Porgy and Bess (Miles Davis album)

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Porgy and Bess
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 9, 1959[1]
RecordedJuly 22 & 29 and August 4 & 18, 1958
StudioColumbia 30th Street (New York City)
ProducerCal Lampley
Miles Davis chronology
Porgy and Bess
Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants
Alternative cover
UK 45 rpm release

Porgy and Bess (CL 1274) is a studio album by jazz musician Miles Davis, released in March 1959 on Columbia Records.[4] The album features arrangements by Davis and collaborator Gil Evans from George Gershwin's 1935 opera of the same name. The album was recorded in four sessions on July 22, July 29, August 4, and August 18, 1958, at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City. It is the second collaboration between Davis and Evans and has garnered much critical acclaim since its release, being acknowledged by some music critics as the best of their collaborations.[5] Jazz critics have regarded the album as historically important.[6][7]



In 1958, Davis was one of many jazz musicians growing dissatisfied with bebop, seeing its increasingly complex chord changes as hindering creativity.[8] Five years earlier, in 1953, pianist George Russell published his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, which offered an alternative to the practice of improvisation based on chords.[9] Abandoning the traditional major and minor key relationships of classical music, Russell developed a new formulation using scales or a series of scales for improvisations.[9] His approach to improvisation came to be known as modal in jazz.[9] Davis saw Russell's methods of composition as a means of getting away from the dense chord-laden compositions of his time, which Davis had labeled "thick".[10] Modal composition, with its reliance on scales and modes, represented, as Davis put it,[8] "a return to melody".[11] In a 1958 interview with Nat Hentoff of The Jazz Review, Davis remarked on the modal approach:

When Gil wrote the arrangement of "I Loves You, Porgy," he only wrote a scale for me. No chords... gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things... there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them. Classical composers have been writing this way for years, but jazz musicians seldom have.[12]

— Miles Davis

In early 1958, Davis began using this approach with his sextet.[13] Influenced by Russell's ideas, Davis implemented his first modal composition with the title track of his 1958 album Milestones, which was based on two modes, recorded in April of that year.[14] Instead of soloing in the straight, conventional, melodic way, Davis’s new style of improvisation featured rapid mode and scale changes played against sparse chord changes.[15][9] Davis' second collaboration with Gil Evans on Porgy and Bess gave him more room for experimentation with Russell's concept and with third stream playing, as Evans' compositions for Davis featured this modal approach.[8]


The musical, commercial and critical success of 1957's Miles Ahead helped make future Davis/Evans ventures possible, as it impressed Columbia Records enough for them to bestow further artistic control upon Davis and Evans. At that period, Davis' girlfriend Frances Taylor was in the New York City Center's production of the George Gershwin/DuBose Heyward/Ira Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess,[16] and the Samuel Goldwyn film adaptation was in production, set for release in June 1959. The advance publicity for the film was considerable, and with the late-1950s vogue for recorded "jazz versions of...", a number of Porgy and Bess jazz interpretations were released. These ranged from an all-star big band version arranged and conducted by Bill Potts to one by Bob Crosby and the Bobcats. Following the first collaboration with Evans, Davis followed up on these efforts with much interest in symphonic readings, which, at the time, jazzmen were not known for, and neither were some classically trained musicians known for interpreting jazz scores. Nevertheless, Davis enlisted members of his sextet, including Cannonball Adderley and Paul Chambers.

Reception and influence[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Encyclopedia of Popular Music[19]
Entertainment WeeklyA[20]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[22]
Tom Hull – on the WebB+[23]

The second in a series of Davis/Evans collaborations, Porgy and Bess was well received upon its release by music critics and publications, including The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.[24][25] Music writer Bill Kirchner wrote "In this century's American music, three partnerships have been most influential: Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, Frank Sinatra/Nelson Riddle, and Miles Davis/Gil Evans."[26] As one of Davis' best-selling albums, Porgy and Bess has earned recognition as a landmark album in orchestral jazz. Davis biographer Jack Chambers described the album as "a new score, with its own integrity, order and action".[27]

The album's appeal was more widespread among critics following its reissue in 1997. Robert Gilbert of All About Jazz praised Porgy and Bess, describing it as "one of many great albums that Miles Davis recorded over his lifetime. It reaches a higher plateau than most, though, in its way that it can reach the listener on both a musical and emotional level. That the album is still able to do this after almost forty-five years is a testament to the rare magic that occurred in a New York studio over four days in the summer of 1958."[28]

In August 1997, JazzTimes magazine called Porgy and Bess "possibly the best of the collaborations between Miles and Gil Evans ... Evans is justly regarded as the master of modern orchestration and Porgy and Bess shows him at his best."[29] The album was included in Elvis Costello's "500 Albums You Need" (Vanity Fair, Issue No. 483 11/00)[30] and was ranked No. 785 on the Virgin "All-Time Top 1000 Album" list.[31]

Track listing[edit]

All compositions written by George Gershwin, except otherwise noted. (Although Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward wrote lyrics to the opera Porgy and Bess, these recordings are instrumental.)

