Hear a 65-Hour, Chronological Playlist of Miles Davis’ Revolutionary Jazz Albums

When Miles Davis attend­ed a White House din­ner in 1987, he was asked what he had done to deserve to be there. No mod­est man, Davis, he respond­ed “Well, I’ve changed music five or six times.”
Is it brag­ging when it’s absolute­ly true? In this recent Spo­ti­fy playlist, Steve Hen­ry takes on the Miles Davis discog­ra­phy in rough­ly a chrono­log­i­cal order, a stun­ning 569 songs and 65 hours of music. That makes that, what, over 90 tracks per rev­o­lu­tion in music?

Tech­ni­cal­ly, Davis’ first record­ed appear­ance was as a mem­ber of Char­lie Parker’s quin­tet in 1944, and his first as a leader was a 1946 78rpm record­ing of “Mile­stones” on the Savoy label. But this playlist starts with the 1951 Pres­tige album The New Sounds (which lat­er made up the first side of Con­cep­tion). By this time, Davis had tak­en the jaun­ty bebop of men­tor and idol Park­er and helped cre­ate a more relaxed style, a “cool” jazz that would come to dom­i­nate the 1950s. Pri­vate­ly he swung between extremes: a health nut who got into box­ing, or a hero­in addict and hustler/pimp, and he would oscil­late between health and ill­ness for the rest of his life.

Dur­ing the 1950s how­ev­er, he also cre­at­ed some of his most stun­ning clas­sics, first for Pres­tige and Blue Note, where he devel­oped the style to be known as “hard bop; then for Colum­bia, a label rela­tion­ship that would result in some of his most rev­o­lu­tion­ary music. (Note: to get out of his Pres­tige con­tract that want­ed four more albums out of him, Davis and his Quin­tet booked two ses­sion dates and record­ed four albums worth of mate­r­i­al, the Cookin’ Relax­in’ Workin’ and Steamin’ albums that in no way sounds like an oblig­a­tion.)

At Colum­bia, Davis made his­to­ry with 1959’s Kind of Blue, con­sid­ered by many as one of the great­est jazz albums of all time, along with his col­lab­o­ra­tions with arranger Gil Evans (Sketch­es of Spain, Por­gy and Bess, Miles Ahead). After a lull in the mid-‘60s where the music press expect­ed either a resur­gence or a trag­ic end, Davis returned with sec­ond quin­tet (Wayne Short­er, Her­bie Han­cock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams) for anoth­er run of albums in his then “time, no changes” free jazz style, includ­ing Miles Smiles, Sor­cer­er, and Filles de Kil­i­man­jaro.

But none of those pre­pared any­body for the giant leap beyond jazz itself into pro­to-ambi­ent with In a Silent Way and the men­ac­ing mis­te­rioso-funk of Bitch­es Brew of 1970. Davis had watched rock and funk go from teenag­er pop music at the begin­ning of the decade to lit­er­al­ly chang­ing the world. He respond­ed by cre­at­ing one of the dens­est, weird­est albums which both owed some of its sound to rock and at the same time refut­ed almost every­thing about the genre (as well as the his­to­ry of jazz). He was 44 years old.

His band mem­bers went on to shape jazz in the ‘70s: Wayne Short­er and Joe Zaw­in­ul formed Weath­er Report; John McLaugh­lin formed the Mahav­ish­nu Orches­tra; Her­bie Han­cock, although already estab­lished as a solo artist, brought forth the Head­hunters album; Chick Corea helped form Return to For­ev­er.

