ROCHESTER, NY — Legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis will come to life — in spirit, of course — for a special concert at 8 p.m., Friday, February 15, in Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs St.) as the Eastman Jazz Ensemble (EJE) and the New Jazz Ensemble (NJE) jointly present Miles Ahead: Miles Davis + 19 in celebration of the landmark 1957 Columbia Davis/Gil Evans recording of the same name.
The concert, which is free and open to the public, spotlights Eastman faculty member Clay Jenkins as flugelhorn soloist on all ten of the selections, recreating the parts recorded by Miles Davis nearly a half century ago. All of the works were arranged by Gil Evans — Davis’ closest friend and musical mentor — and represent perhaps the most important relationship ever forged between a jazz soloist and an arranger. As with the Eastman jazz performances of the Davis/Evans collaborations Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain in the past two years, this special performance is the first time that a university jazz ensemble has performed this collection of work.
The concert follows a format nearly identical to the recording. The New Jazz Ensemble (Dave Rivello, director) opens the program with John Carisi’s Springsville, which Gil Evans himself selected for the LP’s opener. Then the NJE performs The Maids of Cadiz by Leo Delibes and Dave Brubeck’s The Duke, followed by My Ship by Gershwin and Weill and Miles Ahead, credited to Davis (but actually written by both him and Evans). Following intermission, the Eastman Jazz Ensemble (Fred Sturm, director) takes the stage with the Evans original Blues for Pablo, moving to Ahmad Jamal’s New Rhumba (another one of Davis’ choices), The Meaning of the Blues, Lament, and ultimately closing with I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You).
The recording sessions leading up to the release of Miles Ahead were quite revolutionary. Under the creative vision of Columbia Records producer George Avakian, this was the first concept album developed around the sound and character of a specific soloist (Davis). The Gil Evans “musical bridges” placed between each song gave the sensation of a continuous musical suite — a jazz record innovation at the time. The sessions also broke standard studio practices for the era, as tapes rolled the entire time, and Davis overdubbed several solos.