Influences Pt 2: Finding Voice
I have had the benefit of falling in love with a lot of jazz musicians. Some are similar, but generally I fall in love with each one for reasons that are unique to them. I love Coltrane's passion and energy, I love Dexter Gordon's musical line. When I just need to feel good nothing lifts me up like Count Basie's sense of swing. And when I want to keep looking for fresh perspectives in familiar places, well, its always Duke Ellington. Each of these individuals have a strong sense of musical voice that transcend the recording. Like my father's voice over the telephone, I know who it is the instant I hear it.
My first experience with this was Miles Davis. Miles was the jazz musician whom there was never a question in my mind who was playing. To me, he didn't sound like anyone else. There was a signature there that I could always pick up on. Wether it was his solo on Freddie Freeloader, or Four I could hear his presence and personality. He was the first jazz musician that I didn't need to check out the back of a CD and confer with the liner notes to see who was playing trumpet - I just knew.
If you ever want to experiment with this, listen to Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else Album. Cannonball is the leader on this date and Miles is the sideman. But if there was a marketing glitch and somehow the personnel were not accounted for, nor the bandleader, you could certainly forgive the individual who would have credited the date to Miles Davis. His presence is just so strong. The musical personality of Miles Davis is so pervasive that it penetrates the groove and the harmony and seems to re-align all other elements into itself. Somehow the space that Miles' phrasing allows becomes a wisp that draws everyone into him.
The modern way which most of us are consuming music doesn't lend itself to this experience in the same way. Streaming services, as a general rule, are not making the personnel information readily available. In fact, many of us (I am very much including myself here) are not listening to full albums but rather shuffling playlists, or listening to streams that are simply algorithms of our listening preferences. I think it is so important to break free from that for a second. When a player's voice captures you, seek it out. Who is it? When was was? Do they have other recordings from a similar time period? What are they? Who are they playing with? Those are all rabbit holes worth jumping through and in fact are vital if we are to have strong connections to these musicians.
With Miles specifically, I remember getting the "Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet." And then I found out there was a Workin' and Steamin' and Cookin.' I got them all. There was a time that I simply could not get enough mid-1950's Miles. Everything down to the whistle and the "Block Chords Red, Block Chords," was etched in my ear. Sounds that were nostalgic and current, and forward reaching all at the same time. A musical voice that I will never forget.