Birth of the Cool

Birth of the Cool
Compilation album by Miles Davis
Released Mid February 1957[1]
Recorded January 21 and April 22, 1949; March 9, 1950
(New York City, New York)
Genre Cool jazz
Length 35:29 (1957 LP and 1989 CD) 79:17 (1998 CD)
Label Capitol
Producer Walter Rivers, Pete Rugolo
Miles Davis chronology
'Round About Midnight
Birth of the Cool
Miles Ahead
Miles Davis compilation chronology
Miles Davis Volume 2
Birth of the Cool
Basic Miles
Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis (H-459)
Miles Davis 10" LP chronology
Miles Davis All-Star Sextet
Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis
Miles Davis Quintet

Birth of the Cool is a compilation album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released in 1957 on Capitol Records.[2][3] It compiles twelve tracks recorded by Davis's nonet for the label over the course of three sessions during 1949 and 1950.[4]

Featuring unusual instrumentation and several notable musicians, the music consisted of innovative arrangements influenced by classical music techniques such as polyphony, and marked a major development in post-bebop jazz. As the title implies, these recordings are considered seminal in the history of cool jazz. Most of them were originally released in the 10-inch 78-rpm format and are all approximately three minutes long.


Davis (right center) playing in Charlie Parker's quintet, 1947.

In 1947, Miles Davis was playing in Charlie Parker's quintet, replacing Dizzy Gillespie, who had left in 1945 due to Parker's growing alcohol and drug problems. Davis recorded several albums worth of material with Parker at this time, including Parker's Sessions for the Savoy and Dial labels. Davis' first records sold under his own name were recorded with Parker's band, in 1947, and were more arranged and rehearsed than Parker's usual approach to recording.[5] By 1948, Davis had three years of bebop playing under his belt, but he struggled to match the speed and ranges of the likes of Gillespie and Parker, choosing instead to play in the mid range of his instrument.[6] In 1948, Davis, becoming increasingly concerned about growing tensions within the Parker quintet, left the group and began looking for a new band to work with.[7]

At the same time, arranger Gil Evans began hosting informal salons at his apartment, located on 55th Street in Manhattan, three blocks away from the jazz nightclubs of 52nd Street. Evans had gained a reputation in the jazz world for his orchestration of bebop tunes for the Claude Thornhill orchestra in the mid-1940s. Keeping an open door policy, Evans' apartment came to host many of the young jazz artists of late-1940s New York. The salon featured discussions about the future of jazz, including a proposed group with a new sound. According to jazz historian Ted Gioia:

[The salon members] were developing a range of tools that would change the sound of contemporary music. In their work together, they relied on a rich palette of harmonies, many of them drawn from European impressionist composers. They explored new instrumental textures, preferring to blend the voices of the horns like a choir rather than pit them against each other as the big bands had traditionally done with their thrusting and parrying sections. They brought down the tempos of their music . . . they adopted a more lyrical approach to improvisation . . .[8]

Davis' nonet

While Evans had originally hoped to work with Charlie Parker on this project, Evans felt that Parker was too dedicated to his own solo voice and not an ensemble sound that Evans was hoping to tap into.[9] With Parker out of the picture, Davis took the lead on the project; Davis and Evans met in the summer of 1947, discovering a mutual respect for each other's work.[10] The two men decided to tap into the members of the salon for the new group, this group eventually becoming the Miles Davis Nonet. Salon member, arranger, and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan joined the project, having previously written for Gene Krupa's orchestra, as it was felt he could bring a lighter sound that Davis and Evans were looking for.[11]

The members of the salon came to the conclusion that the ensemble should feature two saxophones, four brass, and rhythm section for a total of nine players. Evans and Mulligan spent the winter working out instrumentation, augmenting the traditional bop quintet of saxophone (in this case, alto saxophone), trumpet, and rhythm section, with baritone saxophone, trombone, French horn, and tuba. The two men looked to create pairings within the ensemble, Mulligan stating: "We picked instruments [with matching timbres] . . . and one of each. We had a high section with a trumpet and the alto, we had a middle section with the trombone and the French horn, and a low section with the baritone and tuba. So we had those . . . basic colors to work with."[12] The omission of tenor saxophone was seen as highly unusual, as it was seen as one of the standard jazz instruments.[13][14]

