A few weeks ago I purchased a rare, out-of-print CD by bassist Oscar Pettiford called Another One. Recorded in 1955 for Bethlehem Records, it includes Bohemia After Dark, a Pettiford original.
It is the unmistakable basis for Miles Davis' So What—yet two major books on the making of Kind of Blue seem to have missed this entirely, and there's no mention of the tie-in in Kind of Blue's original or CD liner notes.
Either Miles adapted Bohemia After Dark as a Pettiford dig or was paying tribute to the bassist. Either way, Pettiford didn't take kindly to Miles' So What. More in a minute.
Pettiford's Another One is an exciting album. Then again, nearly every album recorded by Pettiford was exceptional. He was and is vastly underrated as a composer, bassist and bandleader.
The personnel on Another One features Donald Byrd and Ernie Royal on trumpets, Bob Brookmeyer on trombone, Gigi Gryce on alto and clarinet, Jerome Richardson on tenor and flute, Don Abney on piano and Osie Johnson on drums.
Both Bohemia After Dark (August 1955) and Miles' So What (March 1959) open with a nearly identical bass line call followed by a piano response. So What's riff runs a bit longer, and Bohemia After Dark is taken at a much faster pace—but the similarities are too obvious to be ignored. They're too close a match to be a coincidence.
Here are the original liner notes from Pettiford's Another One:
"Bohemia After Dark is Oscar's tune, arrangement and the high spot of the album. Its title is derived from a club in Greenwich Village 'The Bohemia,' where Oscar and his group started the policy of using live jazz on a regular basis. The tune is catchy and it appears to be on its way to becoming a jazz standard. You can hear it around the clubs in New York and there are at last four other new recordings of it. The intro is by Oscar on bass and he uses these eight bars to state the theme. An ensemble is followed by a full chorus of Gigi's bright alto; Brookmeyer follows with a careful chorus and Richardson picks up Bobby's closing phrase to swing into his inventive turn on flute. Byrd's thoughtful chorus leads into Abney's piano. An ensemble, with Oscar swinging through the release, brings to a close the round-robin of solos."
A little investigating on the web turned up some interesting facts. When Kenny Clarke recorded Pettiford's Bohemia After Dark for a Savoy album in June 1955, Cannonball Adderley and Paul Chambers were on the date. Both musicians would appear on Kind of Blue in 1959.
Then in September 1955, pianist George Wallington recorded Bohemia After Dark on The George Wallington Quintet at the Bohemia—again, with Paul Champers on bass.
What's puzzling is that neither The Making of Kind of Blue (Eric Nisenson) nor Kind of Blue (Ashley Kahn) mention Bohemia After Dark and its influence. Neither do Kind of Blue's original liner notes by Bill Evans nor do the updated CD notes by Robert Palmer.
While Miles doesn't mention the song in his autobiography, he does make it clear that the Cafe Bohemia marked a turning point in his musical life in 1955:
"At this time I was rehearsing my own band that I was going to open up with at the Cafe Bohemia so I might have been distracted on Mingus's date. It was going to be Sonny Rollins on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums, myself on trumpet, and a young bass player that Jackie McLean had told me about who was working with the George Wallington Quintet, Paul Champers. Paul had been in New York for only a couple of months and had already worked with J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding in the new group that they had formed...
We opened at the Bohemia, I think in July 1955, and the place was always packed. After my engagement at the Bohemia, Oscar Pettiford brought a quartet in there that had Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley on alto sax. I used to go down to the Bohemia just to hang out with my girlfriend Susan. But Cannonball just fucked me up the way he played the blues and nobody had ever heard of him."
Bohemia After Dark's influence on So What seems to have been overlooked by nearly everyone. Except Oscar Pettiford, that is, who may have had the last laugh and inadvertently offered up the smoking gun.
If you listen to Pettiford's August 1959 album, Montmartre Blues, you'll find a track called Why Not? That's What. Take a listen. Sounds a lot like payback to me—a mashing of Bohemia After Dark and So What. The following notes are from the album's liner notes:
"Pettiford answers Miles Davis's deprecatory So What? with an affirmative Why Not? That's What! As Pettiford says, 'the title contains a message for Miles on behalf of Paul Chambers and myself.' And it certainly has something to do with opinions on bass playing."
I have not yet gotten to the bottom of the rift between Miles and Pettiford or why the message to Miles comes from Pettiford and Chambers. Clearly Pettiford wasn't happy.
Wax tracks: Oscar Pettiford's Another One is now selling for $76 and can be found here. Or save yourself a fortune and buy Oscar Pettiford: Nonet and Octet, 1954-1955 here for about $18. Pettiford's Montmartre Blues can be found at iTunes or here.
Wax clip: If you go here, you'll see and hear Cannonball Adderley playing Bohemia After Dark (with the late Joe Zawinul on piano). Slow this song down in your mind and you'll hear the similarities between this song and So What.
And if you're able to hear Oscar Pettiford's 1955 recording of the song, you'll hear the original bass intro with piano response.
To see what a monster Pettiford was, go here. That's Howard McGhee on trumpet and Coleman Hawkins on tenor. And dig the couple trying to dance to the group playing a blistering Sweet Clifford. Too much!