Side one[edit]

Track Recorded Song Writer Time
1. 8/4/58 "Buzzard Song" George Gershwin 4:07
2. 7/29/58 "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" George Gershwin 5:10
3. 7/22/58 "Gone" Gil Evans 3:37
4. 7/22/58 "Gone, Gone, Gone" George Gershwin 2:03
5. 8/4/58 "Summertime" George Gershwin 3:17
6. 8/4/58 "Oh Bess, Oh Where's My Bess" George Gershwin 4:18

Side two[edit]

Track Recorded Song Writer Time
1. 8/4/58 "Prayer (Oh Doctor Jesus)" George Gershwin 4:39
2. 7/29/58 "Fisherman, Strawberry and Devil Crab" George Gershwin 4:06
3. 7/22/58 "My Man's Gone Now" George Gershwin 6:14
4. 7/29/58 "It Ain't Necessarily So" George Gershwin 4:23
5. 7/29/58 "Here Come de Honey Man" George Gershwin 1:18
6. 8/18/58 "I Wants to Stay Here (a.k.a. I Loves You, Porgy)" George Gershwin 3:39
7. 8/4/58 "There's a Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York" George Gershwin 3:23

Bonus tracks[edit]

Bonus cuts featured on the 1997 compact disc reissue.

Track Recorded Song Writer Time
1. 8/18/58 "I Loves You, Porgy" (take 1, second version) George Gershwin 4:14
2. 7/22/58 "Gone" (take 4) Gil Evans 3:40




Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[32]
sales since 2007
Silver 60,000^
United States 286,000[33]

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Miles Davis.com
  2. ^ Kanzler, George (November 7, 2009). "Miles Revisited: Sketches of Spain (50th Anniversary Edition) & Miles Ahead Live". All About Jazz. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
  3. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis Jr. (January 2, 2005). Africana: Arts and Letters: An A-to-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press. p. 163. ISBN 0762420421.
  4. ^ "Miles Davis: Porgy and Bess | Miles Davis". Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  5. ^ Album/Product notes and reviews
  6. ^ "Porgy and Bess Presentation Zankel Hall, NYC
  7. ^ Larkin, Colin. "Review: Porgy and Bess", Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music: March 1, 2002.
  8. ^ a b c Kahn, Ashley (2001). Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. foreword by Jimmy Cobb. Da Capo Press, USA. pp. 67–68. ISBN 0-306-81067-0 – via Internet Archive. The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece bebop.
  9. ^ a b c d "George Russell – About George". Concept Publishing. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
  10. ^ Kahn 2001, p. 16.
  11. ^ "Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (FLAC – Master Sound – Super Bit Mapping)". Stupid and Contagious. February 12, 2008.
  12. ^ Nat Hentoff, "An Afternoon with Miles Davis", The Jazz Review, December 1958.
  13. ^ Milestones at AllMusic
  14. ^ "George Russell – The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization". Concept Publishing. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
  15. ^ "Miles Davis: Jazz at the Plaza < Music – PopMatters". PopMatters.com. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
  16. ^ Crease, Stephanie Stein (2003). Gil Evans: Out of the Cool: His Life and Music. Chicago Review Press. p. 199. ISBN 978-1-55652-986-3.
  17. ^ Planer, Lindsay. Review: Porgy and Bess. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-07-21.
  18. ^ DownBeat: July 23, 1959, Vol. 26, No. 15
  19. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195313734.[page needed]
  20. ^ Sandow, Greg. Review: Porgy and Bess. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-07-20.
  21. ^ Cook, Richard. "Review: Porgy and Bess". Penguin Guide to Jazz: 376. September 2002.
  22. ^ Hoard, Christian. "Review: Porgy and Bess". Rolling Stone: 214–217. November 2, 2004.
  23. ^ Hull, Tom (n.d.). "Grade List: Miles Davis". Tom Hull – on the Web. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  24. ^ Wilson, John S. "Review: Porgy and Bess". The New York Times: X13. September 27, 1959.
  25. ^ George, Wally. "Review: Porgy and Bess". Los Angeles Times: J61. June 7, 1959.
  26. ^ Kirchner, Bill. Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Studio Recordings (Media notes). Sony Music Entertainment.
  27. ^ Chambers, Jack. Porgy and Bess (Media notes). Sony Music Entertainment.
  28. ^ Gilbert, Robert. Review: Porgy and Bess. All About Jazz. Retrieved on 2008-12-21.
  29. ^ Columnist. "Review: Porgy and Bess Archived 2008-09-06 at the Wayback Machine". JazzTimes: 106. August 1997.
  30. ^ Elvis Costello’s 500 Albums You Need at rocklist.net
  31. ^ top 1000 album list
  32. ^ "British album certifications – Miles Davis – Porgy And Bess". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  33. ^ Cwik, Greg (September 25, 2015). "Understanding Miles Davis, in 9 Parts". Vulture. Retrieved June 15, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]