0012. Miles Davis – Birth Of The Cool [1957]

0012 Miles Davis Birth of the Cool
At the risk of sounding trite, “I may not know about art, but I know what I like.”  Mind you, that’s simply to say that I’m not knowledgeable enough yet about jazz to break this album down to its most essential elements, but I definitely love this album a lot.  I’d venture to say that anyone looking to get into jazz would find quite an accessible introduction in just about any Miles Davis album (and believe me, there are a LOT of them).  From what I’ve read, Miles was a real pioneer.  He sought again and again to innovate his craft, which is something I definitely highly admire.  There’s no doubt that he was a tremendously talented musician, even at the young age of 24 when he released this compilation.  I hope one day to be far more conversant in his catalog and the merits of Album A versus Album B, but for now, I’ll just say that I highly recommend this one.  Definitely glad I heard this.


Wikipedia Says:

Birth of the Cool is a compilation album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released in 1957 on Capitol Records. It compiles twelve songs recorded by Davis’s nonet for the label over the course of three sessions during 1949 and 1950.

Featuring unusual instrumentation and several notable musicians, the music consisted of innovative arrangements influenced by classical music techniques such as polyphony, and marked a major development in post-bebop jazz. As the title implies, these recordings are considered seminal in the history of cool jazz. The majority of the recordings were originally released in the ten inch 78 rpm format and are all approximately three minutes long.


In 1947 Miles Davis was playing in Charlie Parker’s quintet. Parker had called on Davis’s trumpet after splitting with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945 due to the formers growing alcohol and drug problem. Davis recorded several albums with Parker at this time, including Parker’s Sessions for the Savoy and Dial labels. By 1948 Davis had three years of bebop playing under his belt, but he struggled to match the speed and ranges of the likes of Gillespie and Parker, choosing instead to play in the mid range of his instrument. In 1948 Davis, becoming increasingly concerned about growing tensions within the Parker quintet, left that group and began looking for a new band with which to work.

At the same time, arranger Gil Evans began hosting informal salons at his apartment, located on 55th Street in Manhattan, three blocks away from the jazz nightclubs of 52nd Street. Evans had gained a reputation in the jazz world for his orchestration of bebop tunes for the Claude Thornhill orchestra in the mid-1940s. Keeping an open door policy, Evans’s apartment came to host many of the young jazz artists of late-1940s New York. The salon featured discussions about the future of jazz, including a proposed group with a new sound. According to jazz historian Ted Gioia:

[The salon members] were developing a range of tools that would change the sound of contemporary music. In their work together, they relied on a rich palette of harmonies, many of them drawn from European impressionist composers. They explored new instrumental textures, preferring to blend the voices of the horns like a choir rather than pit them against each other as the big bands had traditionally done with their thrusting and parrying sections. They brought down the tempos of their music . . . they adopted a more lyrical approach to improvisation . . .

Davis’ nonet

While Evans had originally hoped to work with Charlie Parker on this project, Evans felt that Parker was too dedicated to his own solo voice and not an ensemble sound that Evans was hoping to tap into. With Parker out of the picture, Davis took the lead on the project; Davis and Evans met in the summer of 1947, discovering a mutual respect for each other’s work. The two men decided to tap into the members of the salon to for the new group, this group eventually becoming the Miles Davis Nonet. Salon member, arranger, and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan joined the project, having previously written for Gene Krupa’s orchestra, as it was felt he could bring a lighter sound that Davis and Evans were looking for.

The members of the salon came to the conclusion that the ensemble should feature two saxophones, four brass, and rhythm section for a total of nine players. Evans and Mulligan spent the winter working out instrumentation, augmenting the traditional bop quintet of saxophone (in this case, alto saxophone), trumpet, and rhythm section, with baritone saxophone, trombone, French horn, andtuba. The two men looked to create pairings within the ensemble, Mulligan stating: “We picked instruments [with matching timbres] . . . and one of each. We had a high section with a trumpet and the alto, we had a middle section with the trombone and the French horn, and a low section with the baritone and tuba. So we had those . . . basic colors to work with.” The omission of tenor saxophone was seen as highly unusual, as it was seen as one of the standard jazz instruments.

