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What is cool? Tula’s celebrates Miles Davis’ birthday Seattle style

He was called the “Prince of Darkness” and the “Master of Cool.” He single handedly changed the face of jazz during his lifetime (1926-1991) with some spectacular successes and failures. He taught generations of up-and-coming jazz musicians to go with their own flow, to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

A popular Seattle jazz club, Tula’s, brings on some brazen young guns to help celebrate nine-time Grammy winner Miles Davis two days before what would’ve been his birthday.
A popular Seattle jazz club, Tula’s, brings on some brazen young guns to help celebrate nine-time Grammy winner Miles Davis two days before what would’ve been his birthday.Photo courtesy of Tula’s

He was trumpeter, composer, producer, and mastermind Miles Dewy Davis III, and he would’ve been 83 this coming May 26th. Rolling Stone considered Davis one of the most important jazz musicians in the 20th century. In an episode of Biography, punk-rock performing artist Henry Rollins said: “You can’t go into the genre of jazz and not talk about Miles Davis. You can’t go into contemporary American music without eventually talking about Miles Davis.”

Once, according to an awed Bob Dylan, the “Master of Cool” strode onto the stage at a jazz club, shades drawn, before a packed, live audience, and played three, very deeply felt notes — as opposed to well-placed, there’s a difference, kids — in his solo, then strode back out, end of his show. That’s badass.

Born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, IL to a middle-class family — his father was a dental surgeon, his mom, a music teacher — Davis took off musically and professionally at age 17, studying on the job with the band-leading masters Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He quickly took over not only all styles of jazz but ventured into and conquered rock-fusion.

“Miles Davis really, really didn’t care what you thought. He always went for music first, and he never went for what was easy. And that speaks to his great integrity and his great genius,” gushed Rollins (“Liar,” “Low Self Opinion”), who would know about repelling audiences with his own shocking musical performances.

Davis constantly pushed himself and those he picked out of a crowd to do something with the music, developing a line of jazz musicians who would go on to make names for themselves in their own right: Chick Corea, Joey DeFrancesco, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter.

On September 21, 1991, Davis died of pneumonia. Two years later, the industry awarded him his last Grammy.

Tula’s in downtown Seattle intends to celebrate the man who did so much for so many musicians in its 2nd annual Miles Davis Birthday Celebration. The featured artists are some of Northwest’s finest, young guns who are pushing their own boundaries and transforming their own fusions: trumpeter Thomas Marriott, pianist Darrell Grant, drummer Matt Jorgensen, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, and saxophonist Mark Taylor. The gig’s this Saturday, downbeat at 7:30 p.m., $20. Tula’s is on 2214 2nd Ave., where all the action is on the weekends.

Thomas Marriott is in the enviable/unenviable seat as the resident trumpet player for the occasion. Fitting since, he, too, enjoys pushing musical boundaries. A young, seven-time Earshot Jazz’s Golden Ear winner, Marriott’s already toured with the Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band, Rosemary Clooney, Tito Puente Orchestra, Chico O’Farrill Orchestra, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, and many others.

Pianist Darrell Grant appeared in Carnegie Hall, the Weill Recital Hall, and several major jazz festivals, including Monterey. Grant’s also toured all over the world with lots of jazz icons, and once appeared as a guest on NPR/Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz.”

Mr. Original Everything, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes has been everywhere lately, in on different, cutting edge bands, like Industrial Revelation, doing his own thing, winning awards left and right. Another Earshot Jazz “Golden Ear” winner, Flory-Barnes has played with Meklit Hadero, the Marc Seales Quintet, Jovino Santos Neto, Correo Aereo, Jason Parker Quartet, and Choklate.

Matt Jorgensen is everyone’s favorite drummer. Currently, he’s enjoying the birth of his child. But will soon be in the orchestra pit for the June 8th-opening of the Seattle production of Passing Strange. Then, it’s off to record with the East-West Trumpet Summit’s Marriott and Ray Vega, then gigs galore. Earshot Jazz recognized one of his bands as the “Best Acoustic Jazz Group” in 2003. He’s worked with Eric Alexander, Bill Mays, Vincent Herring, George Colligan, Reggie Workman, Tim Ries, and Chuck Leavell.

Another in-demand sideman, saxophonist and clinician Mark Taylor received the “NW Jazz Instrumentalist of 2008” award from Earshot Jazz Magazine. He, Jorgensen, and Marriott have done recordings together. In the past, he’s shared the stage with Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Ernestine Anderson. His 2009 record, “Spectre,” got plenty of notice from Earshot Jazz as “NW Jazz Recording” of the year.

Call Tula’s Jazz Club at (206) 443-4221 for more information and reservations.