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September 2017 Issue
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Nov. 20, 1959…Miles Davis records “Concierto de Aranjuez”

Trumpeter Miles Davis began his collaboration with composer and bandleader Gil Evans in the late 40’s. The two were part of a group of artists who sought to explore a new style of jazz playing which escaped the bounds of the bebop idiom, which was popular at the time. This particular type of music welcomed influences from classical music.

The result of this exploration is captured in the 1957 record Birth of the Cool, which compiles a series of recordings from three sessions performed by a Davis-led nonet. These sessions were recorded between 1949 and 1950.

When Davis signed on with Columbia Records, he was told that he could choose his own arranger and immediately chose Evans. The first three albums that resulted from this collaboration were Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958) and Sketches of Spain (1960).

Sketches of Spain is regarded as an exemplary recording of Third Stream, a musical fusion of jazz, European classical and styles from world music. One of its tracks was an extended version of the second movement of “Concierto de Aranjuez,” recorded on November 20, 1959.

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“Concierto de Aranjuez” was originally written for classical guitar and orchestra by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo in 1939. Davis and Evans’ reading of the piece was recorded with a 19-piece band and its structure is broken up by a chorus composed by Evans, which is echoed in other tracks in the album.

Contemporary jazz critics were initially hostile towards Davis’ recording of “Concierto de Aranjuez,” due perhaps to its quiet and symphonic nature, which was somewhat unique in jazz at the time. Nevertheless, it is now regarded as a landmark recording by Davis from this period.

In 2013, keyboardist Chick Corea, who would play with Davis some time after Sketches of Spain, would reflect on this track on The Wall Street Journal: “On that track, Miles is playing the trumpet like a deep opera singer, taking his time with each phrase. He seemed to go beyond thinking of his instrument as a trumpet and was singing the melody through his horn. His playing brought tears to my eyes.”

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