Miles Davis’ Groundbreaking Album “Sketches of Spain”

Friday on All Night Jazz, we will be featuring music from the Miles Davis recording, “Sketches of Spain.” The album was recorded between November 1959 and March 1960, at the Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City.  WUSF’s Carson Rodriguez Bugarin has more:

After attending a performance by flamenco dancer Roberto Iglesias, Davis became enamored with Spanish folk music. Teaming up with composer Gil Evans, Davis sought to bend genre conventions.

The two were inspired, in part, by an album from folklorists Alan Lomax who spent a year in Spain recording native music. His album, “Spanish Folk Music: Columbia World Library of Folk & Primitive Music,” was released in 1955.

The breakout track on “Sketches of Spain,” “Concierto de Aranjuez,” introduces the Spanish influence present throughout the album. The song was recorded on November 20, 1959. This composition, by Joaquín Rodrigo, features a powerful guitar melody backed by a full orchestra.

In Evans’ arrangement, the guitar melody is performed on the flugelhorn and trumpet. In an interview for, “Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis,” Davis said, “the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.”

While the album boasts intricately curated harmony between the jazz performers and the orchestra, the collaboration between the two proved especially difficult for Davis, who was suspicious of classical musician’s tendency to groupthink.

In his autobiography, Davis recounted, “That’s all that is, that’s all the classical music is in terms of the musicians who play it–robot s***. And people celebrate them like they’re great. Now, there’s some great classical music by great classical composers–and there’s some great players up in there, but they have to become soloists…”

Davis also explains that arranger Gil Evans spent hours attempting to appease the two groups, having to rework several portions of the concerto to highlight the improvisational jazz elements while remaining true to the piece’s classical roots.

The album has received critical acclaim for its efforts to combine elements of classical, jazz, and Spanish folk music into something new and engaging. However, at the time of its release, “Sketches of Spain,” may have confused audiences, who were unsure which of the three genres the album belonged to.

While no definitive classification can be given, in retrospect, music critic, Thorn Jurek, with AllMusic Reviews, labeled the work, “a masterpiece of modern art,” that, “…in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience, as one encounters a multitude of timbres, tonalities, and harmonic structures seldom found in the music called jazz.”


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