Davis, Evans, and Mulligan then went about assembling the members of the nonet, Davis and Mulligan taking trumpet and baritone saxophone respectively. For alto saxophone, Davis originally wanted Sonny Stitt for the part, but it was decided that Stitt's sound, much like Parkers, was too bop for what the nonet was pursuing.[15] On Gerry Mulligan's suggestion, Davis asked salon member Lee Konitz to join the group. Konitz had played with Mulligan in Claude Thornhill's orchestra, and was seen by some as a stylistic alternative to Parker, with a much lighter and airier sound.[15] Tuba player Bill Barber and French hornist Sandy Siegelstein came to the nonet via the brass section of the Thornhill band, Siegelstein to be later replaced by Junior Collins. Trombonist and salon member J. J. Johnson was the first choice for the band, but due to engagements with the Illinois Jacquet band could not originally play with the nonet, though he was able to record with the group on the final two sessions. Both bassist Al McKibbon and pianist and arranger John Lewis had known Davis as members of Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra. Drummer Max Roach had been a member of Parker's quintet with Davis and was a natural choice for the nonet due to his enthusiastic engagement in the ideals of the salon.[16]

Davis was able to secure a two-week engagement in September 1948 for the nonet opening for Count Basie at the Royal Roost in New York. For the band's book, Mulligan contributed six arrangements, Lewis three, Evans two, and composer John Carisi arranged his own composition, "Israel", for the band. On Davis's insistence, a sign was placed outside the Roost saying, "Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis," an unusual advertisement that highlighted the collaborative nature of the venture.[17] The band played at the Roost from August 30 to September 18. For these live dates, Mike Zwerin played trombone and former Dizzy Gillespie vocalist Kenny Hagood sang on "Darn That Dream" and "Why Do I Love You". There was a further short residency the following year at the Clique Club, these three sets making up the nonet's only live appearances. Arranger and Capitol Records talent scout Pete Rugolo heard the nonet at the Royal Roost and offered the nonet a chance to make a record.[18]


Pete Rugolo produced the sessions for Birth of the Cool.[19]

The nonet recorded twelve tracks for Capitol during three sessions over the course of nearly a year and a half. Davis, Konitz, Mulligan and Barber were the only musicians who played on all three sessions, though the instrumental lineup was constant (excepting the omission of piano on a few songs and the addition of Hagood on "Darn That Dream"). The first session occurred on January 21, 1949, recording four tracks: Mulligan's "Jeru" and "Godchild" as well as Lewis's "Move" and "Budo". Jazz critic Richard Cook hypothesizes that Capitol, wanting to get a good start, recorded these numbers first because they were the most catchy tunes in the nonet's small repertoire.[20] That date Kai Winding replaced Zwerin on trombone, Al Haig replaced Lewis on piano, and Joe Shulman replaced McKibbon on bass.

The second recording date came three months later on April 22, 1949 with Davis filling in for Fats Navarro in Tadd Dameron's band with Charlie Parker during the interim. The band returned to the studio with five substitutions in personnel: J. J. Johnson on trombone, Sandy Siegelstein on French horn, Nelson Boyd on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums, and John Lewis returning to piano. At this session, the nonet recorded Mulligan's "Venus de Milo", Lewis's "Rouge", Carisi's "Israel", and "Boplicity", a collaboration between Davis and Evans, credited to the pseudonym "Cleo Henry".[21]

The band did not return to the studio again until March 9, 1950. Davis did not call the band for any rehearsals or live performances between the second and third recording dates. The March 1950 date featured Mulligan's "Darn That Dream", "Rocker", and "Deception", and Evans's arrangement of Chummy MacGregor's "Moon Dreams", which had been released in a jazz arrangement by Glenn Miller and the AAF Band in 1944 on V-Disc. The band saw more substitutions, with Gunther Schuller on French horn and Al McKibbon on bass. Kenny Hagood returned for vocals on "Darn That Dream".


Music and style

One of the features of the Davis Nonet was the use of paired instrumentation. An example of this can be heard on the John Lewis arrangement "Move". In "Move", Lewis gives the melody to the pairing of trumpet and alto saxophone, baritone saxophone and tuba supply counterpoint, and trombone and French horn provide harmonies.[22] Gerry Mulligan's "Jeru" demonstrates another Nonet hallmark: the use of a unison sound and rich harmony throughout the horns.[22] Davis said, "I wanted the instruments to sound like human voices singing . . . and they did."[23] Though the album is seen as a departure from traditional bop,[24] the recordings do feature tunes that are considered close to the bop style, such as "Budo" which has the band bookending solos by Davis, Mulligan, Konitz, and Winding, similar to a bebop head arrangement.[25]

