Saturday Night Tunes: Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet


Steamin’ is the fourth and final (and arguably best) album that Prestige released from the Miles Davis Quintet’s last two recording sessions (in 1956) for the label. They managed to stretch the series out all the way to this album’s release in 1961. I don’t know what else to say about this album that I haven’t already said about the first three in the series, so let’s just get to the music. As before, the personnel is Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. There’s nothing original here, all covers, but it’s all done at a very high level, even by this quintet’s already very high standards.

“Surrey with the Fringe on Top” comes from the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, which, God willing, I hope never to actually see. Somehow this cheesy show tune number works really well as a medium tempo vehicle for Davis, Coltrane, and Garland to play around with:

If you’re not familiar with Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “Salt Peanuts,” you can hear Gillespie himself tackle it alongside Charlie Parker in an earlier post in this series. These guys take it at ludicrous speed in a track that heavily features Jones, who not only pushes the tempo all the way through, but gets an extended drum solo to boot:

“Something I Dreamed Last Night” is a ballad standard written by long-time pop composer Sammy Fain. Davis is just an amazing balladeer. Coltrane, who became a great ballad player in his own right but was still a little raw back in 1956, doesn’t play on this one:

The group is back in mid-tempo swing form for “Diane,” a standard written by Erno Rapee and Lew Pollack in 1927:

Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” is covered next. Coltrane would record this tune with Monk himself the following year. Everybody tears into this one, but Chambers’ bowed bass solo is the highlight for me:

“When I Fall in Love,” the very popular tune written by by Victor Young in 1952 and made famous by Doris Day that same year, ends the album on a softer note. Davis is usually great when it comes to ballads, but I especially love his playing on this one:

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2 thoughts on “Saturday Night Tunes: Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet

  1. I can’t believe it, but it’s possible I’ve never heard Steamin,. When I was first getting into jazz back in 1975 I checked out a Prestige Miles 2-fer from the library which contained music from 2 out of the 4 classic quintet sessions. (workin/steamin/relaxin/cookin) These were the ones with Funny Valentine/Tune UP/Woodyn You etc. I taped it but for some reason didn’t write down the personnel.

    A few weeks before checking out the Miles record I had checked out a late Trane record. I hated it! What was that guy playing? When I heard the sax player on the Miles record I said to myself, now *that* guy can play. Little did I know that it was the same player!

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