Out of all the numerous standards composed by Victor Young (“Beautiful Love,” “When I Fall In Love,” and “My Foolish Heart” among the many) “Stella By Starlight” seems to tune that musicians love going back to time and time again to re-interpret. Glasper’s got a new version of it in his upcoming Covered album and Herbie chose it to audition for Miles — by the way… Herbie’s got like the best Miles impression ever.


Perhaps one day we’ll tap our favorite neuroscientists and have them do an MRI of participants while listening to “Stella By Starlight” so we can figure out what makes the song so popular. But for now, we can only guess that what makes this song so special and so fun to play is how the simple melody, which only deviates away from it’s key signature once during the 29th and 30th bar during the 32-bar song form, is backed up by the one of the most interesting harmonic changes. The chord changes underlying the “Stella By Starlight” we know today is thanks in part by none other than Miles Davis who took Young’s original changes and flipped em’ twenty ways til’ Sunday to give us one of the most beloved standards today.

A new recording recently dropped of Miles performing the beloved standard during the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival. We’re here to count the other times Miles rocked the song throughout his career.

My Funny Valentine 

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We can’t talk about classic Miles Davis performances without talking about this record. My Funny Valentine is one of two records that became the end product of Miles’ date at what is now known as the Avery Fisher hall back in February 12, 1964 — the other being Four and More. While the band behind Miles in this record isn’t quite his second great quintet (Wayne Shorter would join later that year), saxophonist George Coleman’s expressive solo followed by Herbie Hancock’s re-imagination of the already re-harmonized tune is definitely worth your weekly Saturday morning transcription ritual.

Highlights from the Plugged Nickel

Featuring the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet (Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), Highlights from the Plugged Nickel is easily considered one of the gems in Miles’ great discography. Saxophonist, producer and composer Bob Belden described the recording in his essay about Miles that can be found in Oxford’s Companion to Jazz: 

As soon as the group began to build some momentum, Davis required hip surgery. This situation kept him from working until late November 1965. On the nights of December 22 and 23, Columbia recorded the quintet in a Chicago club. ‘Miles Davis: The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel’ captured the band heading into unknown territory… Shorter, Hancock, Carter, and Williams had grown in Davis’ absence, and they brought all of their musical discoveries into the band. 

1958 Miles // ’58 Miles featuring Stella By Starlight

Now that you’ve heard two classic recordings from Miles during the ’60s, it’s time to dial it back to the late ’50s when the trumpeter rocked another all-star group. Recorded on July 4th at the Newport Jazz Festival and September 9th at Plaza Hotel in NYC, Miles was joined by John Coltrane, Cannonball Addereley, Bill Evans, Paul Chamber and Jimmy Cobb, a.k.a the ensemble — sans Wynton Kelly — that would cut his magnum opus, Kind of Blue. Producers keep your ears open during Bill Evans solo and the outro as the pianist gives a masterclass on how to drop tasty chord after chord for all your sampling needs — just make sure you get it cleared.

Miles Davis at Newport 1955 – 1975

And now, the pièce de résistance: the newest addition of Miles Davis performing Victor Young’s “Stella By Starlight” recorded at Newport in 1966. Backed by his Second Great Quintet, this rendition of “Stella By Starlight” starts off similar to the recordings captured from Chicago’s Plugged Nickel where they start off subdued — as was Young’s intention — then go for blood with Tony William’s ride cymbal pattern and Ron Carter’s steady bassline keeping the soloists in check. For more about the new Miles Davis box set and this latest recording of “Stella By Starlight,” head to Rolling Stone.


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