Miles Davis: UNKNOWN First Recorded Interview—1951! (UPDATED)
(NOTE: I ADDED some information from the Swedish archive about the date and about how these interviews were made. The new material is in the first two paragraphs.)
Did you notice that Claes Dahlgren began the rare 1955 interview by saying “the last time you were on this program was in 1951”? Well, thanks to our friends in Sweden (see below), I can now share that first interview with you. This was broadcast only in Sweden on April 24, 1951, and it was recorded in NYC. The “script” for the program is dated March 14, 1951, and that was also the day of recording, according to a dated photo that exists of Miles and Dahlgren in Sanders Recording Studios, 167 West 48th St., off Times Square in New York City. (Thank you to Miles researcher Jan Lohmann for the photo information.) This is the earliest known audio interview with Miles—he was 24 years old! (He would become 25 on May 26.)
In those days, Dahlgren recorded his comments and interviews on shellac discs (there is some surface noise on this one). Then he sent them, and any commercial recordings mentioned in the interview, to Sweden (because current American jazz recordings were not readily available there). It usually meant a delay of about a month or so before the program was broadcast. Once in Sweden, the engineers switched between record players—one with the discs of talking, and one with the commercial recordings— to make the final version with the recorded music included.
Some of you know the 1953 interview with Harry Frost, which we will discuss at another time. That one runs 28:30, but in fact much of that time is spent playing records, and Frost gives Miles very little chance to speak. So this 1951 interview has just as much of Miles’s voice in it, even though it’s much shorter.
Speaking of his voice, Miles had no vocal problems at this point, and this is a good example of what he sounded like—he speaks at a relaxed pace, with a bit of a drawl. (I still owe you Part 3 on Miles’s voice—I haven’t forgotten. In fact these two Swedish interviews came up as part of my research for that post.)
Dahlgren begins by congratulating Miles on winning awards in Metronome and Downbeat magazines. The awards were voted on by readers in late 1950, with results typically reported at the end of the year or the beginning of the next year. In Metronome (a major jazz magazine at the time; it went out of business at the end of 1961), Davis won first place on trumpet, and the magazine stated, “This was the year in which Miles Davis took over.” As you will read below, Dizzy Gillespie lost by only 7 votes. (Elsewhere in this issue the editors surmise that Dizzy’s tendency toward comedy lost him votes.) Here’s the report:
Each year Metronome produced a recording featuring whoever of the winning musicians were available and willing. So on January 23, 1951, the “All stars” recorded “Early Spring” by composer Ralph Burns (the title is kind of a joke reference to his famous piece “Early Autumn” from 1948) and “Local 802 Blues” by pianist George Shearing (a reference to the musicians’ union in NYC, and maybe a joke on the fact that the artists usually got paid only the “minimum union scale rate” for these recordings). The musicians are listed on the label, as you can see here:
In Downbeat, Miles came in third place, as he had in 1949 (he was in 10th place in 1948), which was good enough to deserve kudos from Dahlgren. You can see the list of winners here:
As you can see, Downbeat also called their winners an “All-star band,” but they did not attempt to make a recording of the band. It existed only on paper.
After congratulations, Miles and Claes discuss the current scene, the acceptance of bebop, and the lack of modern jazz clubs in NYC. Miles lists some of his favorite musicians, and at the end he says hello to “Rolf,” which, Dahlgren clarifies, is Swedish trumpeter Rolf Ericson. Ericson was a marvelous player who must have met Miles when he lived in the U.S.A. from 1947 to 1950, touring and recording nationally—California, NYC, and in-between—with the bands of Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, and others. He was back in Stockholm at the time of this interview, but he would return to the U.S.A. many times, starting in late 1952.
We are able to hear this recording thanks to the generosity of The Claes Dahlgren Collection at The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research (Svenskt visarkiv). I want to personally thank Wictor Johansson, head of the audiovisual collections, and Jörgen Adolfsson, research archivist and musician, for their kind assistance.
Please Note that permission was given Only for the audio to appear in this newsletter—no other copying or publishing of this recording is allowed without prior approval. Let us all please honor this, in which case more interviews will be coming your way. (I promise you that I have some additional amazing ones lined up!) In short, do not post the audio of this interview anywhere else—but please do share the link to this page with everyone you know!
Here is the interview— enjoy it!:
Some of you have asked for hints of what’s to come in 2023. I’m currently researching posts on King Oliver, Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, more Trane, Miles, Billie, Bird, some little-known women instrumentalists, etc., etc.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
All the Best,
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