Miles Davis – blind listening test

Down Beat Magazine interviewed Miles Davis in 1964 and asked him for his opinion on some music via a blind listening test, and checked his ability to pick out other musicians based on the way they played.

Now, Miles Davis wasn’t known for listening to just about anything – he was very selective in what he spent his time listening to, so he’s definitely got some opinions.

On Les McCann-Jazz Crusaders, “All Blues” (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?

On Clark Terry, “Cielito Lindo” (Clark 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.

On Rod Levitt, “Ah! Spain” (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.

On Duke Ellington, “Caravan” (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.

On Sonny Rollins, “You are my Lucky Star” (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.

On Stan Getz – Joao Gilbert, “Desafinado” (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.

On Eric Dolphy, “Mary Ann” (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.  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.

On Cecil Taylor, “Lena” (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.

Interviewer: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

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.

55 Responses to Miles Davis – blind listening test
  1. tjjazzpiano Reply

    Miles being Miles! Love it. Sad he didn’t dig the Cecil stuff though. As a pianist, I don’t understand what he’s trying to say about Cecil’s touch. I think he was very effective with directly conveying his emotions on the instrument.

  2. mark johnson Reply

    miles is right

  3. brian kinder Reply

    But what about that electronic garbage played for years ?

    • Pennywhistler Reply

      What about it?

      Davis didn’t review any such records, because nobody did anything like that for another 30 years.

      So what’s your point?

  4. Doug Reply

    My Dad had that Ellington album with Mingus and Roach “piano in the foreground” Even then I too thought it sounded like shit and later, when I recognized ( as Miles points out here) that they don’t compiment each other (cause Mingus and Roach are boppers and Duke is a swinger) I figured I was missing something. thanks for telling it like it is.

    Another mismatch was Lonnie Liston Smith with Cecil McBee and Al Foster playing bop on “make someone happy”…I mean Smith is a great pianist in the later styles but he can’t play bop so the record flopped.

  5. Jack Walrath Reply

    As you can see, history in this instance, history hasn’t been good to Miles Davis!

  6. Brian Woodruff Reply

    The name of the trio record with Max and Mingus is “Money Jungle.” Piano in the Foreground was made with the rhythm section from his big band at the time: Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard. Being a big fan of Max, Duke, and Mingus, I try to listen to Money Jungle every few years but it always leaves me cold.

  7. Austin Casey Reply

    I actually sort of agree with Miles on a few but he himself has recorded some bullshit.

    • Nick Reply

      I hear that.

  8. tylerw Reply

    Money Jungle is one of the best jazz trio records ever.

  9. Jass Fan Reply

    Booker Little was the best of all those guys. Let’s not forget that he died when he was 23!!! Lee and Freddie were greatly influenced by Booker. Booker Little “4″ is a must own for jazz fans. Great interview though!

  10. Area Woman Reply

    What a Grumpy-Grump.

  11. AMS Reply

    I appreciate the uncensored honesty. There are way too many posers and people playing on false humility and “niceties”. Not everyone is a genius. Not everything is good. And not everybody has to like it. Not everyone has to agree.

  12. Amy Duncan Reply

    This is pretty hilarious, actually. Have to disagree with Miles about Stan Getz, though. He ruined that record with all his grandstanding…he didn’t get Gilberto’s subtlety at all, and Gilberto was royally pissed off that Getz kept turning the volume up on all his solos!

    • aj Reply

      Amy- You may have mis-read. Miles dug Gilberto BIG TIME. For Miles to admit liking anything (besides himself) is a HUGE deal.

      • Rune Reply

        Amy commented on Getz’ contribution. I must disagree with Amy though, Stan didn’t ruin anything. He can’t ruin anything with his playing, it’s an impossibility :) One of the most musical person to walk the face of this earth.

  13. Ralph Lalama Reply

    That was FUNKY,just like all of Miles’s music

  14. CARLITA Reply

    HILARIOUS!!!! This sounded just like Miles…

  15. Jason Simanek Reply

    I dig parts of Money Jungle and I love the Getz/Gilberto and Rollins stuff. I’m a bit baffled they didn’t play any Coltrane for him … Regardless of whether or not I agree with him on everything, it’s a lot of fun to here a pro frankly stating his opinion and not kissing everybody’s ass.

  16. Chris Willis Reply

    Typo: It’s Clark Terry not Terry Clark.

