

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums, and Eugene Wright on bass.

A wonderful photo of Dave Brubeck at the piano.

Collage of the album covers for 9 of the 10 Essential Dave Brubeck albums. I left off "Their Last Time Out," which has a nice cover, but someone had to be the odd album out. The cover for "Jazz Impressions of Eurasia" always makes me smile. I love the cover for "1975: The Duets," which looks like a wine bottle.
The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck was a remarkable artist. Brubeck was the rare jazz artist who was fortunate enough to become popular without compromising his ideas about jazz. He expanded the palette of jazz, as he let rhythms and melodies from cultures around the world influence his music, and he brought jazz out of strict 4/4 rhythm and into other time signatures. Brubeck was also a remarkable composer who wrote many memorable songs, as well as classical pieces like cantatas and oratorios. To cap it all off, Dave Brubeck was by all accounts the nicest person you’d ever want to meet. 

I had the good fortune of meeting Dave Brubeck twice. When I was in college I interned for the journalist Hedrick Smith, who at the time was working on his 2001 documentary “Rediscovering Dave Brubeck.” I had the chance to go backstage with Smith after a Brubeck concert and meet Dave, and he was very nice, a true gentleman. I wrote a longer piece about my memories of Dave Brubeck, and I was lucky enough to see him in concert 5 times. 

Dave Brubeck’s recording career spanned nearly sixty years, and he left behind many superb recordings. But where do you start with such a formidable discography? To help you get introduced to a great jazz artist, I compiled a list of the 10 Essential Dave Brubeck albums. Of course there are many more excellent recordings that Brubeck made, but these would be a great entry point into his music. Albums are listed in the order they were recorded.

“Jazz at Oberlin,” 1953. This album was a live recording made on the campus of Oberlin College. Brubeck was hugely popular among college kids in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and he made several live recordings on college campuses. After suffering a neck and back injury in a diving accident in 1951, Brubeck, then the leader of a jazz trio was looking for someone else to join his group so he wouldn’t have to be the only soloist. Fortunately, he found the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Desmond’s light and airy tone was reminiscent of Stan Getz’s sound on the tenor saxophone, and it contrasted well with Brubeck’ pounding approach to the piano keyboard. Brubeck and Desmond’s musical partnership lasted for more than a quarter of a century, until Desmond’s death from lung cancer in 1977. “Jazz at Oberlin” shows the close musical connection that Brubeck and Desmond had on songs like “These Foolish Things” and “Just the Way You Look Tonight.”

“Brubeck Time,” recorded 1954. Dave Brubeck was so popular in 1954 that he made the cover of Time magazine. He was the first jazz musician to be on the cover of Time, and Brubeck himself said that the honor should have gone to Duke Ellington. The title of “Brubeck Time” was meant to play off of this connection, and the album cover even featured the painting of Brubeck that adorned the cover of Time. The album included the classic song “Audrey,” a beautiful ballad that was Desmond and Brubeck’s ode to Audrey Hepburn. There were also swingers like “Jeepers Creepers” and “Stompin’ for Mili” that highlighted Brubeck and Desmond’s facility with uptempo songs.

“Jazz Impressions of Eurasia,” recorded 1958. By 1958, drummer Joe Morello had joined Brubeck’s quartet, and now Brubeck had a drummer capable of playing the complex rhythms and time signatures that he wanted to experiment with. Paul Desmond and Morello didn’t get along at first, as Desmond found Morello’s style too loud and flashy for his tastes. Eventually though, Desmond realized what Morello could bring to the group. Brubeck was also coming into his own as a composer, and he wrote all of the songs on “Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.” The music was inspired by the sounds that Brubeck heard on a long world tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The album covers a lot of ground, from the stately serenity of “Brandenburg Gate,” to the tense and exciting rhythms of “The Golden Horn.” 

