Listening, Party For Two: Miles and Monk At Newport, 1955 : A Blog Supreme The Boss Lady is currently on her way to the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals. So we thought we'd spring on her a classic jazz recording made at Newport: Miles Davis' 1955 live version of "Round Midnight," with composer Thelonious Monk on piano.
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Listening, Party For Two: Miles and Monk At Newport, 1955

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Listening, Party For Two: Miles and Monk At Newport, 1955

Listening, Party For Two: Miles and Monk At Newport, 1955

A pensive Miles Davis. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A pensive Miles Davis.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

My boss readily admits that she doesn't know a whole lot about jazz. But she lets me write all this nonsense on the Internet, so I'm not complaining. And at least she's willing to learn. So every so often, she and I get together to listen to and Instant Message about a different great jazz song.

The Boss Lady is currently on her way to the Newport Folk Festival, and to the Newport Jazz Festival the following week, where NPR Music is recording and live webcasting both weekends. So before she left, I thought I'd spring on her one of the classic jazz recordings from Newport: Miles Davis' 1955 version of "Round Midnight," with composer Thelonious Monk on piano.

Listening, Party For Two: Miles and Monk At Newport, 1955

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/128843807/128833096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
"Round Midnight," from Miles Davis, 'Round About Midnight (Legacy Edition)[Columbia/Legacy]. Miles Davis, trumpet; Thelonious Monk, piano, Percy Heath, bass; Connie Kay, drums. Newport, R.I.: July 17, 1955.

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Boss Lady: So much atmosphere. So smokey and languid. And it feels so free.

me: Yup, you got it. Ok, we're done here. Bye.

Do you recognize the tune?

Boss Lady: Well, I saw on the CD that it's a version of "Round Midnight," although honestly, I wouldn't have known. Sigh.

me: It's certainly played slow and spacey. But that's Miles Davis for you. Do you recognize the pianist? I'll give you a hint: he wrote this song.

Boss Lady: Patrick, you're making me feel so inadequate and I really love this music.

me: Hey, no need to feel bad if you don't know. Just asking ... It's Thelonious Monk.

Boss Lady: How can you tell?

me: Well, the greats all have their own sonic signatures — phrases, tones, timbres. For Monk, there's a kind of jagged, yet beautiful quality that nobody else can even reproduce. And also, this is one of his more famous songs.

Boss Lady: He seems to be a man of great subtlety. I love the way the way they're both on their own path, but they connect so beautifully.

me: Interestingly, Miles and Monk weren't terribly close collaborators. I think I recall at one point in their lives, Miles wasn't terribly happy about Monk's playing with him — apparently he got in the way. And Monk has a certain subtlety maybe ... I personally hear the dissonances and unusual phrasing more. But maybe that's just me.

Anyway, it's Miles and Monk together — two giants of American music. This wasn't recorded in the studio, but the Miles recording of this tune (without Monk) in the studio was an important album for Miles. It was called 'Round About Midnight, and it was his first effort on Columbia Records — the start of a long relationship. And, wow listen to that tone.

Boss Lady: Miles' tone? There's a lot of yearning and reflection.

me: Definitely. I hear very much a "tight" feel to it, very focused. On the studio recording of this tune, Miles uses a Harmon mute. It makes it even more constricted-feeling, buzzy, insistent — and perfect for slow, brooding, melancholy tunes like this one. It would become one of Miles' sonic signatures. Miles is definitely headed there even without the mute!

The studio version of this tune was recorded a bit more than a year after this live performance. Care to hazard another guess where this piece you're listening to was recorded?

Boss Lady: Are you kidding? I'm batting .000.

me: I'll give you three hints: 1. It's in the summer. 2. It's in 1955. 3. NPR Music is recording two whole days of music from there next weekend.

Boss Lady: Where there's salt in the air, and George Wein still walks the grounds?

me: Indeed, this was the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival — which, if you do the math, must have been the second edition of what became the mother of all jazz festivals. This is one of the classic recordings made there — it became a signature tune for Miles as well, and served as a minor comeback for him (drug problems had previously plagued him), at least from the view of the press at the time.

Boss Lady: It's not a given that you're going to get someone's most sublime work when they're outside playing in the hot sun, let alone capture the moment with a great recording on the fly. I would have loved to be sitting in the grass for this one.

me: Luckily, I think we can guarantee a host of magical moments in the 2010 edition too.

Boss Lady: Let’s hope so. I hope some performers dare to be so sultry and in command of the spaces between the notes.