Davis, Evans, and Mulligan then went about assembling the members of the nonet, Davis and Mulligan taking trumpet and baritone saxophone respectively. For alto saxophone, Davis originally wanted Sonny Stitt for the part, but it was decided that Stitt’s sound, much like Parkers, was too bop for what the nonet was pursuing.  On Gerry Mulligan’s suggestion, Davis asked salon memberLee Konitz to join the group. Konitz had played with Mulligan in Claude Thornhill’s orchestra, and was seen by some as a stylistic alternative to Parker, with much a lighter and airier sound. Tuba player Bill Barber and French hornist Sandy Siegelstein came to the nonet via the brass section of the Thornhill band, Siegelstein to be later replaced by Junior Collins. Trombonist and salon memberJ. J. Johnson was the first choice for the band, but due to engagements with the Illinois Jacquet band could not originally play with the nonet, though he was able to record with the group on the final two sessions. Both bassist Al McKibbon and pianist and arranger John Lewis had both known Davis as members of Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra. Drummer Max Roach had been a member of Parker’s quintet with Davis and was a natural choice for the nonet due to his enthusiastic engagement in the ideals of the salon.

Davis was able to secure a two week engagement in September 1948 for the nonet opening for Count Basie at the Royal Roost in New York. For the bands book, Mulligan contributed six arrangements, Lewis three, Evans two, and composer John Carisi arranged his own composition, “Israel”, for the band. On Davis’s insistence, a sign was placed outside the Roost advertised, “Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis,” an unusual advertisement that highlighted the collaborative nature of the venture. The band played at the roost for the weeks of 30 August to 4 September and 13 September to 18 September. For these live dates Mike Zwerin played trombone and former Dizzy Gillespie vocalist Kenny Hagood sang on “Darn That Dream” and “Why Do I Love You”. There was a further short residency the following year at the Clique Club, these three sets making up the nonet’s only live appearances. Arranger and Capitol Records talent scout Pete Rugolo heard the nonet at the Royal Roost and offered the nonet a chance to make a record.


The nonet recorded twelve tracks for Capitol during three sessions over the course of nearly a year and a half. Davis, Konitz, Mulligan and Barber were the only musicians who played on all three sessions, though the instrumental lineup was constant (excepting the omission of piano on a few songs and the addition of Hagood on “Darn That Dream”). The first session occurred on 21 January 1949, recording four tracks: Mulligan’s “Jeru” and “Godchild” as well as Lewis’s “Move” and “Budo”. Jazz critic Richard Cook hypothesizes that Capitol, wanting to get a good start, recorded these numbers first because they were the most catchy tunes in the nonet’s small repertoire. For this date Kai Winding replaced Zwerin on trombone, Al Haig replaced Lewis on piano, and Joe Shulmanreplaced McKibbon on bass.

The second recording date came three months later on 22 April 1949, Davis filling in for Fats Naverro in Todd Dameron’s band with Charlie Parker during the interim. The band returned to the studio with five substitutions in personnel: J. J. Johnson on trombone, Sandy Siegelstein on French horn, Nelson Boyd on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums, and John Lewis returning to piano. At this session the nonet recorded Mulligan’s “Venus De Milo”, Lewis’s “Rogue”, Carisi’s “Israel”, and “Boplicity”, a collaboration between Davis and Evans, credited to the pseudonym “Cleo Henry”.

The band did not return to the studio again until 9 March 1950. Davis did not call the band for any rehearsals or live performances between the second and third recording dates. The March 1950 date featured Mulligan’s “Darn That Dream”, “Rocker”, and “Deception”, and Evans’s arrangement of Chummy McGregor’s “Moon Dreams”. The band saw more substitutions, with Gunther Schuller on French horn and Al McKibbon on bass. Kenny Hagood returned for vocals on “Darn That Dream”.


Music and style

One of the features of the Davis Nonet was the use of paired instrumentation. An example of this can be heard on the John Lewis arrangement “Move”. In “Move”, Lewis gives the melody to the pairing of trumpet and alto saxophone, baritone saxophone and tuba supply counterpoint, and trombone and French horn provide harmonies. Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru” demonstrates another Nonet hallmark: the use of a unison sound and rich harmony throughout the horns. Davis said, “I wanted the instruments to sound like human voices singing . . . and they did.” Though the album is seen as a departure from traditional bop, the recordings do feature tunes that are considered close to the bop style, such as “Budo” which has the band bookending solos by Davis, Mulligan, Konitz, and Winding, similar to a bebop head arrangement.

