Miles Davis


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Song Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Cleo Henry's "Boplicity" is best known in the version Miles Davis cut on April 22, 1949, as part of the three sessions that came to be known as the Birth of the Cool sessions. The title may suggest that it's a hot-wired, manic bop masterpiece, but that's not the case in Davis' version. Yes, the song itself is rooted in the quick, multi-chorded, winding melodies of bop, but Davis and his band -- also featuring J.J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Knotiz, John Lewis, and Kenny Clarke -- is complex, muted, and laid-back. That is due in large part to the size of the combo -- it was nonet, featuring trombone, French horn, and tuba -- and the overall direction of Davis at this time. He had recently struck up a friendship and working relationship with Gil Evans, who wrote the charts for the music the nonet cut between January 1949 and March 1950. They were both interested in bringing the vivacity of bop into a different plane where they could experiment with tonal color, varying rhythms, and a less aggressive style of playing. It was dubbed later as the Birth of the Cool because of its subdued rhythms and tones, but it was never as purely stylish as such "cool" pioneers as Chet Baker. Although it might not be the pinnacle of the nonet sessions, "Boplicity" illustrates the difference quite effectively. It is a dense piece of music, with no obvious hook, but it still is welcoming due to its ever-changing tonal colors and warm sound. It takes a few listens to grasp what is happening on every level of the song, but it never alienates; it invites you to come back and discover what's happening. That's always been true of Davis' work, and there are few better introductions to this timeless, innovative period of his career than this version of "Boplicity."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Birth of the Cool 1957 Blue Note 3:02
Platinum [Capitol] 2007 Capitol / EMI Records