Miles Davis and Gil Evans first worked together in 1949 on the seminal Birth of the Cool, which took jazz away from bebop and introduced the cool sound. Gone was the frenetic flurry of notes, replaced by a smoother, softer groove. Their next big collaboration was Miles Ahead: Miles Davis + 19; it was their first record for Columbia, two years before the best-selling Kind of Blue. I’ve listened to Miles Ahead thousands of times all the way back to my high school days. I remember lying around a San Francisco apartment on an unseasonably hot afternoon in 1966 with a good buddy, listening to it while kissing a really hot girl from my high school days that had been in a social league way above mine. Kissing her was scoring big time and I wasn’t used to that. Later I heard the record on Tommy Bee’s afternoon show on KBCA, LA’s commercial jazz station, while sitting in my lifeguard tower at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. Later, when I went to school in Paris, I bought a copy of Miles Ahead and listened constantly in my little hotel room. It was one of only five or six records I had; others included George Russell’s Jazz for the Space Age on Decca, and a cheap recording of Respighi’s Pines of Rome. I played them on a cheap record player I bought on my way over to France on Loftleidir Icelandic Airlines, which required you stop in Reykjavik and buy merchandise. It was then the cheapest way to get to Europe from the U.S..
The other day I picked up a new lp copy of it at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. It had the original cover of a woman on a sail boat, which Miles rejected; it portrayed nothing of the sounds within the grooves. It was an audiophile pressing of the Columbia original lacquer by RTI. Monophonic. I was totally floored by how good it sounded. Good mono recordings sometimes sound better than stereo–ask any audiophile–I’d never heard this great lp sound so good. At $24.00 it was a both steal and hearing it was a minor revelation.
Below is the original cover that Miles hated. Columbia replaced with the image on the right.