Miles Labat’s Insights


Classical and contemporary Jazz playlist from Miles Labat, Jazz ’10, Oberlin Conservatory ’14–filmmaker, screenwriter, percussionist. Film history, theory, and critique are the passions. Rhythm and harmony provide the foundation.

Moon Dreams, Miles Davis 

Birth of the Cool was Miles Davis’s first album where he began to explore the sound of an orchestra setting. Throughout the album, you can hear the ingredients of what would become staples of his collaborations with the composer and arranger, Gil Evans. “Moon Dreams” is one of the few ballads on this wonderful album, and a great choice to ease a crowd into their seats. 

Lullaby in Rhythm, Dave Brubeck 

The album this song is featured on, Distinctive Rhythm Instrumentals, is one of Dave Brubeck’s trio recordings prior to his most famous album, Take Five. “Lullaby in Rhythm” evokes an energy resembling the rhythm and spirit of people joyously congregating amongst each other. 

Autumn in New York, Bud Powell 

Bud Powell was a genius of the piano who endowed his arrangements of classic American standards with as much life as his piano solos. His version of “Autumn in New York” is a lushful, surprisingly hazy rendition. 

Pale Blue, Mary Lou Williams 

Mary Lou William understands the pocket and color that can only be achieved by the rhythm section. The melody of “Pale Blue” paints an atmosphere usually reserved for an interlude between songs, though the composition can easily take center stage itself. 

Dear Lord, John Coltrane 

The ballads of John Coltrane are just as soulful as his high energy performances at the Village Vanguard. “Dear Lord” is a ballad from his album Dear Old Stockholm. A fun fact about this album: this was one of the few recorded examples where the quartet featured Roy Haynes on drums, instead of their regular drummer, Elvin Jones.

Oh, Good Grief, Vince Guaraldi 

Vince Guaraldi created one of the most well-known albums of the twentieth-century, A Charlie Brown Christmas. His other albums based on the cartoon, especially A Boy Named Charlie Brown, showcase his talent for short, impressionable melodies that stay with the listener long after their introduction. 

30 Years, Betty Carter 

An important singer of American Folk Music, Betty Carter always emphasized the importance of conveying a story through her lyrics. “30 Years” tells the story of a deteriorating romance from the woman’s point-of-view, and her realization of its decline after 30 years with her husband. 

Love Beams, Lonnie Liston Smith 

“Love Beams” is from Lonnie Smith’s album, Visions of a New World. The song has the texture and feel of a poem more than the typical AABA-structured song. With no solos and no emphasis on any single musician in particular, the band is able to ease the listener deeper into the atmosphere of Smith’s wonderful concept album. 

Moon Dance, Elvin Jones 

Elvin Jones’s musical catalogue is typically overlooked for his monumental work in the John Coltrane Quartet. One of his mid-career albums, Time Capsule, is a hidden gem. “Moon Dance” has an eclectic melody that imaginatively combines electronic and traditional instrumentation. 

The Awakening, Ahmad Jamal 

Ahmad Jamal’s 1970 album is famous as the source of inspiration for many hip-hop pioneers. Whether you discovered this album byway of another genre or not, this studio outing from Ahmad Jamal provides an important statement from a pianist who conquered the live setting of performance.

Like It Is, Yusef Lateef 

A premier multi-instrumentalist, Yusef Lateef was an artist’s artist who had an idiosyncratic grasp of the contribution of blues and rhythm in American Folk Music. “Like It Is” gradually unfolds its wide-range of musical influences, from the European classical to the African Gospel. 

Call, Michael Naura Quartet 

The self-taught German pianist, Michael Naura, led a singular quartet in the 1970s. Like similar explorations of Keith Jarrett’s group, Michael Naura’s compositions embedded the American Folk genre with a new vocabulary and flavor. “Call” displays the kernels of creation that colored his albums of the period. 

Mystic Brew, Ronnie Forster 

Two Headed Freap is the first album that the organist Ronnie Forster recorded for Blue Note Records. Compositional momentum of “Mystic Brew” derives from its bass line, with the guitar and organ complimenting the groove. In all, the song seamlessly glides from beginning to end by utilizing an important arrangement trait of the time: the vamp. 

Feels So Good, George Duke 

Whenever one mentions Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Patrice Rushen, or George Benson, they must include George Duke in the same breath. A monumentally important musical voice from 1960’s to the 1980’s, Duke heralded the transition of pop composition from instrumentally-based to vocally-based within the arena of his peers. “Feels So Good” is one of the few examples of why his voice must never be overlooked. 

Montara, Bobby Hutcherson 

After Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, there is Bobby Hutcherson in the league of great vibraphonists. Like Donald Byrd, Bobby Hutcherson was among the few composers who consistently captured the sound of the times. “Montara” is the title track of his great 1975 album.

Please Set Me At Ease, Bobbi Humphry 

Though Bobbi Humphrey was a flautist and vocalist, her talent for creating song concepts is consistently impressive. The listener leaves her music knowing they encountered a distinct aesthetic; one that can never be emulated. 

My Lady of the Morning, Harold Batiste 

Among the most important musicians from Louisiana, Harold Batiste’s compositions conveyed a level of emotional depth that very few artists will be able to attain. Like Allen Toussaint, you do not listen to a Harold Batiste composition; you feel it. “My Lady of the Morning” showcases one of his most beautiful melodies. 

After, Ellis Marsalis 

The quintessential musician of New Orleans Modern Music, Ellis Marsalis was just as vital an educator as he was a musician. Aided by the trio of his son, Branford, “After” is a ballad from Ellis’s album Whistle Stop

On Peanuts Playground, Wynton Marsalis 

The 1990’s period of Wynton Marsalis’s musical catalogue is, arguably, his most lively and original compositionally. His 1995 album, Joe Cool’s Blues, highlights his renditions of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown music, combining the best of both worlds from two of America’s most important artists of the twentieth-century.