“Time Out,” 1959. This was Dave Brubeck’s most famous album, and his best-selling. It included the catchy hit “Take Five,” which was written by Paul Desmond. All of the songs on “Time Out” were in unique time signatures, ranging from the 5/4 meter of “Take Five” to the 9/8 of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Columbia Records, Brubeck’s label, was nervous about “Time Out” for three reasons: All of the songs were originals, with no “standards” that the record-buying public was already familiar with, the songs were in weird time signatures, which meant that people couldn’t dance to the record, and the cover featured an abstract painting by S. Neil Fujita. Of course, all those objections proved to be foolish, as “Time Out” went on to sell a million copies and peaked at number two on the Billboard pop album charts. Bassist Eugene Wright had joined the Brubeck Quartet in late 1958, and now the classic lineup of the Dave Brubeck Quartet was complete. “Time Out” is a classic album that was one of the first jazz albums I ever heard, and it remains fresh and vibrant more than 50 years after it was recorded. 

“Time Further Out,” 1961. A sequel of sorts to “Time Out,” “Time Further Out” was another exploration of unique time signatures, and featured classic Brubeck songs like “It’s a Raggy Waltz,” and the supremely catchy 7/4 song “Unsquare Dance.” The album was a superb showcase for drummer Joe Morello, who demonstrated his ability to master any time signature thrown at him. Brubeck went on to record further albums of unique time signatures, “Countdown-Time in Outer Space,” “Time Changes,” and “Time In,” which are all excellent.

“The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall,” 1963. Before this live performance in February 1963, Joe Morello was recovering from the flu, and didn’t feel like playing. Eugene Wright, Paul Desmond, and bandleader Dave Brubeck all felt a little uptight. But you can’t tell any of that on this amazing two-disc set of an unforgettable concert. From the opening of “St. Louis Blues,” you can tell that this band is cooking, swinging their absolute hardest. Brubeck’s solo finds him charging aggressively ahead like a locomotive. Morello has a wonderful solo on “Castilian Drums.” All of the music is outstanding, but the highlight has to be the super fast version of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” When Brubeck starts the song you think there’s no way the group will be able to keep it going at that pace, but they do. This concert showcases the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the peak of their powers.

 “Jazz Impressions of Japan,” 1964. A superb album full of the sounds and textures that Brubeck absorbed during the Quartet’s tour of Japan in 1964. It includes the catchy “Toki’s Theme,” which is close as Brubeck ever came to rock and roll, as well as the moving “Koto Song,” which was a highlight of Brubeck live performances for decades to come. 

“Their Last Time Out,” recorded in 1967. Unreleased until 2011, this two-disc set features the very last concert of the classic lineup of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, comprising Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. Brubeck wanted a break from touring so he could focus on writing longer pieces of music. Within a year Brubeck was back on the road with a new group. The classic lineup would reform for a brief 25th anniversary tour in 1976. “Their Last Time Out” is not only a historic concert; it’s also full of great music, as these four men were all at the top of their games. There are songs that were staples of Brubeck’s concerts, like “St. Louis Blues,” “Take the A Train,” and of course “Take Five,” but also “Cielito Lindo” and “La Paloma Azul” that the Quartet had recently recorded for the “Bravo! Brubeck!” LP.

 “1975: The Duets,” 1975. This album of duets between Brubeck and Paul Desmond shows off their deep musical connection. The music is made more poignant by the fact that Desmond died of lung cancer less than two years after this album was recorded. Highlights include a moving version of “Koto Song.”

“Indian Summer,” 2007. This album of piano solos was the last recording released by Dave Brubeck in his lifetime. As befitting the title, the songs are mainly ones from Brubeck’s youth, as he looked back over a lifetime of music. “Indian Summer” proved that Brubeck was still a vital jazz artist in his 80’s. 

Dave Brubeck left behind many wonderful recordings, and he will continue to be remembered as one of the key American jazz artists of the 20th century.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

10 Underrated Miles Davis Albums

Miles Davis in concert, using his Harmon trumpet mute, 1960's.

Miles Davis live in Copenhagen, 1964.

