In this June, 1964 Down Beat Blindfold Test hosted by pianist, composer, producer and journalist Leonard Feather — who created this famed feature and first published it in the late 1930’s in Melody Maker — the ears of Miles Davis are tested.
Although Feather writes in the introduction that Davis “does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down,” he appeared to be in rare form on this date. His remarks are brilliant, blistering, biting, sarcastic, insulting…and that’s just in his comments on the first record! Miles take aim at artists and record companies, musical styles and critics. Nothing is held back.
With the benefit of modern technology, with one exception, the music Feather plays for Miles is available for your listening pleasure…
Down Beat, June, 1964
By Leonard Feather
Miles Davis is unusually selective in his listening habits. This attitude should not be interpreted as reflecting any general misanthropy. He was in a perfectly good mood on the day of the interview reproduced below; it just happened that the records selected did not, for the most part, make much of an impression.
Clark Terry, for example, is an old friend and idol of Davis’ from St. Louis, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra has always been on Davis’ preferred list.
Davis does not have an automatic tendency to want to put everything down, as an inspection of his earlier Blindfold Tests will confirm (DB, Sept. 21, 1955 and Aug. 7, 1958).
The Cecil Taylor item was played as an afterthought, because we were discussing artists who have impressed critics, and I said I’d like to play an example. Aside from this, Davis was given no information about the records played.
1. Les McCann-Jazz Crusaders
Wayne Henderson, trombone; Wilton Felder, tenor saxophone; Joe Sample, piano; McCann, electric piano; Miles Davis, composer.
What’s that supposed to be? That ain’t nothin’. They don’t know what to do with it – you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don’t just play flat notes. I didn’t write it to play flat notes on – you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don’t try to play it like you’d play, ah, Walkin’ the Dog. You know what I mean?
That trombone player – trombone ain’t supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.
Rate it? How can I rate that?
2. Clark Terry
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor)
Terry, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Kenny Burrell, guitar.
Clark Terry, right? You know, I’ve always liked Clark. But this is a sad record. Why do they make records like that? With the guitar in the way, and that sad fucking piano player. He didn’t do nothing for the rhythm section – didn’t you hear it get jumbled up? All they needed was a bass and Terry.
That’s what’s fucking up music, you know. Record companies. They make too many sad records, man.
3. Rod Levitt
(from Dynamic Sound Patterns, Riverside)
Levitt, trombone, composer; John Beal, bass.
There was a nice idea, but they didn’t do nothing with it. The bass player was a motherfucker, though.
What are they trying to do, copy Gil? It doesn’t have the Spanish feeling – doesn’t move. They move up in triads, but there’s all those chords missing – and I never heard any Spanish thing where they had a figure that went
That’s some old shit, man. Sounds like Steve Allen’s TV band. Give it some stars just for the bass player.
4. Duke Ellington
(from Money Jungle, United Artists).
Ellington, piano; Charlie Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums.
What am I supposed to say to that? That’s ridiculous. You see the way they can fuck up music? It’s a mismatch. They don’t complement each other. Max and Mingus can play together, by themselves. Mingus is a hell of a bass player, and Max is a hell of a drummer. But Duke can’t play with them, and they can’t play with Duke.
Now, how are you going to give a thing like that some stars? Record companies should be kicked in the ass. Somebody should take a picket sign and picket the record company.
5. Sonny Rollins
“You Are My Lucky Star”
(from 3 in Jazz, RCA Victor).
Don Cherry, trumpet; Rollins, tenor saxophone; Henry Grimes, bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
Now, why did they have to end it like that? Don Cherry I like, and Sonny I like, and the tune idea is nice. The rhythm is nice. I didn’t care too much for the bass player’s solo. Five stars is real good? It’s just good, no more. Give it three.
6. Stan Getz – Joao Gilberto
from Getz-Gilberto, Verve
Getz, tenor saxophone; Gilberto, vocal.
Gilberto and Stan Getz made an album together? Stan plays good on that. I like Gilberto; I’m not particularly crazy about just anybody’s bossa nova. I like the samba. And I like Stan, because he has so much patience, the way he plays those melodies – other people can’t get nothing out of a song, but he can. Which takes a lot of imagination, that he has, that so many other people don’t have.
As for Gilberto, he could read a newspaper and sound good! I’ll give that one five stars.
7. Eric Dolphy
(from Far Cry, New Jazz).
Booker Little, trumpet; Dolphy, composer, alto saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano.
That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker.
L.F.: Down Beat won’t print those words. [But I do!]
M.D.: Just put he’s a sad shhhhhhhhh, that’s all! The composition is sad. The piano player fucks it up, getting in the way so that you can’t hear how things are supposed to be accented.
It’s a sad record, and it’s the record company’s fault again. I didn’t like the trumpet player’s tone, and he don’t do nothing. The running is all right if you’re going to play that way, like Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan; but you’ve got to inject something, and you’ve got to have the rhythm section along; you just can’t keep on playing all eighth notes.
The piano player’s sad. You have to think when you play; you have to help each other – you just can’t play for yourself. You’ve got to play with whomever you’re playing. If I’m playing with Basie, I’m going to try to help what he’s doing – that particular feeling.
8. Cecil Taylor
(from Live at the Café Montmartre, Fantasy).
Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone; Taylor, piano.
Take it off! That’s some sad shit, man. In the first place, I hear some Charlie Parker cliches. . . . They don’t even fit. Is that what the critics are digging? Them critics better stop having coffee. If there ain’t nothing to listen to, they might as well admit it. Just to take something like that and say it’s great, because there ain’t nothing to listen to, that’s like going out and getting a prostitute.
L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.
M.D.: I don’t give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don’t care who he’s inspired by. That shit ain’t nothing. In the first place he don’t have the – you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn’t have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.
I can tell he’s influenced by Duke, but to put the loud pedal on the piano and make a run is very old-fashioned to me. And when the alto player sits up there and plays without no tone. . . . That’s the reason I don’t buy any records.