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Although the recordings on this session was known to have taken place (incorrectly reported as being for the Keynote label, by some writers) and despite the publication of partial details on Brian Preistley's discography which formed part of Ian Carr's brilliant book, "miles Davis" (published by Quartet books in 1982) the actual existence of the music was not confirmed until Alan Bates purchased the stock of masters from producer Eddie Laguna.
Laguna was active on the West Coast in the late 1940's and ran the Sunset record label. He also jointly produced some of the "Just Jazz" concerts with Gene Norman. He recorded men such as Joe Sullivan, Howard McGhee, Harry edison, Pete Daily, the sixteen-year-old Andre Previn, Nat Cole (under the pseudonym of "Sam Schmaltz", Willie Smith, in fact a good cross-section of the jazzmen active in the Los Angeles area just after the end of World War II. Laguna also acted as an independent West Coast producer for other labels, supervising some dates for the new York-based Keynote concern run by Harry Lim.
The music on this present record was made when the Billy Eckstine band was in California. It arrived short of a trumpeter (Fats Navarro, who had been in the brass section for 18 months, elected to stay in New York when Billy brought the orchestra out to Los Angeles) and this album features a complete unit from the band plus vocalist Earl Coleman (who was associated with the band at the time, sometimes deputising for Billy himself) and Ann Baker, also professionally known as Ann Hathaway. These titles are, in fact, the only known small band recordings to have been made by a group from the Eckstine band which, in the light of its stellar personnel, is somewhat surprising. But although the band was very popular with musicians it was hardly hot property in commercial terms. George Simon, author of "The Big Bands" (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1967) summed up the problem: "The Eckstine Band was an exciting one, especially for the musicians and fans, who appreciated its boppish sounds. Unfortunately its recordings were horrendous. It was signed to a couple of minor labels, one of which seemed to be trying for a new sound by pressing discs off-center, while the other recorded Billy in such a small, dead studio that the band sounded as if it were trying to blow its way out from under a pile of blankets. Consequently much of the exposure that the outfit needed was not forthcoming, and even when radio stations did play its records, they sounded so bad that they made a few Ecksine converts."
But there were plenty of Eckstine converts amongst musicians. In the summer of 1944 the band played a one-nighter at the Club Riviera in St. Louis, Miles Davis' home town. Miles who was working with a local band at the time, went to the club straight from rehearsal, his trumpet under his arm, anxious to catch every note that the Eckstine men would play that night. To his surprise and amazement, Dizzy Gillepsie who was with Billy at this time, rushed up to Miles, asked if he had a union card and hustled him on to the bandstand. Yet again, Eckstine was short a trumpeter for a gig. That night was a turning point in Mile's career for he sat alongside Dizzy Gillepsie with Charlie Parker a few feet away in the reed section. From then on the formal music studies, which the Davis family had prepared for their son, took second place. Eckstine moved on the next day but a few months later Miles was in New York, looking for Parker.
When Bird moved out to California at the end of 1945 Miles followed him; this time in the ranks of the Benny Carter orchestra. Soon Miles and Parker were playing together in a seedy little club called the Finale in LA and when Bird negotiated a recording session for the Dial label in March,1946 he used Miles as his trumpeter. But Parker was on a downward curve at the time; his chaotic way of life, boosted by frequent injections of heroin, eventually caught up with him after the disastrous Loverman sessions four months later. With Bird committed to the Camarillo institution for six months, there was nothing left in California for Miles. Joining the Eckstine band seemed the best way of getting back to New York, so for five months, starting in September 1946, Miles sat in trumpet section with King Kolax, Hobart Dotson and Leonard Hawkins.
The session which Eddie Laguna set up in the Radio Recorders Studio was clearly a casual affair with hastily sketched-in routines and tunes which seemed to have lyrics composed on the spot. All but Baby Won't You Make Up Your Mind were blues with the somewhat dolorous Earl Coleman sounding like Eckstine after a particularly heavy night out. Nevertheless, Earl is in good voice and has genuine feeling for the idiom, unlike Billy who in 1947 was qouted as saying, "I hate the blues, you can't do anything with them." Ann Baker (or Hathaway) is a good vocalist with an accurate pitching and clear diction. I know little of her career apart from the fact that she recorded for the Lamb and Keynote labels in 1945 and turned up on a Count Basie RCA date in March 1947.
The interest is more on the instrumentalists of course and the fact that Miles is heard playing open most of the time. (On the Dial date with Parker seven months earlier he was cup-muted throughout). As the session progresses he seems to gain in strength and confidence; listen to the excellent full chorus solos over the doubled-tempo section of Don't Explain To Me Baby where he rises to the heights on Take 3, capping his solo with a flourish of semi-quavers. But behind the vocals he is also impressive; listen to his muted obligatos to the middle eight of baby Won't You Make Up Your Mind. At the time of the date Miles was the "baby" of the session at 20, Ammons and Coleman were both 21, Blakely 27, Tommy Potter 28 and Errol Garner's brother Linton a positively old man of 31!
Jazz historians will welcome the issue of these tracks for they throw new light on the development of this singular trumpeter caught here midway between the Parker sessions of 1946 (Yardbird Suite, Moose the Mooche, etc.). The broad, clear, distinctive tone and unexpected harmonic twists are all here, the hallmarks of a man who was already showing an individuality which his hero, Charlie Parker, recognized and encouraged.
RECORDING: Recorded at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA on October 18,
ARTISTS: Miles Davis(trumpet), Gene Ammons (tenor saxophone),Connie Wainwright(guitar),Linton Garner(piano),Tommy Potter (bass),Art Blakely (drums),Earl Coleman,Ann Baker (vocals)
TRACKS: (1) Don t Sing Me The Blues (Take 1), (2) Don t Sing Me The Blues (Take 2), (3) I ve Always Got The Blues (Take 1 incomplete), (4) I ve Always Got The Blues (Take 2), (5) I ve Always Got The Blues (Take 3),(6) Don t Explain To Me Baby (Take 1), (7) Don t Explain To Me Baby (Take 2), (8) Don t Explain To Me Baby (Take 3), (9) Don t Explain To Me Baby (Take 4), (10) Baby Won t You Make Up Your Mind (Take 1), (11) Baby Won t You Make Up Your Mind (Take 2), (12) Baby Won1t You Make Up Your Mind (Take 3)