For the second instalment of our ongoing collaborative blog series The Three Bloggers, myself, Ted Warren of Trap'd and Todd Bishop of Cruiseship Drummer decided to offer our collective thoughts on the seminal Miles Davis recording Milestones.
I used to listen to and play-a-long with this album quite a bit back in the day and I transcribed a number of Philly Joe Jones' drum solos so this has been a great opportunity to revisit this music. If you are interested in studying Jones' drumming (and I would highly recommend it at the very least to study and play along with Philly's ride beat!), there is a lot of "trademark" vocabulary worth studying on this album (but don't ask me for my transcriptions...do it yourself. Do the work and you will reap the rewards!) In fact, a long time ago, when I asked Joe LaBarbera about what to listen to for brush vocabulary and trading ideas he simply replied: "Two words...Billy Boy!"
But then he paused for moment and continued: "Well, while you're at it you should probably check out "Two Bass Hit" too!"
And then after another brief pause and some more thought he continued: "Well, just go listen and play-a-long with the whole album!"
Great advice from Joe and now I tell all my students to do the same.
Anyways, and now a few words about listening...
When I was a student at McGill University, my teacher Andre White would often have us do a series of group listening exercises in our improv classes. Basically this would consist of the class listening to a track from an album from start to finish and, as we were listening to it, write down absolutely everything that we noticed. Once it was done we would all share our lists and compare our notes. This would usually lead to some extensive discussion on a variety of points, from many different perspectives. Then we would go back, listen to it again and do the same thing all over again (sometimes several times in fact...each time focusing our ears on a different, specific aspect). This approach to listening with focused intent really opened my ears and taught me not to take listening for granted (and I encourage all my students to consider this as well).
In fact, if you've been following my regular Instagram Live IGTV interview series Four on the Floor *Live*, happening every Tuesday evening at 7pm MST (9pm EST) @fouronthefloorblog, then you may have a noticed a common theme among all the individuals that I've spoken with so far. The fundamental importance of LISTENING comes up again and again and has become a constant theme in every single interview. Anyways, not to digress too much here, but don't forget: learning how to really listen and practicing listening is just as important as playing your instrument!
Okay, so here's a few things I've noticed from revisiting and playing along with the album Milestones over the past few weeks:
- Keep in mind that in listening to this album that it's not a one-off, isolated studio session you are listening to but instead a working band that was playing together all the time, performing on the road for nights on end and had many albums already under their belt (with a few exceptions of course, thinking of Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley interchanging then finally crossing paths on this particular album). Fundamentally I think this is important to acknowledge because the unity that they play with and how the band truly sounds together only comes from a group of people that are used to playing with each other for a concentrated period time. It's pretty rare to find that group simpatico from people who don't play together frequently (although it does happen). For starters, listen to the drum and bass quarter note hook up between Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers, the cohesiveness of the rhythm section, the blend and phrasing of the horns and the overall sense of flow. It's remarkable and they are firing on all cylinders here.
- Miles' choice of repertoire is interesting too and the album's overall programming is worthy taking note of. Of the six tracks on this album four of them are blues (yet nothing sounds repetitive or redundant) and one track (the aforementioned "Billy Boy") features the rhythm section while the horns take a break. Also, no ballads! (despite Miles being well-known and celebrated for his compelling approach to playing ballads). Overwhelmingly, the compositions are also written by musicians other than Miles or members of the band (specifically composers such as Thelonious Monk, John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie and Jackie McLean who all had associations with Davis at one point).