This weekend PBS aired “The Sound of Miles Davis”, a 30-minute program from 1959 featuring the Miles Davis Quintet with an orchestra conducted by Davis’ long-time collaborator Gil Evans. I watched this show with my fiance who was asking some questions about the band and the music and what made it so special. I love discussing this kind of stuff with her and I’m always amazed at how well she hears the music, even if she doesn’t know the theory behind it.
At one point she asked me to explain what makes Miles such a genius, which is a huge question, but a dream come true for a jazz trumpet player! Among other things, I talked about the simple elegance of his lines, his yearning tone and his use of space. But one of the biggest things that made Miles a genius was his ability to put together perfectly complimentary bands. He always sought out musicians who were in stark contrast to himself, and in this way he always had balanced and interesting bands.
This got me thinking about my own band. I have been playing with Josh, Evan, and D’Vonne for two years now. They are young cats who are full of fire and desire and are doing things that put them in a class all by themselves. They are out to change the world, do something different, “push the music forward”, as one of them recently said to me. And I think that’s great! That’s one of the reasons I love to play with them. They push me to different places, to try things I wouldn’t otherwise try. And that can be a real thrill.
But I’ve always said that all I want to do is play pretty music that people will enjoy. As a trumpet player, I’m more Chet Baker than Woody Shaw, more early-Miles than late-Miles. I love to play standards and love songs. Melody is important to me. Maybe I’m a sap, or and “old soul”, or a romantic. Call it what you will. I still love to play a melody that people know. Songs that touch us because they are familiar or make us remember a specific moment or day or year.
Just like Miles, who hired Coltrane specifically because he was so different, I have surrounded myself with amazing musicians who are in stark contrast to me. If Miles had found a tenor player that played like he did, his band wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. And if I had searched out musicians who sound just like I do, there wouldn’t be those contrasting styles that ultimately bring the balance and interest to the band.
Now, I’m no genius. Unlike Miles, who I’m sure knew exactly what he was doing, I did this without really thinking about it. All I tried to do was find the best musicians I could find. But in doing so I have created a band that is interesting. It’s the contrasts that allow us to find balance.
If you haven’t heard the Jason Parker Quartet, you can check out our music here.