Thornhill's influence

One of the largest stated influences on the sound of The Birth of the Cool was band leader Claude Thornhill and his orchestra.[9][26][27] Out of Thornhill's band came Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, and Gil Evans, Miles Davis calling the Konitz-Mulligan-Evans incarnation "the greatest band" only after "the Billy Eckstine band with Bird."[26] The Thornhill band was known for its impressionistic style, innovative use of instrumentation, such as the use of tuba and French horn, and a non-vibrato playing style, hallmarks that the Miles Davis Nonet adopted for The Birth of the Cool.[9][28] According to Evans:

Miles had liked some of what Gerry and I had written for Claude. The instrumentation for the Miles session was caused by the fact that this was the smallest number of instruments that could get the sound and still express all the harmonies the Thornhill band used. Miles wanted to play his idiom with that kind of sound.[29]

Davis saw the full 18-piece Thornhill orchestra as cumbersome and thus decided to split the group in half for his desired sound.[30] As arrangers, both Evans and Mulligan gave Thornhill credit for crafting their sound.[9][24] Thornhill's band gave Evans the opportunity to try his hand at arranging small-group bebop tunes for big band, a practice few others were participating in. Mulligan recalls Thornhill teaching him "the greatest lesson in dynamics, the art of underblowing." [24] Thornhill has also been credited with launching the move away from call and response between sections and the move towards unison harmonies.[31]

Release history

The tracks from the January 1949 session were released soon after recording as two pairs of singles. From the April 1949 date, "Israel" and "Boplicity" were doubled together on a 78 and released as well. Of the twelve tracks recorded, Capitol released relatively few. In 1954, after persuasion from Rugolo, Capitol released eight of the tracks on a 10" record titled Classics in Jazz—Miles Davis (H-459).[32] In 1957 eleven of the tracks (all except for "Darn That Dream") were released by Capitol as Birth of the Cool. The final track, "Darn That Dream" (the only song with vocals, by Hagood), was included with the other eleven on a 1971 LP. Subsequent releases have been based on this last arrangement. The album has since been reissued many times in various formats.[33] The recordings of the nonet from its time at the Royal Roost were released as Cool Boppin.[34] In 1998, Capitol Records released The Complete Birth of the Cool, which was remastered by engineer Rudy Van Gelder and collected the nonet's live and studio tracks onto a single CD.

Reception and aftermath

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[36]
The Great Rock Discography9/10[36]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz[36]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[36]

The band's debut performance at the Royal Roost received positive, but reserved reactions.[38] Count Basie, the Roost's headliner during the Nonet's brief tenure, however, was more open to the group's sound, saying, "Those slow things sounded strange and good. I didn't always know what they were doing, but I listened, and I liked it."[39] Winthrop Sargeant, classical music critic at The New Yorker, compared the band's sound to the work of an "impressionist composer with a great sense of aural poetry and a very fastidious feeling for tone color. . . The music sounds more like that of a new Maurice Ravel than it does like jazz . . . it is not really jazz."[40] Though he did not recognize the record as jazz, Sargeant acknowledged that he found the record "charming and exciting".[40] In the short term the reaction to the band was little to none,[40] but in the long term the album's effects have been great and lasting. The album has been credited with starting the cool jazz movement[41] as well as creating a new and viable alternative to bebop[42] In 1957, after the release of the full Birth of the Cool, Down Beat magazine wrote that Birth of the Cool "[influenced] deeply one important direction of modern chamber jazz."[43] Several tunes from the album, such as Carisi's "Israel", have gone on to become jazz standards.[44]

Many members of the Miles Davis Nonet went on to have successful careers in cool jazz, notably Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Lee Konitz. Mulligan moved to California and joined forces with trumpeter Chet Baker in a piano-less quartet, before creating his Concert Jazz Band[45] Lewis would become music director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, which would become one of the most influential cool jazz groups.[46] Evans would go on to collaborate with Davis again on the Davis albums Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain.[47] Following Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis did not return to cool jazz, instead going to play hard bop, and eventually spearheading modal jazz.[48] Capitol Records were at the time disappointed with the sales of the nonet recordings, and did not offer Davis more work. Instead, Davis signed with the new jazz specialty record label, Prestige, for whom he would record his first album in 1951.[49]

Track listings

Arrangements by the composer unless otherwise noted.

