The music in 1964 was changing fast.  John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins were embarking on new musical paths and reaching great heights with their playing.  Piano players like Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock were pushing the limits of harmony and creating new and exciting ways to spice up old standards.  And Miles put together a brand new band full of young lions in 1963, including the brilliant saxophonist from Memphis, Tennessee, George Coleman.

 

George Coleman’s incredible tenor saxophone solos from Miles Davis’ live recordings done in in 1964 in New York City are truly historic.  His interpretation of the standards that were in the Miles Davis songbook at the time are adventurous and harmonically innovative.  His solos during this time spent as a member of the Miles Davis quintet have been talked about my many musicians.

 

George was a member of Miles Davis’ brand new band which featured some of the hottest young new stars on the jazz scene, including a young pianist named Herbie Hancock and a 17 year old drummer named Tony Williams.

 

As Miles himself said so in his Auto-biography, co-written by Quincy Troupe, “George Coleman played better that night than I have ever heard him play.”

 

Every one of George’s saxophone solos on these recordings are amazing but, in particular, the tenor solo on “My Funny Valentine” is a real masterpiece.  This solo has been a favorite of many musicians, and not just the saxophone players.

 

Musicians like saxophonist Michael Brecker as well as the guitarist Pat Metheny both said that the recordings of Miles with George Coleman were very influential and inspiring.  Eric Alexander is another saxophonist who certainly was influenced heavily by George Coleman and the Miles records from the 1963-1964 period.

 

When I was a student at Rutgers University, studying jazz, I used to listen to the saxophone solos of many of the great masters, and learn them by ear, sometimes, writing them down and at other times, just learning them on my instrument.  When I got the this recording of Miles with George Coleman, it really blew me away.  I listened those recordings so much, I nearly wore those records out.  The My Funny Valentine and the Four and More records led me to eventually seeking out George Coleman in live performance in the NYC jazz clubs and eventually meeting him and studying with him.  Later on, it led to sitting in and even being hired by George to play in his Octet and to record with that band.

Adam Brenner and George Coleman

Adam Brenner with George Coleman

 

George’s solo on “My Funny Valentine” in particular is powerful and memorable, because he follows Miles’ solo just as the rhythm section has built into a double-time 4/4 swing feel.  The performance starts out as a rubato (out of tempo) duet between Miles and Herbie, which then turns into a slow ballad tempo.  As the momentum builds, George takes us for a long ride through the wonderful chord changes of this classic standard, but he also adds so much more to the original chords of the tune with his amazingly adventurous harmonic jazz lines and rich and pure saxophone sound.  He ends up his solo with the pure melody of the song as the rhythm section comes to a slow ballad tempo, once again, leading into the piano solo.

 

When I was in college studying jazz, both of these recordings were inspiring me daily and listening to George Coleman’s daring harmonic adventures through the standards like “My Funny Valentine” and “All Of You” were like the greatest music lessons I could ever get.

 

My fellow music students would get together and listen to these records until we could memorize and sing every note of these solos.  The consensus around school was that these records of Miles with George were among the hippest and slickest of all the jazz records from that time period.

 

What George does in terms of the harmonic structure of the song is remarkable.  Today it is much more commonplace but back in 1964, it wasn’t so.  George is adding a lot of extensions and alterations to the standard chord changes of My Funny Valentine during his solo, and he often adds an extra chord in places, that precedes the regular chord by a half step above.  This makes for a startling and exciting change to the harmonic structure that is part of the song.  Since Herbie Hancock had such great ears, he catches what George is doing and goes right along in the same direction, playing chords right behind George that fit exactly what George is implying in his solo.

 

In most instances, it’s the piano player that leads the horn players into altered harmonies when playing live, but in this case, George seemed to lead pianist Herbie Hancock into some interesting alternate chord changes just by the melodic lines and harmonic concept that George had.  He fit this group perfectly and many musicians loved this band because of George Coleman’s unique contributions.

 

You can find this classic saxophone solo on the “My Funny Valentine” CD on Columbia Records and pick up a copy by visiting the link here at Amazon:

 

 

Here’s a video from youtube of a live Miles Davis quintet performance of “So What” from a concert in Monterey, California from the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1963. This was one of the first gigs George Coleman did with this band. You can hear the fire and magic of this great combination of these great five jazz musicians.

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