Collage of the album covers for 9 of the 10 albums I wrote about in the post. Sorry "Ascenseur pour l’echafaud," I decided your album cover was the most boring and didn't include it-mainly because it didn't have Miles on the cover. Miles' first wife Frances Taylor is on the covers of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk." His second wife Betty Mabry is on the cover of "Filles de Kilimanjaro."
In my last post, I wrote about 10 Essential Miles Davis albums. I’ve been a fan of Miles Davis’ music for a long time now, ever since 1998-99, when I first started getting into jazz. I keep returning to Davis’ music. There’s so much depth in what he recorded that I can go back and listen to his albums time and again and still hear something new. While I was writing my 10 Essential albums list, I was thinking about all of the great music that I was leaving off that list. Miles Davis recorded 48 studio albums and 36 live albums, and there are also 17 box sets of Davis’ work. So the idea came to me to create a list of 10 Underrated Miles Davis albums. These are albums that might not get mentioned with Davis’ finest work, but are still full of incredible music. The albums are listed in the order they were recorded. 

“Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet,” recorded 1955. This was the first full album that Miles Davis recorded with his “First Classic Quintet,” which featured John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. In 1955 Davis had kicked his drug habit, and his triumphant comeback performance at the Newport Jazz Festival spurred interest in him from major record labels. Davis got a new group together, and it was full of talent that would shape jazz for decades to come, even if few people at the time had heard of John Coltrane. The album demonstrated that these five musicians worked very well together, and it marked the first appearance on record of “The Theme,” a song that would become Davis’ regular set-closer for many years to come. The cover photo of a stream is usually tinted blue, but it’s also tinted green on some releases of the album. 

“Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet,” recorded 1956. Davis and his “First Classic Quintet” recorded enough material for four albums over two days in 1956 in order to fulfill Davis’ contract with Prestige Records. “Relaxin’” is another excellent album, and features “If I Were a Bell,” which was a staple of Davis’ concert repertoire. I singled out “Cookin’” one of other albums Davis recorded for Prestige in 1956, as one of the “10 Essential Miles Davis Albums.” The other two 1956 Prestige albums, “Workin’” and “Steamin’” are classics as well.

Soundtrack to “Ascenseur pour l’echafaud,” also known as “Lift to the Scaffold,” or “Elevator to the Gallows,” recorded 1957. This one is pretty obscure. In Paris in late 1957 Davis recorded the soundtrack to a Louis Malle film, known by the three titles listed above. Davis wrote out only the barest sketches before the recording session, and most of the music was improvised in the studio. The music is spare and haunting, pointing the way towards the modal jazz of “Kind of Blue.” 

“’58 Sessions,” also known as “1958 Miles,” recorded, obviously, in 1958. Davis recorded four songs at one session in May 1958: “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Fran Dance,” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Love For Sale.” It wasn’t enough material for an entire album, and these songs were eventually collected together along with some live tracks from 1958 featuring the same band. The band on “’58 Sessions” is the same group that would record the classic “Kind of Blue” the next year. Bill Evans had replaced Red Garland on piano, and Evans was the perfect choice as Davis started to explore modal jazz. “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Fran Dance,” and “Stella By Starlight” are all beautiful songs, delicately and exquisitely performed, while “Love For Sale” swings mightily. These recordings are superb, and proof that Davis should have taken this group into the recording studio more often.

“Someday My Prince Will Come,” 1961. I wrote a long piece about this album as part of my series on the albums that Hank Mobley recorded with Miles Davis’ band in 1961. Mobley is one of my favorite jazz musicians, a tenor saxophonist who recorded many classic hard bop albums for the Blue Note label. Mobley and Davis didn’t quite gel, but the music they created together sounds fantastic. “Someday My Prince Will Come” was Davis’ small-group follow-up to “Kind of Blue,” and as such it’s a vastly overlooked album in Davis’ catalogue. Highlights include a cameo by John Coltrane on the title song and the Spanish-tinged “Teo,” and the lovely ballad “I Thought About You.” 

“In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk,” recorded 1961. I also wrote a long piece about this album as part of my series on Hank Mobley’s albums with Miles Davis. Expanded to 4 discs in 2003, these live dates feature one of Miles’ best bands, with Mobley on tenor sax, and one of the greatest rhythm sections in the history of jazz, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The band really cooks together, and Davis takes some great solos. This is hard bop at its finest.