As for Davis, he delved deep­er into funk and fusion with a series of albums, includ­ing On the Cor­ner, that would go unap­pre­ci­at­ed at the time, but are now seen as influ­en­tial in the world of hip hop and beyond. By the ‘80s, after a few years where he just dis­ap­peared into reclu­sion, he returned with some final albums that are all over the map: cov­er­ing pop hits by Cyn­di Lau­per and Michael Jack­son much in the same way that Coltrane cov­ered The Sound of Music; exper­i­men­tal sound­tracks; and exper­i­ment­ing with loops, sequencers, beats, and hip hop. Hav­ing strug­gled with ill­ness and addic­tion all his life, he passed away at 65 years old in 1991, leav­ing behind this stun­ning discog­ra­phy, still offer­ing up sur­pris­es to those look­ing to explore his lega­cy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Paint­ings of Miles Davis

Miles Davis Dish­es Dirt on His Fel­low Jazz Musi­cians: “The Trom­bone Play­er Should be Shot”; That Ornette is “F‑ing Up the Trum­pet”

The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grate­ful Dead in 1970: Hear the Com­plete Record­ings

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (6)
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  • Gregory Marcy da Gama says:

    Fine writ­ing en bre­vis of a com­plex man with an extra­or­di­nary claim on musi­cal his­to­ry. He was the Black Bach for sure. Well done, sir!

  • J says:

    This quote miss­es the cul­mi­na­tion of Miles.….

    “As for Davis, he delved deep­er into funk and fusion with a series of albums, includ­ing On the Cor­ner, that would go unap­pre­ci­at­ed at the time, but are now seen as influ­en­tial in the world of hip hop and beyond. By the ‘80s, after a few years where he just dis­ap­peared into reclu­sion, he returned with some final albums that are all over the map: cov­er­ing pop hits by Cyn­di Lau­per”

    I think the most impor­tant works of the deep­er into funk and fusion, are the stu­dio “Get up With It”, and the incred­i­ble live albums from a day in Osa­ka, Aghar­ta and Pangea.
    Here he honed the immense jazz septet, Cosey on gui­tar, Son­ny For­tune on flute and sax­es. The Michael Hen­der­son bass is won­der­ful, and under appre­ci­at­ed, as well as Fos­ters impec­ca­ble swing and back beats for Miles. Miles floats in and out speak­ing with the whaah ped­al in some secret lan­guage. Miles also plays organ, what every trum­peter wants, to play chords.

  • John Kuster says:

    As regard­ing the post Miles work of his 2nd great quin­tet mem­bers, the fail­ure to men­tion Tony William’s group Life­time which includ­ed a young John McLaugh­lin, is glaring.Miles is gen­er­al­ly cred­it­ed with start­ing “fusion” but a lis­ten to Life­times “Expe­ri­ences” before Bitch­es Brew was record­ed will dis­pell that notion.

  • ted mills says:

    Thanks for the respons­es all. It’s daunt­ing to write up some­thing about one of the most impor­tant artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry in a short peri­od of time, so if I just cov­er a frac­tion well that’s an achieve­ment.

    This time round, I was impressed with how many of his “eras” are con­cen­trat­ed ses­sions that then sus­tain the record com­pa­nies for numer­ous releas­es. If this was any oth­er artist it would be bar­rel-scrap­ing, but for Miles, each release is amaz­ing.

  • Reginald Pai says:

    Miles Davis was a leg­end. Thanks for com­pil­ing this playlist. It’s a trib­ute to this great artist

  • Daniel Gustavo Serra says:

    The playlist is far from being a com­plete chrono­log­i­cal discog­ra­phy of Miles Davis, even con­sid­er­ing only his stu­dio record­ings as a band­leader. To begin with, the first track on the playlist is Odje­nar, record­ed in March 1951. At that time, Davis had more than 20 tracks record­ed as a band­leader already and many many more as a ses­sion­ist.
    An alter­na­tive, prob­a­bly more accu­rate, way to cre­ate a chrono­log­i­cal list is to con­sid­er when the album was record­ed instead of when it was released. The dif­fer­ence is huge in some cas­es, e.g. “Steamin’ ” was record­ed in 1956, but for com­mer­cial rea­sons it was released in 1961. Miles was artis­ti­cal­ly in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent place in ’56 vs ’61 after Mile­stones and Kind of Blue.

    For a much more accu­rate chrono­log­i­cal playlist, take a look at this one:

    And while you lis­ten, you can fol­low this Google Spread­sheet with all the details of every record­ing Ses­sion:

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