After Charlie Parker’s death, Miles decided to form his own quintet. Brando, Sinatra, Eva Gardner – everyone came to hear them. ‘So there was Coltrane on saxophone, Philly Joe on drums, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and me on trumpet. And faster than I could have ever imagined, the music we were making together became incredible. It was so good that it gave me and the audience chills. Shit, it got scary real fast, so much so that I was pinching myself to make sure I was really there.’
The trumpeter recorded the albums Cookin’, Relaxin’ and Workin’ in quick succession in order to end his contract with Prestige. In 1956, the band recorded the Monk classic, “‘Round Midnight”. Every night after playing it Davis asked Monk, ‘How was it tonight?’ To which the pianist replied, looking very serious, ‘not good’. They kept this up for some time. ‘“That’s not how it’s played”’, he would sometimes say to me with a mean, exasperated look on his face. Then one night he said, “Yeah, that’s how you play it.” That made me crazy with happiness. I had found the sound.’
Coltrane dove into dope and Davis beat him up. So Coltrane went to work with Monk and pretty soon Davis had dismisses his quintet in order to work with a larger ensemble under the aegis of Gil Evans, and Dizzy admitted to having worn out his first Miles Ahead album in just three weeks... Miles went to play at the Saint Germain club in Paris, the same place where he had fallen madly in love with Juliette Gréco. One night he improvised the music for Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud, a film by Louis Malle. When he returned to New York, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley joined the reformed quintet that recorded Milestone. ‘Trane and Cannon were really playing like crazy and had now gotten used to each other. It was my first record written in a modal form.’ Red Garland and Philly Joe Jones left and were replaced by Jimmy Cobb and pianist Bill Evans, a connoisseur of Ravel and disciple of Lennie Tristano. Coltrane, who had meanwhile given up heroin, set off on his more esoteric phase. In the late 1950s, things started to really hot up.
Davis collaborated again with Gil Evans on a version of Porgy & Bess. ‘When Gil wrote the arrangements for “I Love You, Porgy”, he only wrote me some scales, no chords... It gave me a lot more freedom and space to hear things... There are fewer chords and infinite possibilities for what you could do.’ Then there was Kind of Blue which followed a similar methodology. As Bill Evans would recall, Davis had only brought sketches of scales and melody lines to improvise on. Once the musicians were together, he simply gave brief instructions and the symbiosis worked like magic. 1959, the year of the album’s release, was a landmark moment.
The following year, the trumpeter worked with Gil Evans on the adagio movement of “Concierto de Aranjuez”, a piece for guitar by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. It’s a masterpiece, even if the composer hated Davis’ interpretation. ‘That’s interesting. Let’s wait a bit until he gets his royalties. Maybe then he’ll start to like it…’ The dissolution of his quintet left Miles orphaned, though wouldn’t be long before he found other musicians with whom to innovate again and again. He had no choice – it was that or die.