“Seven Steps to Heaven,” 1963. This album found Davis in transition between groups. 1962 had been a difficult year for the trumpeter, as he struggled with health problems. The only recordings he made were the desultory sessions for the “Quiet Nights” album with Gil Evans, which both men were dissatisfied with. Davis was irate when Columbia put out “Quiet Nights” in 1964, and he didn’t speak to his producer Teo Macero for two years afterwards. In early 1963, Davis’ rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb left to form their own group. Davis was starting over from scratch, and half the “Seven Steps to Heaven” album was recorded in Los Angeles, with the other half being recorded in New York City. Bassist Ron Carter was the only person besides Miles who played on all the songs. The songs recorded in LA were all lovely ballads, beautifully performed by Miles, while the New York City songs were all swingers. The group that performed the New York City songs was George Coleman on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and 17-year-old prodigy Tony Williams on drums. Davis knew he had something great with that rhythm section, and when Wayne Shorter replaced Coleman in 1964, Davis’ “Second Classic Quintet” would be in place. The title song is a highlight, and it shows how amazing a drummer Williams was.

“The Complete Concert 1964: My Funny Valentine plus Four and More,” recorded 1964. This two-disc set was recorded at a benefit concert at Philharmonic Hall in February, 1964. Davis was at the top of his game, as he handled ballads and swingers with equal skill. When these recordings were originally issued, the decision was made to put all of the ballads on one album and all of the swinging songs on another album, thus the music was not in the order it was actually performed in. When the “Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis, 1963-1964” box set was issued in 2004, the concert was presented in the correct order, with the previously unreleased “Autumn Leaves” opening the show. Oddly enough, the concert wasn’t re-released as a stand-alone two-disc set, so you can only get the concert in the correct running order on the box set. (Or you can program your CD.) The concert is excellent, featuring great work by Davis, Coleman, Hancock, Carter, and Williams. This would prove to be George Coleman’s last recording with Miles. 

“Filles de Kilimanjaro,” 1968. If you look up “transition album” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of the album cover of “Filles de Kilimanjaro.” (Although really, isn’t every album a transition between one thing and another?) “Filles” features the last recordings of Davis’ “Second Classic Quintet,” before Ron Carter left the group. The music has one foot rooted in the previous work of the Quintet, and one foot in the electric fusion future to come with Miles’ next album, “In a Silent Way.” But don’t overlook “Filles” just because it’s tough to classify. The album still features excellent music, with solid grooves and exemplary work by all the musicians.  

“Get Up With It,” 1974. This was Davis’ last album before his 5 year retirement, which lasted from 1975-1980. (Davis was lucky he survived his retirement, as he spent most of those 5 years consuming copious amounts of drugs.) The music on “Get Up With It” was recorded at various sessions from 1970-1974. It’s an extremely eclectic album, ranging from the bluesy, harmonica-led “Red China Blues,” to the frenetic fusion blur of “Calypso Frelimo.” Davis plays organ on several of the songs, and he doesn’t play the trumpet at all on “Rated X.” The highlight of the album is unquestionably the haunting, melancholy “He Loved Him Madly,” a 32-minute tribute to the recently deceased Duke Ellington. "He Loved Him Madly" is a fascinating piece of music, and Brian Eno has said that it was an influence on the ambient music he was recording at the time. 

There you have it, another ten fascinating albums from one of the geniuses of jazz, Miles Davis.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Essential Miles Davis Albums

Miles Davis, 1960.

Miles Davis backstage, 1971.

Collage of the album covers for 9 of the 10 Essential Miles Davis albums I wrote about in this post. Sorry "Live in Europe 1967," your album cover was the one I decided was most boring.
Miles Davis is one of the towering figures in the history of jazz. I’ve written about some aspects of his music before, like a review of Ashley Kahn’s excellent book about Davis’ classic 1959 album “Kind of Blue,” and a general overview of his music in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I also wrote in-depth reviews of the three albums Davis recorded in 1961, when tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was in his band: “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk,” and “Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.” Because Davis’ discography is so vast, it can be difficult to know where to start with his music. Davis played many different styles of jazz throughout his career, and just because you like one of his styles is no guarantee that you’ll like all of his music. Here’s a list of what I consider to be 10 of Miles Davis’ greatest albums. This list is subjective, and there are many excellent albums I’ve left off, but I’ve tried to pick the best of Davis’ various styles. No matter which style of Miles Davis you prefer, you should find something you’ll enjoy here. The albums are listed in the order they were recorded. 

