Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

March 31, 2019

Miles Davis, “First Miles” (Savoy Jazz LP/CD)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:40 pm


SAVOY JAZZ LP, issued in 1988

later reissued on CD by Denon/Nippon Columbia as part of their Savoy Jazz reissue series (see my comments on the JAZZ REFLECTIONS COMPLETER DISC elsewhere on blog)–presently available digitally from Savoy’s current owner, Concord Music (part of the Universal Music conglomerate, Concord purchased Savoy in 2017, bringing one of the last great indie labels nor under the control of one of the mega-conglomerates now under their control). However, copies of the various CD’s and the original LP of this are available cheap, and you should own one of those as Phil Schaap’s exhuastive liner notes are superb, as always….and why not get a physical artifact if you are going to pay for this music.

The running order and indexing differs on the original LP and original Japanese CD issues. The LP puts the Rubberlegs Williams sessions on side one, and with the Parker/Davis material on side two, each false start and separate take is banded separately. On the CD (which is what I presently own–I sold off the LP maybe 15 years ago), the Parker/Davis material is presented first, and false starts and incomplete takes are presented together with a completed take as one track.

Credits on 1992 Denon/Savoy Jazz CD

Tracks 1–8, Miles Davis All-Stars, August 14, 1947, Harry Smith Studios, NYC

Miles Davis – trumpet

Charlie Parker – tenor sax

John Lewis – piano

Nelson Boyd – bass

Max Roach – drums

1              Milestones – First Take 1 / Master Take 2

2              Milestones – Take 3

3              Little Willie Leaps – First Take 1 / Alt. Take 2

4              Little Willie Leaps – Master Take 3

5              Half Nelson – Alt. Take 1

6              Half Nelson – Master Take 2

7              Sippin’ At Bells – First Take 1 / Master Take 2

8              Sippin’ At Bells – First Take 3 / Alt. Take 4

Tracks 9–16 Herbie Fields Band with Rubberlegs Williams, April 24, 1945, WOR Studios, NYC

Rubberlegs Williams – vocals

Miles Davis – trumpet

Herbie Fields – tenor sax, clarinet

Teddy Brannon – piano

Leonard Gaskin – bass

Ed Nicholson – drums

9              That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Alt. Take 1

10           That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Alt. Take 2

11           That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Master Take

12           Pointless Mama Blues

13           Deep Sea Blues

14           Bring It On Home – First Take 1

15           Bring It On Home – Alt. Take 2

16           Bring It On Home – Master Take 3


first miles

I first heard of Rubberlegs Williams though the oft-reissued session where he was backed by Charlie Parker, a session that was infamous for someone spiking Williams’ coffee with Benzadrine, causing a wild performance on the vocalist’s part. I did not know until reading his Wikipedia entry while researching this post that RW was a well-known teetotaler and non-smoker, so doping his drink was doubly outrageous and unexpected. Williams might be best known to jazz and blues fans as a recording artist, now a footnote to the careers of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, but he was best known in the 30’s and 40’s as a nightclub star and amazing dancer. He played major African-American venues of the day, including the Cotton Club and Small’s Paradise (the former, of course, associated with Duke Ellington, the latter with Charlie Johnson and then Fletcher Henderson), and he made a mind-blowing Vitaphone short (as one of SMALL’S PARADISE ENTERTAINER) in 1933 called SMASH YOUR LUGGAGE, which showcases his virtuoso dancing. Surely, no act dared follow the aptly-named Rubberlegs Williams onstage. You can watch (as of 3/2019) that short here:

Smash Your Baggage, 1933 Vitaphone Short


These 1945 Rubberlegs Williams sides were Miles Davis’ first recordings, though he does not solo on them–saxophonist/leader Herbie Fields is the featured soloist. Williams is obviously a man whose recordings reflect his “act” but he is able to adapt that “act” to the recording studio well. His collected sessions (though not the outtakes from the Savoy sessions presented here, only the master takes), 16 songs, are available on a Spanish CD from the Blue Moon label, OBSCURE BLUES SHOUTERS VOLUME 2 (pictured below), which should not be hard to find in the $10-12 range on Discogs. Some will be reminded of a smoother-voiced Scatman Crothers, though I would certainly recognize Williams if I were presented with a session of his I’d not heard before.

obscure 2

R&B and blues sideman gigs were a good source of pocket money for jazz musicians, who seem to have been far less interested in divisive labels than music writers were. Also, many would argue that having one foot in the blues would give any musician’s playing more grit and gravitas. I can’t imagine later players such as Albert Ayler or Rev. Frank Wright sounding the way they did without their early years playing in R&B bands (let’s not forget Coltrane’s time in Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s band either–I can ALWAYS hear a blues base in Coltrane’s sound). As this is a small group, Davis can be heard clearly paired with saxophonist Fields, though only Fields solos. Williams has the timing and phrasing of a seasoned vaudeville performer (he reminds me at times of Tim “Kingfish” Moore), though a supple approach and varied technique on the four songs here that shows he understands how to use a recording studio. His approach to the different takes is quite varied too, especially on the classic “That’s The Stuff You’ve Got To Watch,” which is taken as a mellow blues but also as a semi-rapped performance piece. It’s top shelf R&B all around, and I wonder if we’d have gotten these false starts and alternate takes released if Miles Davis was not on them…so we should be thankful that he was on them as any lover of 40’s R&B will treasure these sides, and Davis–though not actually “featured”–has a lovely muted tone, steeped in the blues, and is clearly audible.


parker and davis

Parker and Davis at the Royal Roost 1948

While the Rubberlegs Williams recordings were Davis’ first as a sideman, the 1947 session with Charlie Parker was, I’m told, his first as a leader. All four compositions are credited to Davis, and all feature his employer Charlie Parker on tenor, not on his usual alto saxophone. In Phil Schaap’s liner notes, producer Teddy Reig explains that this was done for two reasons: to get around a claim from Dial Records that Parker was under contract to Dial (though Savoy also had a contract that supposedly pre-dated Dial’s), probably with the thought that his distinctive sound would be slightly less distinctive on a tenor than on an alto); and that Reig enjoyed when Parker played tenor in the Earl Hines Orchestra, but that work was never documented in a studio recording, and Reig thought his tenor work should be. As for the music, for me, ANY pure bebop recordings made during the music’s golden age, circa 1945-1948, are precious, and these pieces, done at mid-tempo and not at the breakneck pace of some other bebop pieces (including a number of Parker’s), have a laid-back coolness to them, with the usual free-flowing, spiraling, off-kilter but perfectly balanced and resistant to gravity–as in a Picasso sculpture. Davis had charts for the pieces and also had John Lewis (later of Modern Jazz Quartet fame) on piano–whom Davis had encouraged Parker to hire for their working band, but the Bird would not. Because of Davis’ leadership and compositions, and because of Parker being on tenor, the four pieces are quite distinctive in the work of Parker for that era. And let’s not forget Max Roach’s playing–never calling attention to himself but like Kenny Clarke in this era working with subtle changes in flow, largely on the cymbals, to shade and color the music in a way that you can listen to the pieces and tune out the front line and just pay attention to Roach (as you can with Clarke, pretty much any time in his career). Each one exists in between two and four takes, not all complete, so there are twelve attempts at the four pieces. These Davis-Parker selections alone would be worth the price of the album.

half nelson

This is an album I have treasured for decades, both on LP and on CD. It features lesser-known prime material from two of the richest veins of 1940’s African-American music, bebop and R&B, and demonstrates the overlap of these genres. The fact that they also feature Miles Davis in his initial sessions as a sideman and a leader is just icing on the cake, a delicious cake!

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