Miles Davis: My Funny Valentine
My Funny Valentine (1964)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
The Complete Concert 1964 - My Funny Valentine + Four & More (Legacy/Columbia)
Composed by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart.
Recorded: live at Philharmonic Hall, New York, February 12, 1964
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
“My Funny Valentine” made such a strong impression on me when I first heard it. I understood how standards could be opened up and played in many different ways, using many different grooves and a flexible approach in choosing chords and harmonic substitutions. It starts as a duet between Herbie and Miles, and Herbie uses very extended chords, substituting new chords for the song’s original chords. The pianistic touch and textures he brings in are so beautiful, and create a lot of contrast in his accompaniment to Miles. Some chords that he uses behind Miles might have two notes, while others are richer and denser, often implying polytonality; he superimposes different chords, which gives the song a lush, impressionistic harmony. Then when the whole group starts to come in and swing, Herbie responds to whatever events occur. Sometimes he lays back or plays against Tony Williams’ polyrhythms. In comping for the soloists, sometimes he leads them on, but he also uses a lot of harmonic abstraction. His own solo is very creative and emotional —he hints at the harmony and uses a lot of substitutions, so it has a fresh, unexpected sound, And when he starts to swing, it is intense! You could say that he might be coming out of a combination of Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, but the actual sound is so distinctive as to be immediately identifiable as Herbie. I think that this piece influenced a lot of pianists, first of all, in how they reharmonized standards, and also towards using much more advanced type of harmony for the time—what he did was really special.
It’s hard to pick just one tune on which Herbie is playing with Miles. I also love how creatively he plays on "All of You," where each soloist ends the solo with an extended tag in Eb. Another great recording that I listened to endlessly are all the sets from the Plugged Nickel. Of course, Herbie is operating as part of a very innovative rhythm section, so it’s not just him. For example, Tony Williams was changing the parameters of how drummers play with the group, because he would switch up the grooves so much and could swing in so many tempos and feels. This rhythm section instantly adapts to any little hint of change. If it seems like Miles is going to start swinging, they swing. If it feels like he wants to slow down and make it a ballad, they slow down and make it a ballad. If they want to go into sort of a Latin feel, they do that. Each person in the rhythm section, either Herbie or Ron or Tony, can initiate the move, because they’re listening so closely to each other and to the soloist. It led to a much more interactive concept of group playing than what had been happening, where the rhythm section would keep the rhythm going in one way, and the pianist fed the chords to the soloist. But I think Miles was encouraging them to experiment that way. Any one of them could take the lead, or drop out, or play strong, or sort of take the lead. Playing a standard but opening it up to a wide range of mutating possibilities instead of playing head-solos-head gave the music a different dynamic—the tune itself could be taken through all these different feels and emotions, imparting freshness and an unexpected quality.
Reviewer: Uri Caine