    • John Reply

      I think that was Miles screwing up the name, not a typo.

      • brian Reply

        Miles didn’t screw up the name. It’s Clark Terry.

      • Mike Reply

        No, Miles got it right. The blogger got it wrong. The guy’s name is Clark Terry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Terry

        • admin Reply

          You’re absolutely right – I screwed up. Fixed. Thanks!

          - “The Blogger”

          • not the admin

            “On Terry Clark, “Cielito Lindo” (Clark Terry: trumpet;…”

            One still needs fixing?

          • admin

            thanks!

  17. Podatki Reply

    great answers but test was too short

  18. Mic Edwards Reply

    “So, who was that? Miles Davis. He got some bad attitude. He played the trumpet so bad that he couldn’t get all of his beautiful ideas to come out of the bell.”

    • jpg Reply

      +1000

  19. Mandrake Reply

    This is a very good blind listenig test, I love it

  20. ray Reply

    miles davis comment on Prince:

     ”…Prince don’t hear Ravel when he wanna make love to his woman. He hears drums and sh*t…”

  21. Ron Aprea Reply

    Miles spoke and played with big balls. Yeah, I disagree with 1 or 2 comments, but this blindfold test is a classic. Gotta love his honesty.

  22. dre Reply

    Describing Gets as ‘patient’ is the highlight for me. Nailed it.

  23. Mike Reply

    This is great. I was surprised that the only thing he liked that much is the Stan Getz and Joaõ Gilberto. They are indeed great players together, but I think they get less credit today than many of the musicians he’s harder on.

    It’s interesting because you can see here how he paid a lot of attention to how musicians sound together, and that’s part of what made him such a great bandleader. He put together two of the greatest quintets ever, as well as the “Kind of Blue” ensemble, the Bitches Brew crew, etc. In his autobiography he also talks a lot about assembling bands and what he was looking for. He had a great eye for talent and ensemble musicianship.

  24. Phil Hood Reply

    Miles was right. Getz’s rep will grow with time.

  25. thorick Reply

    Miles’ 1964 self would have recoiled at what his 1970 self had become, even more so with what his 1980′s self had become. But then I have a feeling that his 1980′s self mellowed out and embraced more…

  26. Bob Ferguson Reply

    Miles, Outspoken just like his music, direct and to the point, never overstated. Miles never had to look over his shoulder,because frankly he was that far ahead of everyone else. The music he left us with is eternal.

  27. Tom Reply

    Anyone know which month this issue of DownBeat was?

  28. Brenno Costa Reply

    Miles Davis is superior

  29. Partow Payandeh Reply

    Loved the Miles interview. Thanks!

  30. Freddie Freeloader Reply

    Man.. He’s a real musician, he’s a real human – people need to be like that. Honest about everything. That’s really interesting to read, I think he gives genius answer. His attitude is very cool/bad, but what he says is really great. He shows that he is listening.

    Herbie Hancock was asked a question in an interview the following: “If you pick your favorite musician to have in your band, who would it be?”

    H: Miles, because he is really listening to what other are playing

  31. Gregory hutchinson Reply

    Wow you know we need more honesty in the music business .Sad to see so many musicians being made by the critics and not their talent .
    While I agree with some of the things said its just the fact that he was so honest and we need more of that
    Hutch

    • danny c. Reply

      Gregory Hutchinson…what up Hutch! Miles would have called your drumming THE BOMB! LOVED following you around in Hargrove’s Quintet in the early nineties…I have super hot tapes of you on live versions of The Vibe —)Caryisms. Hope to hear you again live sometime. I’d like to hear responses to the dude above me that said Miles recorded ‘garbage’ at some point in his career. WHAT. !?!

  32. Mike Cunningham Reply

    Miles keeping it real – funny how he doesn’t sugar coat it a bit. I liked he comments about Getz and Gilberto.

  33. Michael Leddy Reply

    What I hear in Davis’s responses is not hard-hitting honesty but a sour lack of generosity. Not surprising really: those who are in an art, whatever the art might be, aren’t always broad-ranging in their tastes. (Consider, for instance, Nabokov’s dismissals of other modern writers.)

    Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, and Booker Little are widely regarded as brilliant musicians. Money Jungle is widely regarded as a great trio recording. Davis’s comments make me think of someone dismissing modern paintings because they don’t look like something. Any listener is free to dislike a musician’s work, but it’s a mistake to assume that Davis is telling a truth that other listeners are too phony to acknowledge.