“Bags’ Groove,” recorded 1954. Davis started recording with the great alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in November 1945, when he was just 19 years old. After several years in Parker’s group, Davis left to begin a solo career. In 1949 and 1950, Davis was the leader for the influential “Birth of the Cool” album, which helped to usher in a quieter, more subdued style of jazz called "cool jazz" or "West Coast jazz." Miles was heavily influenced by classical music, and the "Birth of the Cool" sessions were the antithesis of frenzied bebop soloing. One of the featured members of the "Birth of the Cool" band was Gerry Mulligan, who formed a group with the trumpeter Chet Baker that achieved great success in the early 1950's. Unfortunately, like many other jazz musicians of the period, Davis had developed a crippling heroin addiction. Once he finally got clean in early 1954, Davis began making an excellent series of recordings for Prestige Records. These records pointed the way towards hard bop, which was in some ways a reaction to the prevailing West Coast “cool” style that Davis himself had helped to usher in. “Bags’ Groove” is a killer set of hard bop, recorded when Miles was finding his own voice as a leader. The band Miles worked with on this record was insanely talented. On the song “Bags’ Groove” the band was Davis, Milt Jackson on vibes, Thelonious Monk on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. On the other tracks it was Davis, Heath, Clarke, Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, and Horace Silver on piano. The album features three songs by Sonny Rollins that would become jazz standards: “Airegin,” “Oleo,” and “Doxy.” 

“Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet,” recorded 1956. After his triumphant comeback performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955, Davis put together a band of his own. He found one of the greatest rhythm sections in jazz history; pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. And he took a chance on a journeyman tenor sax man from Philadelphia: John Coltrane. Miles and Trane's partnership would change the course of jazz history. This band was known as Miles's first "Classic Quintet," and the recordings they made together set the standard for hard bop playing. Davis was being courted by major record labels, and he worked out a deal with Columbia Records where he could record for Columbia during 1956 while he fulfilled his remaining obligations to Prestige Records. “Cookin’” was one of four albums he and the quintet recorded over two days for Prestige, and it features Miles’ famous recording of “My Funny Valentine,” one of his signature songs. Davis was crafting his trademark sound on the trumpet, and part of that was his use of the Harmon mute on ballads, which gave his sound an intimate, late-night feeling. 

 “Milestones,” 1958. Davis released his first album for Columbia Records, “’Round About Midnight,” in 1957, and it proved to be the beginning of a relationship that would last until 1985. At the end of 1956, Davis had actually fired Coltrane because of his drug problem, and had disbanded his quintet. Coltrane got clean and spent most of 1957 playing with Thelonious Monk. By the end of 1957, Davis had re-formed his quintet, with the addition of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, making it a sextet. It is this group that recorded the classic album “Milestones.” “Milestones” is inevitably overshadowed by the much more famous “Kind of Blue,” but it is a fantastic album in its own right. Miles plays piano on “Sid’s Ahead,” as Red Garland had left the studio in a huff. “Milestones” features some great hard bop playing on the title song and “Straight, No Chaser.” The music on “Milestones” points the way forward to the modal structures of “Kind of Blue.”

“Kind of Blue,” 1959. It’s not really a surprise this album would make the list. “Kind of Blue” is a classic album that is actually worthy of all the acclaim it has received. Regularly hailed as “the greatest jazz album ever,” “Kind of Blue” found Davis and his entire group at a peak of creativity. Davis’ band on “Kind of Blue” was Coltrane on tenor sax, Cannonball Adderley on alto, Bill Evans on piano, (Wynton Kelly plays piano on “Freddie Freeloader”) Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Evans had actually already left Davis’ group by the time “Kind of Blue” was recorded, but he returned for the album sessions, and he played a key role in helping Davis shape the music and sound of “Kind of Blue.” Evans claimed that he co-wrote “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches” with Davis, although he isn’t given co-writing credit. There was no way that Davis could keep a group full of so many jazz superstars together for very long, and within a year both Coltrane and Adderley had left to lead their own groups. Miles never made another album exactly like this one. One of the things I admire the most about Miles Davis is how he kept changing his music. He never stood still; his sound was always shifting and evolving. He could have taken the easy way out and tried to recapture the sound and magic of “Kind of Blue,” but he didn’t. Davis’ sound on the trumpet was so gorgeous that he could have made a ton of money by churning out smooth jazz albums where he just played pretty ballads, but he never did that, and I admire that about him. 

