Jazz Lair

“So What” By Miles Davis, Album: Kinda Blue 1959

Who Was Miles Davis? 

Instrumental in the development of jazz, Miles Davis is considered one of the top musicians of his era. Born in Illinois in 1926, he traveled at age 18 to New York City to pursue music. 

Throughout his life, he was at the helm of a changing concept of jazz. Winner of eight Grammy awards, Miles Davis died in 1991 from respiratory distress in Santa Monica, California.

Kind of Blue

Davis recorded several albums with his sextet during the 1950s, including Porgy and Bess and Kind of Blue, his final album of the decade, released in 1959. Now considered one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, Kind of Blue is credited as the largest-selling jazz album of all time, selling more than 2 million copies.

Davis continued to be be successful throughout the 1960s. His band transformed over time, largely due to new band members and changes in style. The various members of his band went on to become some of the most influential musicians of the jazz fusion era. These included Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), Chick Corea (Return to Forever), and John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra).

This was the opening track on Kind Of Blue, which is arguably the biggest-selling Jazz album of all time. It was recorded by Miles Davis in 2 days giving only brief instructions to a new band – yet all tracks were recorded in one take. It is also counted by many as the greatest Jazz album of all time and ranks at or near the top of many “best album” lists. Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, placed it 12th on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

In 2007 this was voted the best-ever Jazz record in a poll of listeners of the UK radio station Jazz FM.

George Cole, who wrote The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis, 1980-1991, explains why Davis is so important: “Miles Davis is to jazz is what Mozart is to classical music or The Beatles are to popular music. He is by far the most influential jazz musician of all time and it’s unlikely that anyone will ever supplant this position. He started out as a teenager playing bebop (a frenetic style of jazz) with the saxophonist giant Charlie Parker, and ended almost 50 years later, combining jazz with hip-hop. He recorded the best known album in jazz (Kind of Blue) while still in his early 30s and it contains the best known jazz track: ‘So What.'” (For more on Miles Davis,read our interview with George Cole.)

This was one of three tracks on Kind Of Blue that was originally recorded in the wrong key later to be tidied up on re-releases (the other two were “Freddie Freeloader” and “Blue in Green”).

Miles Davis in 1958. Credit…Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

Ogden Jazz Legend Joe McQueen Dies Saturday At The Age Of 100

OGDEN — An Ogden legend died Saturday.

Joe McQueen, pioneering jazz saxophonist and Northern Utah resident, died Saturday morning at the age of 100.

Fellow jazz musician Brad Wheeler said in a Facebook post Saturday afternoon that McQueen, his close personal friend and fellow musician, died at 10:20 a.m. Saturday.

“He has been living his whole life for this day,” Wheeler wrote in the post. “He told me to tell everyone not to cry for him, that when you think about him to think about all of the blessings he had received, and know that he had lived a full and meaningful life.”

Lars Yorgason, an Ogden resident and bass player, told the Standard-Examiner that McQueen was a wonderful person, and he’s considered himself lucky to call McQueen a friend.

“He was a very honest, honorable person,” Yorgason said. “I think the world should know that. I’m grateful I was his friend.”

Yorgason played with McQueen since 1977, when he moved back to Ogden. He described McQueen as a leader for desegregating Ogden establishments, telling club owners that he wouldn’t play at their establishments unless they allowed people of all colors inside.

“He was a force in getting establishments to reduce and eliminate segregation in Ogden,” Yorgason said. “He really enjoyed being in Ogden.”

McQueen was described as a tender, kind and strong man, according to Ryan Conger, an organist who played for years with Joe as part of his quartet.

Conger, who said he’s known McQueen for about eight or nine years, was always amazed at what the saxophonist could do, even in his older years. Conger recalled a piano teacher he had at Utah State University who would sit in on jam sessions where others could join in. It was competitive, and the teacher was always intimidated when trying to keep up with McQueen.

Conger would later share in that experience when he, too, would play with McQueen. His speed and expertise in music could be seen well into his later years.

“Mere mortals could hardly keep up with him back in the day,” Conger said. “It was one of those experiences that left you in awe.”

McQueen was much more than just a musician, said Conger, as he was known for his strength and passion for helping others. After McQueen retired in his 80s, Conger said McQueen would spend 40 hours a week driving seniors to doctor’s appointments, pharmacies and anywhere else they needed to go.

“It’s hard to imagine all he did for this community,” Conger said. “That was just Joe, he was tough as nails but always cared about others. He was the kind of guy you wanted to be.”

McQueen was born May 30, 1919, in Ponder, Texas, and was raised by his grandmother in Ardmore, Oklahoma, according to previous Standard-Examiner reporting.

He began playing the saxophone as a teenager, eventually touring the country with jazz bands. In late 1945 McQueen and his new bride, Thelma, were traveling with a band when they made a stop in Ogden. While here, another member of the band stole the group’s money and left town. The couple decided to stay and make a home here.

McQueen became a fixture in the local music scene, playing with many of the big jazz names coming through town — Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie. He also toured on and off throughout the West.

Through the years, McQueen toured across the country but always remained true to Ogden.

