'Round About Midnight is an album by jazz musician Miles Davis. It was his debut on Columbia Records, and was originally released in March 1957 (CL 949). The album took its name from the Thelonious Monk song "'Round Midnight". Recording sessions took place at Columbia Studio D on October 26, 1955, and at Columbia's 30th Street Studio on June 5 and September 10, 1956.
Although it had a lukewarm reception upon its release, 'Round About Midnight has since been regarded by critics as a masterpiece of the hard bop genre and one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.
At the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955, Davis performed the song "'Round Midnight" as part of an all-star jam session, with the song's composer Thelonious Monk, along with Connie Kay and Percy Heath of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Zoot Sims, and Gerry Mulligan. Davis's solo received an extremely positive reception from many jazz fans, and critics. It was viewed as a significant comeback and indication of a healthy, drug-free Davis (he had in fact been free from heroin addiction for well over a year). Davis' response to this performance was typically laconic: "What are they talking about? I just played the way I always play." George Avakian of Columbia Records was in the audience, and his brother Aram persuaded him that he ought to sign Davis to the label. Davis was eventually signed to Columbia Records, and was able to form his famous "first great quintet" with John Coltrane on saxophone. 'Round About Midnight was to be his first album for his new label.
Davis was still under contract to Prestige Records, but had an agreement that he could record material for Columbia to release after the expiration of his Prestige contract. The recording dates for the album were at Columbia Records' studios; the first session was on October 26, 1955, at Studio D, during which the track "Ah-Leu-Cha" was recorded along with three other numbers that did not appear on the album. This is the first studio recording of the quintet. The remainder of the album was recorded during sessions on June 5, 1956 ("Dear Old Stockholm", "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Tadd's Delight") and September 10, 1956 ("All of You" and the titular "'Round Midnight") at Columbia's 30th Street Studio. During the same period, the Miles Davis Quintet was also recording sessions to fulfill its contract with Prestige.
On release, 'Round About Midnight received an average reception. Ralph Berton of The Record Changer described it as "orthodox, middle-of-the-road conservative progressive jazz." The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings states that the recording "sounds like a footnote" to the Prestige contractual obligation sessions (eventually released as the albums Miles, Relaxin', Workin', Steamin', and Cookin'), and that "the material is fine but somehow fails to cast quite the consistent spell which the Prestige recordings do."
Throughout the years following its initial reception, 'Round About Midnight's standing among critics has improved significantly. Music writer Eugene Holley, Jr. later praised the album in a review, writing:
Stylistically, Midnight encompasses standards (or soon-to-be standards) such as "Dear Old Stockholm", "Bye-Bye Blackbird", Tadd Dameron's "Tadd's Delight", and Jackie McLean's forward-thinking composition "Little Melonae." Miles and company reprise "Budo" from the historic Birth of the Cool sessions. The standout track is Davis's Harmon-muted reading of Thelonious Monk's ballad, "'Round Midnight", which is still a Miles standard bearer... If you want to hear the origins of post-bop modern jazz, this is it.
Bob Rusch of Cadence wrote, "everything about this date, from the black-and-white cover photo, washed in red, of Miles Davis, removed in thought behind dark glasses, to the performances, is classic. Not surprisingly, careful packaging and exquisite artistry have created a legend and, in this case, one of the essential recordings in the history of recorded music."
Considered by most to be one of the pinnacles of the hard bop era, the song selection on Midnight represents a summation of the earlier bebop era, with the performances tempered by Davis' inherent lyricism but rooted in the new style as promoted by hard bop pioneers Art Blakey and Horace Silver with the Jazz Messengers, and the Max Roach/Clifford Brown quintet, in 1956 featuring ex-Davis foil Sonny Rollins. Coltrane had yet to become an iconic figure in jazz history, his presence in the Davis Quintet a let-down to many in lieu of the aforementioned Rollins. His style, while embryonically frenetic and searching, was not quite the sheets of sound approach celebrated later in the decade. In April 1957, Coltrane's heroin use led to his leaving Davis and working with Monk, and under Monk's tutelage the saxophonist's playing style solidified considerably.
On April 17, 2001, Sony reissued the album for compact disc on its Columbia/Legacy label, which featured 24-bit remastering and included four previously released bonus tracks from the initial sessions. "Budo" had been released as part of the 1957 anthology album on Columbia, Jazz Omnibus, and "Sweet Sue, Just You" had appeared on the 1956 album by Leonard Bernstein explaining jazz to the classical audience, What Is Jazz. A further two-disc reissue of June 14, 2005, featured the 2001 reissue with a second disc containing Davis' 1955 Newport Jazz Festival performance of "'Round Midnight", along with a recording of the quintet's set from the 1956 Pacific Jazz Festival. The Newport track had been released for the first time the previous year on the Legacy compilation Happy Birthday Newport: 50 Swinging Years!
All tracks live at the Pacific Jazz Festival, Pasadena Civic Auditorium, February 18, 1956, except as indicated.Miles Davis – trumpet
Paul Chambers – double bass
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Red Garland – piano
Philly Joe Jones – drums
Newport personnel bonus disc track one
Miles Davis – trumpet
Zoot Sims – tenor saxophone
Gerry Mulligan – baritone saxophone
Thelonious Monk – piano
Percy Heath – double bass
Connie Kay – drums
George Avakian – producer, liner notes
Frank Laico – engineer
Teo Macero – mastering
Aram Avakian, Don Hunstein, Dennis Stock – photography
Seth Rothstein – reissue project director
Bob Belden, Michael Cuscuna – reissue producers
Ray Moore – reissue engineer
Mark Wilder – reissue engineering and mastering
Randall Martin – reissue design
Howard Fritzson – reissue art director
Bob Blumenthal – reissue liner notes