In which I find Miles & purchase my first LP.

If you've read my previous posts, you'll recall that my first trumpet teacher was appalled by the fact that the only "trumpet" album I owned was by Chuck Mangione. He gave me list of trumpet players to seek out.

Soon afterwards, I made a pilgramage to the Record Bar at Mountaineer Mall. The fact that we were at the mall would indicate that we had my Wednesday Night post-lesson meal at Pizza Inn instead of Wing's & Things. The Record Bar was not a great store, but just like Obi Wan Kenobi it was my only hope. I can still remember the jittery fluorescent lights overhead as I appproached my very first Jazz Record Bin. It was an auspicious moment.

The Jazz section was small, but more than large enough for my needs. All of the names were completely unfamiliar to me. It was confusing. I remember feeling slightly nervous as I started to look through the records, list in hand. When I made it to the "D's" I found a name from the list. Miles Davis actually existed!

There were maybe four albums in the racks. How would I make my choice? With no other information to go on I went for the bright yellow one, the one that actually showed someone holding a trumpet on the front cover. This way, I could be sure I was really getting a trumpet record. I walked to the sales counter, record in hand & paid the money for Miles Davis' new release, We Want Miles.

In a perfect world this story would end with me going home, opening up the record, putting it on the turntable, having my mind blown & going on to international superstardom as the great white hope of trumpeters. It's not a perfect world, is it? Here's what really happened:

I went home, opened the shrink wrap, looked at the amazing photography, put the record on the turntable & HATED IT! The music was strange. The trumpet sound was abrasive. Miles was cracking notes all over the place! To me it sounded like a beginner playing. Believe me, I knew that sound because I was a beginner myself. I soon put the record away & didn't think of it again for a few years.

When I was 15 or 16, a day came when my family was off somewhere & I found myself at home alone. I was still into music. I was also into shooting basketball in front of the house. I was a pretty good shot, but I never learned how to dribble because our driveway was made of gravel. With no-one else around it made sense to combine the activities.

I opened all of the windows on the front side of the house, cranked the stereo way up & put on my Dad's rarely played Cream Album. It sounded good, especially at high volume. Rock & Roll! After that LP was over I went inside & started flipping through records in search of the next selection. Beatles? no. Jackson Brown? no. Willie? no. It's a good thing we didn't have a tape deck attached to the stereo back then or I probably would've just played one of my dreadful cassette tapes instead of an LP. Once again, I was attracted by the bright yellow We Want Miles record cover. I put it on & turned the volume even higher.

This time it made sense! The funky, raw & driving music went really well with shooting hoops. I think the blaring distortion of an overdriven home stereo amp helped too. In some ways it rocked harder than Cream. Soon the basketball became almost more of a dance than a sport. What a discovery! I think I played the double album two or three times in succession. After a while I put the ball away & got my horn out. Amazingly, I found that I could figure out notes to play that sounded OK with the music. There were parts I wouldn't understand for a while yet, but this was the day I made my first baby steps towards improvising.

It still wasn't my favorite album, but this experience became really important years later when I helped form Lily Pons. When I started jamming with the future Pons boys, my We Want Miles training helped me know how to fit my horn into a crazy electric soundscape.

When I hear the album today, I can't help but notice how the band stays out of Miles' way. No doubt they were intimidated by his reputation, even as he struggled to regain his chops after a five year retirement. The most interesting, explorative parts of the record occur when Miles is laying out (especially during Mike Stern's guitar solos.) The other standout performances are the amazing bass playing of Marcus Miller & Al Foster on drums. To this day, I sometimes find myself calling on the ingrained influence of this record when I decide it's time to play a solo from a standpoint of studied ignorance, as if I've never touched a trumpet before.

Sadly, in a moment of financial crisis, I sold my vinyl copy of We Want Miles in the early 90's. My rationale was that it was almost too scratchy to listen to & I'd just buy the cd when I had money again. As it turned out, there was no cd to buy back then. Luckily I found a Japanese import version a few years later at the great Ear-X-tacy store in Louisville. I still miss that vibrant, slightly scary LP art though.

Required Listening: This whole album, played very loudly! Shoot a few baskets if you've got the equipment to do so.


j-sun said...

The importance of volume, distance of the listener from the speakers, and somewhat crappy speakers cannot be overstated when it comes to getting the most enjoyment out of listening to music on vinyl, especially something as organic as Miles. Someone with a working knowledge of the physics of sound could probably better explain it, but basically, I'm saying: a turntable ain't portable; if you want to listen while doing something elsewhere, you gotta turn it up louder, which puts pressure on the speakers to reproduce the fidelity. The distance, the speakers, the vinyl - it all interacts to produce something wholly different from what one would experience under normal circumstances.

Personal experience: Goose Creek Symphony (another hidden gem from Mom & Dad's record collection, discovered by me around the same time as the Fresh Cream LP you reference) played at normal volume sitting near the speakers is okay. Played loud enough to be heard through windows while sitting outside, it is revelatory.

Mick said...

thanks for pimpin' my blog and for the great stories!

Daniel said...

I spotted your blog in Jeff Turner's blogroll.

I remember in 1986 or 1988, having checked out We Want Miles on cassette from the local library. I listened to that over and over while I had it on loan.

I would love to find a CD copy of it, or any copy of it. I'd really love to listen to it on my iPod, even a rendered version from an LP.

jaunty said...

Daniel - Thanks for writing. Yes it's a great record. More posts soon.

Daniel said...

I found an awesome video by Bobby McFerrin called "Ode to Miles": http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=aqzlpQXJE9s

Meg said...

I love this. Thank you.

Which is a random comment to leave on a blog, but it's sincere, promise.

jaunty said...

Thanks for writing, Meg. I'm embarrassed this little blog has languished so long without an update. I've got so many ideas & so little time! I'm hoping to make at least one more post before going on tour next week. Cross yrr fingers, yes?

Anonymous said...

The music Miles Davis did late 1960's , please describe the tonality ?

Sincerely ,

Jason Leary