Original 78rpm singles

Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis (1954 10" LP, Capitol H-459)

Side A

  1. "Jeru" (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:09
  2. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:13
  3. "Venus de Milo" (Mulligan) – 3:05
  4. "Deception" (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:42

Side B

  1. "Godchild" (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:02
  2. "Rocker" (Mulligan) – 2:59
  3. "Israel" (Johnny Carisi) – 2:12
  4. "Rouge" (John Lewis) – 3:07

Classics in Jazz was a series title for a number of reissues of older jazz material on the Capitol label in 10 inch LP format. The other three instrumental tracks recorded by the Nonet were released on various artists compilations in the Classics in Jazz series.[50] The Modern Idiom (Capitol H-325)[51] included "Budo" in 1952, Trumpet Stylists (Capitol H-326)[52] included "Move", and Cool & Quiet (Capitol H-371)[53] included "Boplicity" in 1953.

Birth of the Cool (1957 12" LP, Capitol T-762)

Side A

  1. "Jeru" (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:09
  2. "Move" (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:29
  3. "Godchild" (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:02
  4. "Budo" (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Lewis) – 2:28
  5. "Venus de Milo" (Mulligan) – 3:05
  6. "Rouge" (John Lewis) – 3:07

Side B

  1. "Boplicity" (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans, arranged by Evans) – 2:55
  2. "Israel" (Johnny Carisi) – 2:12
  3. "Deception" (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:42
  4. "Rocker" (Mulligan) – 2:59
  5. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:13
  6. "Darn That Dream" (Eddie DeLange, Jimmy Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:20 (Bonus Track added in 1971)
Recording dates

Recorded at WOR Studios, New York, New York.

Birth of the Cool (1989 CD, Capitol)

  1. "Move" (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:32
  2. "Jeru" (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:10
  3. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:17
  4. "Venus de Milo" (Mulligan) – 3:10
  5. "Budo" (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Lewis) – 2:32
  6. "Deception" (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:45
  7. "Godchild" (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:07
  8. "Boplicity" (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans, arranged by Evans) – 2:59
  9. "Rocker" (Mulligan) – 3:03
  10. "Israel" (Johnny Carisi) – 2:15
  11. "Rouge" (John Lewis) – 3:13
  12. "Darn That Dream" (Eddie DeLange, Jimmy Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:26
Recording dates

Recorded at WOR Studios, New York, New York.

The Complete Birth of the Cool (1998 CD, Capitol)

The Studio Sessions

  1. "Move" (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 2:32
  2. "Jeru" (Gerry Mulligan) – 3:10
  3. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:17
  4. "Venus de Milo" (Mulligan) – 3:10
  5. "Budo" (Miles Davis, Bud Powell, arranged by Mulligan)[54] – 2:32
  6. "Deception" (Davis, arranged by Mulligan) – 2:45
  7. "Godchild" (George Wallington, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:07
  8. "Boplicity" (Cleo Henry, i.e. Davis and Gil Evans,[55] arranged by Evans) – 2:59
  9. "Rocker" (Mulligan) – 3:03
  10. "Israel" (Johnny Carisi) – 2:15
  11. "Rouge" (John Lewis) – 3:13
  12. "Darn That Dream" (Eddie DeLange, Jimmy Van Heusen, arranged by Mulligan) – 3:26
Recording dates

Recorded at WOR Studios, New York, New York.

The Live Sessions

  1. "Birth of the Cool Theme" (Gil Evans) – 0:19
  2. "Symphony Sid announces the band"
  3. "Move" (Denzil Best arranged by John Lewis) – 3:40
  4. "Why Do I love You" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, arranged by John Lewis) – 3:41
  5. "Godchild" (George Wallington arranged by Gerry Mulligan) – 5:15
  6. "Symphony Sid introduction" – 0:27
  7. "S'il vous plait" (John Lewis) – 4:22
  8. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 5:06
  9. "Budo (Hallucinations)" (Bud Powell, Miles Davis, arranged by John Lewis) – 3:24
  10. "Darn That Dream" (Eddie DeLange, Jimmy Van Heusen, arranged by Gerry Mulligan) – 4:25
  11. "Move" (Denzil Best, arranged by John Lewis) – 4:48
  12. "Moon Dreams" (Chummy MacGregor, Johnny Mercer, arranged by Gil Evans) – 3:46
  13. "Budo (Hallucinations)" (Bud Powell, Miles Davis, arranged by John Lewis) – 4:23
Recording dates

Recorded live at Royal Roost in New York for WMCA radio broadcast.