Thornhill’s influence

One of the largest stated influences on the sound of The Birth of the Cool was band leader Claude Thornhill and his orchestra. Out of Thornhill’s band came Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, andGil Evans, Miles Davis calling the Konitz-Mulligan-Evans incarnation “the greatest band” only after “the Billy Eckstine band with the Bird.” The Evans band was known for its impressionistic style, innovative use of instrumentation, such as the use of tuba and French horn, and a no-vibrato playing style, hallmarks that the Miles Davis Nonet adopted for The Birth of the Cool. According to Evans:

Miles had liked some of what Gerry and I had written for Claude. The instrumentation for the Miles session was caused by the fact that this was the smallest number of instruments that could get the sound and still express all the harmonies the Thornhill band used. Miles wanted to his idiom with that kind of sound.

Davis saw the full 18-piece Thornhill orchestra as cumbersome and thus decided to split the group in half for his desired sound. As arrangers, both Evans and Mulligan give Thornhill credit for crafting their sound.. Thornhill’s band gave Evans the opportunity to try his hand at arranging small-group bebop tunes for big band, a practice few others were participating in. Mulligan recalls Thornhill teaching him “the greatest lesson in dynamics, the art of underblowing.”  Thorhill has also been credited with launching the move away from call and response between sections and the move towards unison harmonies.

Release history

The tracks from the January 1949 session were released soon after recording as two pairs of singles. From the April 1949 date, “Israel” and “Boplicity” were doubled together on a 78 and released as well. Of the twelve tracks recorded, Capitol released relatively few. In 1954, after persuasion from Rugolo, Capitol released eight of the tracks on a 10″ record titled Classics in Jazz—Miles Davis. In 1957 eleven of the tracks (all except for “Darn That Dream”) were released by Capitol as Birth of the Cool. The final track, “Darn That Dream” (the only song with vocals, by Hagood), was included with the other eleven on a 1971 LP. Subsequent releases have been based on this last arrangement. The album has since been reissued many times in various formats. The recordings of the nonet from its time at the Royal Roost were released as Cool Boppin. Blue Note recently released a CD version remastered by engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

Reception and aftermath

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars
All About Jazz (favorable)
MusicHound 5/5 stars
Q 4/5 stars
Penguin Guide to Jazz 4/4 stars
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars
Virgin Encyclopedia 5/5 stars

The band’s original debut at the Royal Roost was positive but reserved reactions. Count Basie, the Roost’s headliner during the Nonet’s brief tenure, however, was more open to the groups sound, saying, “Those slow things sounded strange and good. I didn’t always know what they were doing, but I listened, and I liked it.” Winthrop Sargeant, classical music critic at The New Yorker compared the band’s sound to the work of an “impressionist composer with a great sense of aural poetry and a very fastidious feeling for tone color. . . The music sounds more like that of a new Maurice Ravel than it does like jazz . . . it is not really jazz.” Though he did not recognize the record as jazz, Sargeant acknowledged that he found the record “charming and exciting”. In the short term the reaction to the band was little to none, but in the long term the albums effects have been great and lasting. The album has been credited with starting the cool jazz movement as well as creating a new and viable alternative to bebop. In 1957, after the release of the fullBirth of the CoolDown Beat magazine wrote that Birth of the Cool “[influenced] deeply one important direction of modern chamber jazz.” Several tunes from the album, such as Carisi’s “Israel”, have gone on to become jazz standards.

Many members of the Miles Davis Nonet went on to have successful careers in cool jazz, notably Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis. Mulligan moved to California and joined forces with trumpeter Chet Baker in a piano-less quartet, before creating his Concert Jazz Band. Lewis would become music director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, which would become one of the most influential cool jazz groups. Evans would go on to collaborate with Davis again on the Davis albums Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain. Following Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis did not return to cool jazz, instead going to play hard bop, and eventually spearheadingmodal jazz.

Track listing (CD)

Arrangements by the composer unless otherwise noted.

  1. “Move” (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:32
  2. “Jeru” (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:10
  3. “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:17
  4. “Venus de Milo” (Mulligan) – 3:10
  5. “Budo” (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Lewis) – 2:32
  6. “Deception” (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:45
  7. “Godchild” (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:07
  8. “Boplicity” (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans, arranged by Evans) – 2:59
  9. “Rocker” (Mulligan) – 3:03
  10. “Israel” (Johnny Carisi) – 2:15
  11. “Rouge” (John Lewis) – 3:13
  12. “Darn That Dream” (Eddie DeLange, James Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:26

Recording dates

  • Tracks 1, 2, 5, 7 – 21 January 1949
  • Tracks 4, 8, 10, 11 – 22 April 1949
  • Tracks 3, 6, 9, 12 – 9 March 1950

Recorded at WOR Studios, New York, New York.