  34. snack46 Reply

    “and that sad fucking piano player. He didn’t do nothing for the rhythm section – didn’t you hear it get jumbled up? ”

    Every other personnel listing that I can find, including the original record sleeve itself, lists Herbie Hancock and not Hank Jones as the pianist on this record. i.e. Miles’ very own pianist (in the second quintet) at the time of this interview!

    Can anyone get confirmation of this, cos that’s way too funny…

  35. MovedSouth Reply

    Dolphy sounds bad? WTF. Miles was a creator, a genius in his own right. But he fucked up his potential, cause he could not control the monkey on his back. So you can’t trust the verdict of a raging addict at all times. Some of his comments are dumb.

  36. danny c. Reply

    Gregory Hutchinson…what up Hutch! Miles would have called your drumming THE BOMB! LOVED following you around in Hargrove’s Quintet in the early nineties…I have super hot tapes of you on live versions of The Vibe —)Caryisms. Hope to hear you again live sometime. I’d like to hear responses to the dude above me that said Miles recorded ‘garbage’ at some point in his career. WHAT. !?!

  37. Joe Reply

    If you gave him some blow before the interview he’d have sang a completely different tune. The uppity ramblings of an ego-maniac.

    The Mingus / Duke / Roach “Caravan” from Money Jungle is better than anything Miles ever did period.

    • Peter Reply

      True. I can’t imagine even he believed half the bullshit he came out with, entertaining though it is.

    • John Reply

      I strongly disagree. There is nothing you can level at Kind of Blue and Nefertiti.

  38. Graham Haynes Reply

    In a strange way, a Milesian way , there is a logic and a basis for much of what he is saying. You have to take it in context. It is easy to love Eric and Cecil and Jaki Byard (my mentor ) today . In 1964 it was a different thing. The things Miles says have to be taken in the context of that time.

    Also I very much believe he has a point about record companies and their ideas . During that time you`d have some sad A& R guy sitting around making a nice salary saying something like ” Yeah Clark why don`t you make a record of Christmas tunes and you can get Hank and so and so ” and because the guys wanted to record and make some bread to pay their mortgages or whatever, they recorded it. It wasn`t their idea. If the musicians could record THEIR ideas we`d have much different records but a lot of these records from the past and from today are the ideas of some record company guy. We, the artists need to control our music. Our art. This is Miles point !
    Some musicians don`t have any ideas . they are just players. They are not artists. Just cause a guy plays an instrument doesn`t mean he is an artist or a recording artist . Another point Miles makes and should be taken . Perhaps some records just should not be made .

    I love Eric and Jaki but they weren`t Miles cup of tea. I loved Booker but he was very young when he recorded . HE DIED AT 23 !!!!!!!!!!!! I don`t think he had a chance to develop. Sometimes he DOES play a lot of eight notes. Maybe had he lived longer he would have had a chance to develop and he wouldn`t play as many eight notes. He was young. he was developing something . So were most of those guys. Their music at that time was in the experimental stage. Now today we can look at it as the norm and it is fine. Everyone is in love with Cecil but Cecil is an iconoclast and this was 1964 and Miles couldn`t deal with it. He might have come around later as he did with Ornette. He didn`t dig Ornette that much in the beginning but changed later.

    Now should Booker have recorded at 23 ?? I for one am very glad he did . I am EXTREMELY GLAD HE DID and that we have these records but for someone like Miles maybe Booker wasn`t ready to record . We have to remember that Miles was a very high level artists and could not listen to a lot of things based on his high level of artistry . But me as a 19 year old I needed to hear Booker at 20 years old in order to help MY development . Are these classic records ? I don`t know. Definitely not all of them . What Miles is saying is that he wants to hear classic records. He is not a novice . He is Miles Davis !!!!!! Think of all the shit he heard in 1939 !!!!!!!!!! Killing shit. We have to remember this . He`s heard it all and then some !!

  39. Brad Reply

    Read “Hear me talkin’ to ya”, (Shapiro/Hentoff) for more frank, and wildly opinionated music (and social) criticism. Also check out “Notes and Tones” by Art Taylor…. more interesting opinions, and experience in the jazz world.
    You gotta love Miles…

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