“Sketches of Spain,” 1960. Miles’ third collaboration on Columbia with arranger Gil Evans produced this album that featured some of Davis’ most beautiful playing. Davis’ albums with Evans are some of the most successful albums pairing a jazz performer with a large orchestral ensemble. Their previous collaborations were the highly esteemed “Miles Ahead” and “Porgy and Bess.” I like Davis’ small group albums more than his work with Evans, but “Sketches of Spain” is my favorite of their albums together. 

 “Miles Smiles,” 1967. In the early and mid-1960’s Davis had a number of health problems, including undergoing a hip replacement in 1965. When he entered the studio in October 1966 to record “Miles Smiles,” it was his first recording session since January 1965. The group he was recording “Miles Smiles” with was his “Second Classic Quintet” featuring Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. “Miles Smiles” was their second album together, and it showcased this group at the peak of their powers. Miles was musically rejuvenated by his young sidemen, and “Miles Smiles” highlights Shorter’s gifts as a composer, as he wrote “Orbits,” “Footprints,” and “Dolores.” “Circle” is a beautiful song, and one of Miles’ last great ballads. 

“Live in Europe, 1967: The Bootleg Series Volume 1,” recorded 1967. Not released until 2011, this three disc set features Davis’ “Second Classic Quintet” live in concert and shows all of them stretching the boundaries of jazz. The sets flow seamlessly, and the group has great chemistry together. As usual with Davis’ groups, all of these players are excellent soloists. The young, hyperkinetic drummer Tony Williams pushed the band to new heights on uptempo songs. We’re fortunate these performances were recorded, and in such good quality.

“In a Silent Way,” 1969. Miles Davis’ music changed very quickly in the late 1960’s. His “Second Classic Quintet” made their last recording together in 1968, as bassist Ron Carter left the group. Davis began to record with electric instruments and experiment with more open song structures. He was also starting to play music that was influenced by funk and soul. All of these new developments would eventually lead to the “fusion” style of jazz. Davis also started recording with larger groups, and the band on “In a Silent Way” features three keyboardists. “In a Silent Way” was the first record of Davis’ featuring British guitarist John McLaughlin, who would be an integral part of the sound of Davis’ music over the next few years. The music on “In a Silent Way” is unlike anything else Davis ever attempted. It’s moody, ethereal music that floats in the air. It’s an excellent late night album that slowly works its spell on you. 

“Bitches Brew,” 1970. You’ll either love it or hate it. But whatever you think of “Bitches Brew,” it’s definitely one of Davis’ key albums. “Bitches Brew,” Davis’ most famous jazz fusion album, may have alienated jazz purists, but also appealed to fans of rock and roll. I resisted fusion for a long time, not hearing anything but clutter in it. But a few years ago I finally decided, “I need to buy this album and really listen to it.” I enjoyed “Bitches Brew” more than I thought I would. It’s not my favorite Miles Davis album, but it was a landmark album, and helped change the direction of jazz, for better or worse. 

“Jack Johnson,” also known as “A Tribute to Jack Johnson,” 1971. Recorded as the soundtrack to a documentary film about Jack Johnson, the African-American heavyweight boxer, “Jack Johnson” is a rocking album that is full of heavy funk. It’s a groovier ride than “Bitches Brew,” and I prefer it to “Bitches Brew.” At the time it was not very successful commercially, but its reputation has grown over the years. Filled with two side-long jams that feature great guitar work from John McLaughlin, it’s perhaps Davis’ best fusion album. Herbie Hancock’s appearance on the album was serendipitous, as he just happened to be passing through the Columbia studios building and was recruited by Davis to play organ.

There you have it, 10 essential albums by Miles Davis. Yes, there are many classic albums not represented here. But these 10 albums will give you a good idea of why Miles Davis was so important to music.