Track listing (LP)

side A

  1. “Jeru” (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:09
  2. “Move” (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:29
  3. “Godchild” (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:02
  4. “Budo” (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Lewis) – 2:28
  5. “Venus de Milo” (Mulligan) – 3:05
  6. “Rouge” (John Lewis) – 3:07

side B

  1. “Boplicity” (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans, arranged by Evans) – 2:55
  2. “Israel” (Johnny Carisi) – 2:12
  3. “Deception” (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:42
  4. “Rocker” (Mulligan) – 2:59
  5. “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:13
  6. “Darn That Dream” (Eddie DeLange, James Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:20 (Bonus Track added in 1971)

The Complete Birth of the Cool (The Studio Sessions)

Arrangements by the composer unless otherwise noted.

  1. “Move” (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:32
  2. “Jeru” (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:10
  3. “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:17
  4. “Venus de Milo” (Mulligan) – 3:10
  5. “Budo” (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Lewis) – 2:32
  6. “Deception” (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:45
  7. “Godchild” (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:07
  8. “Boplicity” (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans, arranged by Evans) – 2:59
  9. “Rocker” (Mulligan) – 3:03
  10. “Israel” (Johnny Carisi) – 2:15
  11. “Rouge” (John Lewis) – 3:13
  12. “Darn That Dream” (Eddie DeLange, James Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:26

Recording dates

  • Tracks 1, 2, 5, 7 – 21 January 1949
  • Tracks 4, 8, 10, 11 – 22 April 1949
  • Tracks 3, 6, 9, 12 – 9 March 1950

Recorded at WOR Studios, New York, New York.

The Complete Birth of the Cool (The Live Sessions)

Arrangements by the composer unless otherwise noted.

  1. “Birth of the Cool Theme” (Gil Evans) – 0:19 – (arranged by G.Evans)
  2. “Symphony Sid announces the band”
  3. “Move” (Denzil Best) – 3:40
  4. “Why Do I love You” (DeSylva, Gershwin, Gershwin) – 3:41 – (arranged by J.Lewis)
  5. “Godchild” (George Wallington) – 5:15
  6. “Symphony Sid introduction” – 0:27
  7. “S’il Vous Plait” (John Lewis) – (arranged by J.Lewis)
  8. “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer) – 5:06
  9. “Budo (Hallucinations)” (Bud Powell, Miles Davis) – 3:24
  10. “Darn That Dream” (Eddie DeLange, James Van Heusen) – 4:25
  11. “Move” (Denzil Best) – 4:48
  12. “Moon Dreams” (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer) – 3:46
  13. “Budo (Hallucinations)” (Bud Powell, Miles Davis) – 4:23

Recording dates

  • Tracks 1–9 recorded on September 4, 1948; tracks 10–13 on September 18, 1948, live at Royal Roost in New York.


  • Miles Davis – trumpet (all)
  • Kai Winding – trombone (January 1949)
  • J. J. Johnson – trombone (April 1949, March 1950)
  • Junior Collins – French horn (January 1949)
  • Sandy Siegelstein – French horn (April 1949)
  • Gunther Schuller – French horn (March 1950)
  • Bill Barber – tuba (all)
  • Lee Konitz – alto saxophone (all)
  • Gerry Mulligan – baritone saxophone (all)
  • Al Haig – piano (January 1949)
  • John Lewis – piano (April 1949, March 1950)
  • Joe Shulman – bass (January 1949)
  • Nelson Boyd – bass (April 1949)
  • Al McKibbon – bass (March 1950)
  • Max Roach – drums (January 1949, March 1950)
  • Kenny Clarke – drums (April 1949)
  • Kenny Hagood – vocal (“Darn That Dream” only)

The Complete Birth Of The Cool (The Live Sessions)

  • Miles Davis – trumpet
  • Mike Zwerin – trombone
  • Junior Collins – French horn
  • Bill Barber – tuba
  • Lee Konitz – alto saxophone
  • Gerry Mulligan – baritone saxophone
  • John Lewis – piano
  • Al McKibbon – bass
  • Max Roach – drums
  • Kenny Hagood – vocal (only Why Do I Love You and Darn That Dream)

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