Earlier this year on June 1, dozens gathered at Ogden’s Second Baptist Church to celebrate McQueen’s 100th birthday.

Speaker after speaker noted McQueen is an inspiration for more than just his music. They praised McQueen for breaking barriers during segregation, playing in any clubs he could, and helping generations of younger musicians learn how to play and be good people.

In anticipation for his centennial birthday, the Utah Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 12, which honored the jazz legend’s birthday. The musician also received a brand new saxophone from the Sandy-based company Cannonball Musical Instruments.

10 Songs In Jazz History

Jazz history if full of important songs with interesting stories as well as songs that left a mark with their compositions, taboo-defying ideas and magical melodies. From miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” to Joe Venuti’s “4 String Joe”, here are 10 songs that won a place at jazz history through their stories.

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black”

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, written by Nina Simone for her close friend, scenarist Lorraine Hansberry, following her death; is much more than a mere homage. The song, which carries the same name with the play penned by Hansberry and directed by Simone’s ex-husband Robert Nemiroff, became a sort of a anthem for the African-American youth who is fighting racism in United States.

“Blue In Green”

One of the most important albums of Jazz history, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue includes the “Blue in Green” track, which brought an interesting story and controversy. The question in regards to if the track was written by Miles Davis or Bill Evans is still unanswered. Even though Davis said in his autobiography that he wrote all the songs in the album by himself, Evans put the trio version of the song in his album and credited it as “Davis – Evans”. Evans also stated in an interview 20 years after the album that he wrote the song but Miles Davis took all the credit and royalties.

“I Wish It Would Rain”

Another band that comes to mind when talking about Motown is The Temptations and their classic hit “I Wish It Would Rain” is remembered with its tragic story. The lyrics, which are narrated from the perspective of a man who was despised and heart-broken by his wife, was written by Roger Penzabene days after he found out about his wife’s affair. In 1967, 10 days before the release of The Temptation’s striking track “I Wish It Would Rain”, Roger Penzabene, who has written many songs for Motown projects, couldn’t bear the emotional pain and took his own life.

“Ooh Baby Baby”

Motown legend Smokey Robinson and his band The Miracles became known with the “Ohh Baby Baby” chant they used to repeat with various harmonies during the breathing breaks for the orchestra. This was one of the most anticipated moments of their concerts. Smokey Robinson took that phrase, which was receiving a lot of attention from their fans, and made it a hit song.

“The Music Goes Round And Around”

Known mostly by Ella Fitzgerald and Tommy Dorsey versions, “The Music Goes Round And Round” is one of the most interesting songs of jazz history, which includes many interesting stories conveyed through songs. Composed by Mark Riley and Ed Farley and written by Red Hodgson, “The Music Goes Round And Round” is about how the play a French horn. Becoming an instant hit after it was played in a New York night Club in 30’s, the song is also adapted to different instruments through time by changing some of its lyrics.

“Here, My Dear”

The opening song with the same name of Marvin Gaye’s 1978 album, “Here, My Love” is devoted to legendary musician’s first wife Anna Gordy and their unsuccessful marriage. In the song, which was written after his short marriage to Anna Gordy, the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Marvin Gave talks about how he had to make this album since recording a new album and giving all the benefits from this album to his ex-wife Anna Gordy was a part of their divorce settlement.

“4 String Joe”

Legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti is known with his weird jokes as much as his music. A story that was verified and told by many musicians is also the inspiration behind Venuti and Eddy Lang’s “4 String Joe”. The story goes like this: One day Venuti summoned 30 bass players and told them he needed them for a concert in New York and they should come back the next day with their basses. And the next day he greeted them in his car and gave them berries. Afterwards, Venuti was fined by the musicians union to pay the concert’s fee to all the bass players who were victims of his joke.

“Take the A Train”

Pianist Billy Strayhorn, who was doing orchestral arrangements for Duke Ellington in the early 40’s, wrote the jazz standard “Take the A Train”, which has been performed by various jazz musicians since then. One of the most popular songs of the day, “Take the A Train” was inspired by the subway ride into New York’s Harlem and Strayhorn told that the song was like a letter to an old friend.

“The Girl From Ipanema”

The second most recorded song of the history, “The Girl From Ipanema” was co-written by composed Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes. The duo, who used to meet in a bar named Veloso in the coastal neighborhood of Ipanema in Rio de Janerio, wrote the song with the inspiration they took from a girl who used to pass by the bar all the time. The girl, who discovered to be 17-year-old Heloisa Enedia Menezes Paes Pinto, became famous after the song. Vinicius de Moares described Pinto, who inspired one of the most interpreted songs of the history, as a “gift from life”.

“Strange Fruit”          

Written by a teacher named Abel Meeropol in 1937, “Strange Fruit” is mostly remembered by Billie Holiday’s magnificent vocals. Written in protest to the racism and lynchings towards African American people in United States, “Strange Fruit” has that chilling effect every time you listen to it. Also sang by UB40, Annie Lennox and Nina Simone, the song was turned into a short animation by Shimi Asresay and Hili Noy.

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