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Album of the Week: Miles Davis, 'Someday My Prince Will Come'

Miles Davis during a studio recording session, October 1959.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Miles Davis during a studio recording session, October 1959.

As WRTI's Listener Choice Countdown rolls into Valentine's Day, we're pleased to feature a classic by Miles Davis, your No. 4 pick for Top Jazz Artist, as Album of the Week.

Above all else, Someday My Prince Will Come — the celebrated Miles Davis album, recorded and released on Columbia in 1961 — is a love story. Starting with the title track, a song from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it underscores the love and affection that Miles and his then wife, Frances, had for each other. It’s by no means a coincidence that her face graces the cover.

That photograph isn’t the album’s only form of tribute: “Pfrancing,” which Davis named after his wife, is a swinging tune expressing the free-flowing feeling of fun. Also known as “No Blues,” the tune is smooth and seasoned with happiness and flair. A more pensive romanticism can be found on the track “I Thought About You,” which Davis expresses with passion.

This 1961 recording was produced at an evolutionary time, as Davis began to assemble suitable replacement musicians after his band lost two key members, saxophonists Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane. His main personnel on the session are tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. But as an indication of how recently things had been in flux, Coltrane appears on two cuts, the title track and “Teo,” a dedication to Davis’ longtime producer Teo Macero. This was Coltrane’s last recording session with Davis.

Macero probably helped strike the balance of standards and originals on Someday My Prince Will Come, making it feel like something other than a transitional compilation. One of the songbook ballads, “Old Folks,” conveys a wistful feeling with Davis’ penetrating muted trumpet, and allows Mobley to play a well-suited sax solo which then briefly gives way to Kelly’s serenade on piano. An even more somber air surrounds “Drad-Dog” — a composition that revisits the harmonic template of “Blue in Green,” with a title that nods (in backwards fashion) to the first name of Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson.

Variations in skill set permeate this album. Drummer Philly Joe Jones, another former member of the band, makes just one cameo — on “Blues No. 2,” a bonus track included on a reissue of the album in 1999 — but shows his assertive side, as he often leaps out front to engage with the soloist. This stands in contrast with Jones’ successor, Jimmy Cobb, whose drumming on the title track pointedly leaves space for the soloists to come alive.

Speaking of contrasts, much has also been written about Coltrane and Mobley, especially on this album’s title track, which puts them side by side. Coltrane blows an intense and saturated solo to announce his mastery, while Mobley seems resolved to go with the flow. But Mobley’s easeful style is a natural fit for the album as a whole, and for the sound that Davis was exploring at the time.

In the recent documentary film Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, his former wife, Frances Taylor Davis shares the memory of first exposing her husband to flamenco in Barcelona — the spark that led to his orchestral collaboration with Gil Evans on Sketches of Spain. That was the first release after what now stands as Davis’ signature album, Kind of Blue. Next came Someday My Prince Will Come, an achievement unto itself.

Although the once-unshakable romance between Miles and Frances did not last, on this album, guided by the master trumpeter, that romance is alive and lives forever.

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Maurice Browne’s appreciation of jazz began as a teenager listening to a popular jazz station in New York City. This is where his admiration grew for the jazz greats like Count Basie, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Wes Montgomery.