The Complete Birth of the Cool: The Live Sessions


  1. Inc, Nielsen Business Media (February 23, 1957). "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. via Google Books.
  2. Smith, Chris (2009). 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music. US: Oxford University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-19-537371-4. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  3. Davis, Miles; Jeff Sultanof (2002). Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool Complete Score Book. US: Hal Leonard. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-634-00682-1. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  4. Smith, Chris. "101 Albums That Changed Popular Music: Birth of the Cool". Oxford University Press: 7–9. 2009.
  5. "Miles: the Autobiography", Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, 1989, pg.105
  6. Cook, Richard. It's About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. pg 10
  7. Chambers, Jack. Milestones 1: The Music and Times of Miles Davis to 1960. New York: Beech Tree Books (William Morrow and Company), 1983. p. 98.
  8. Gioia, Ted. The Birth (And Death) of the Cool. Golden, Colo.: Speck Press, 2009. 83.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Hentoff, Nat. "The Birth of the Cool." Down Beat, May 2, 1957: 15–16
  10. Chambers, p. 97
  11. Klinkowitz, Jerome. Listen: Gerry Mulligan, An Aural Narrative In Jazz. New York: Schirmer Books, 1991. p.38
  12. Berrett, Joshua and Louis G. Bourgois. The Musical World of J.J. Johnson. Scarecrow Press, 1999. 64
  13. Cook, Richard. It's About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005 p. 16
  14. Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. 282
  15. 1 2 Chambers, 101.
  16. Chambers, 102.
  17. "By the time the band opened at the Roost, Zwerin and everyone else should have been fully aware of their collaborative nature, if only because of the billing they were given on the sidewalk sign outside the club . . . Evans recall. "Miles had it put in front, no one before had ever done that, given credit that way to arrangers." Chambers, 103.
  18. Cook, p.17
  19. McLellan, Dennis (October 18, 2011). "Pete Rugolo obituary: Jazz composer, arranger wrote TV themes". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles: Tribune Company. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  20. Cook, Richard. It's About That Time: Miles Davis On and Off Record. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 17
  21. Cook, p. 20
  22. 1 2 Cook, p.18
  23. Gioia, "The History of Jazz". p. 282.
  24. 1 2 3 Gioia, "The History of Jazz". 281
  25. Cook, p. 19
  26. 1 2 Chambers, 94
  27. Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. 281–282.
  28. Crease, Stephanie. "Gil Evans: Forever Cool." Down Beat, May 2012. p. 33
  29. Hentoff, p. 16
  30. Chambers, p. 98-99
  31. Klinkowitz, p. 27
  32. Classics I Jazz: Miles Davis,, accessed July 3, 2014
  33. Davis, Miles. Miles Davis-Birth of the Cool: Scores from the Original Parts. Ed. Jeff B. Sultanof. Milwaukee, WI.: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2002. p. 2
  34. Cook, 16–17
  35. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (November 1, 2001). Review: Birth of the Cool. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  36. 1 2 3 4 5 Acclaimed Music – Classics in Jazz/Birth of the Cool. Acclaimed Music. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  37. Product Notes – Birth of the Cool. Muze. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  38. Cook, p. 17
  39. Chambers, p. 106
  40. 1 2 3 Gioia, The History of Jazz. p. 283
  41. Kernfeld, Barry. "Miles Davis." Grove Music Online. Web. Apr 24, 2012. 2. Music. <>.
  42. Chambers, p. 105
  43. Henthoff, p.15
  44. Davis, p.4
  45. Klinkowitz, p. 6-12
  46. Gioia, "The Birth and Death of the Cool". p. 86
  47. Crease, p. 35
  48. Kernfeld, Barry. "Miles Davis." Grove Music Online. Web. Apr 24, 2012. <>.
  49. "Miles: The Autobiography", Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, 1989, pg.140
  50. "The Birth of the Cool on Capitol Records": Setting the Record Straight, Jazz Research , accessed July 3, 2014
  51. The Modern Idiom,, accessed July 3, 2014
  52. Trumpet Stylists,, accessed July 3, 2014
  53. ,Cool & Quiet,, accessed July 3, 2014
  54. Sultanof, Jeffrey (Fall 2011). "The Miles Davis Nonet Manuscripts Lost and Found: From Manuscript to Publication". Journal of Jazz Studies. 7 (2): 208. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  55. Sultanof, Jeffrey (Fall 2011). "The Miles Davis Nonet Manuscripts Lost and Found: From Manuscript to Publication". Journal of Jazz Studies. 7 (2): 204.


Further reading

External links

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