This week marks the 60th anniversary of the late, great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ breakthrough 1955 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. That hastily arranged jam session featuring Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan led to Davis inking a record deal with Columbia and launched a 20-year stint as a performer at George Wein’s acclaimed festival.
The sprawling four-CD set “Miles Davis at Newport” chronicles that journey with material from eight of Davis’ NJF performances — 1955, 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1973 and 1975. With 40 tracks clocking in at almost five hours, including almost four hours of previously unreleased material, this set is a dream come true for jazz fans.
“When Miles played his solo on ‘’Round Midnight’ (in 1955) he put his horn right up to the microphone, which trumpet players didn’t do,” recalls Wein, who is still overseeing the Newport Jazz Festival at age 89. “Normally they like to get some air and play a little bit away from the microphone, but he put the bell of his horn right up against it, and it came through clear as a bell. That’s when he became the star of the festival.”
That performance of “’Round Midnight” is a highlight of the set, as are renditions of “Straight, No Chaser,” “The Theme,” “All Blues,” “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” “Mtume,” “Sanctuary,” “Funky Tonk” and “Bitches Brew.”
“Jazz is like a deck of cards,” Wein explains. “There are Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks and a lot of other numbers, but if you’re going to put on a great festival you need the Aces. Miles was an Ace. Year in and year out he was always a major attraction for us and he created some of the most important music that ever happened at Newport.” (Jeffrey Sisk)