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Posted: May 27, 2009

Jazz milestones at 50

Brubeck, Davis, Mingus classics mark half-century mark with expanded editions

Mike Cote

DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET Time Out (Columbia/Legacy)
MILES DAVIS Sketches of Spain (Columbia/Legacy)
CHARLES MINGUS Mingus Ah Um (Columbia/Legcacy)

That 1959 was an important year for jazz can hardly be disputed considering the year was marked by the release of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, the saxophonist’s first all-original set. That alone made the year a high-water mark. But it was also the year for several other jazz milestones, including one that achieved enormous popularity upon its release and continues to be one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, thanks to saxophonist Paul Desmond’s surprise hit single title track and the nearly as ubiquitous “Blue Rondo a la Turk” brought adventurous, albeit accessible, jazz to a mainstream audience. (Yes, there was a time when musicians didn’t have to resort to tepid smooth jazz to hit the pop charts.)

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Time Out led a trio of major jazz releases from Columbia that year, joined by Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, a collaboration with arranger Gil Evans; and Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, the bass player and composer’s first major-label release. Columbia/Legacy celebrates the 50th anniversary of these LPs with expanded versions of each album. Time Out gets the biggest treatment, with a bonus disc of eight previously unreleased live performances culled from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in the early ’60s. A DVD features an interview with Brubeck about the making of the album plus performance footage and a piano lesson.

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Sketches of Spain, the third collaboration between trumpet player Davis and conductor/arranger/composer Evans, was released on the heels of Davis’ landmark Kind of Blue. Their foray into classical and Spanish themes and an orchestral ensemble that featured multiple horns and woodwinds opened new possibilities for jazz. Collectors who already sprung for the exhaustive six-CD Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings will already have the material collected on the second disc, which features alternate, rehearsal and live takes.

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Lastly, Mingus Ah Um features material that would become part of the intense composer’s signature repertoire, including “Better Git It In Your Soul,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Fables of Faubus.” The two-disc set features the comparatively less heralded follow-up, Mingus Dynasty as well as various unreleased outtakes and alternates.

Design note: The iconic covers of both Time Out and Mingus Ah Um share an unmistakable similarity, thanks to the Picasso-inspired paintings by then Columbia Records art director, S. Neil Fujita, whose eclectic work graced album and book covers of the era.

Although not part of the 1959 theme, Legacy also has re-issued Latin jazz icon Tito Puente's Dance Mania, which helped fuel the mambo-craze upon its release in 1957. This two-disc version adds the 1960 sequel, Dance Mania Vol. 2 and nearly two dozen additional bonus tracks. Good luck sitting still when Puente and his orchestra are playing.
 

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

Hey Mike thanks for a nice overview into those three legends. I'm going to share this with my twin teenagers who play piano and take lessons from a jazz pianist. It was refreshing to get a glimpse into Columbias past Artists who laid groundwork for us all to enjoy. Keep up the great work. By Bradley Kennedy on 2009 05 28
Excellent, excellent, EXCELLENT piece!!!! By Cathie Beck on 2009 05 28

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