Birth of the Cool is an album which compiles twelve songs recorded by the Miles Davis nonet for Capitol Records in 1949 and 1950. Featuring unusual instrumentation and several notable musicians, the music consisted of innovative arrangements strongly inspired by classical music, and marked a major development in post-bebop jazz. As the title implies, these recordings are considered seminal in the history of cool jazz.
The nonet performed live only briefly—initially for a two week engagement in late August and early September 1948 at the Royal Roost Club in New York. Billed as the "Miles Davis Band", the group at this time consisted of Davis (trumpet), Mike Zwerin (trombone), Bill Barber (tuba), Junior Collins (French horn), Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone), Lee Konitz (alto saxophone), John Lewis (piano), Al McKibbon (bass), and Max Roach (drums). Former Dizzy Gillespie vocalist Kenny Hagood was featured on a few songs. Unusually, the arrangers (Mulligan, Evans and Lewis) were given credit. The group returned to the Royal Roost later in September, and recordings from 4 September and 18 September 1948, were included on the 1998 Complete Birth of the Cool CD, alongside the later studio sides. There was a further short residency the following year at the Clique Club, but the nonet was not a financial success, and disbanded. In 1949 Davis had a contract with Capitol to record twelve sides for 78 rpm singles. He thus reformed the nonet to record three sessions in January and April 1949 and March 1950. Davis, Konitz, Mulligan and Barber were the only musicians who played on all three sessions, though the instrumental lineup was constant (excepting the omission of piano on a few songs). Originally released as singles, eight of the tracks were compiled in 1953 on a 10" vinyl album in Capitol's Classics in Jazz series, and in 1957 a 12" LP named Birth of the Cool added the remaining three unreleased instrumental pieces ("Move", "Budo" and "Boplicity"). The final track, "Darn That Dream" (the only song with vocals, by Hagood), was included with the other eleven on a 1971 LP. It is this last arrangement that subsequent releases have been based on.
Musically, the songs on Birth of the Cool stand as an important reaction to the prominent bebop form in contemporary jazz. Though the break can be exaggerated—Charlie Parker participated in the discussions Evans led, most of the musicians were drawn from the bebop scene, and many continued to play in that style for years afterward—it inspired a whole school of jazz musicians, particularly in California in what is usually referred to as "West Coast jazz" or the "cool school".
Recordings exist of radio shows broadcast from the Royal Roost in 1948: "Birth of the Cool Theme" (Gil Evans), "Move", "Why Do I Love You?" (DeSylva, Gershwin and Gershwin, vocals by Hagood), "Godchild", "S'il Vous Plait" (John Lewis), "Moon Dreams" and "Budo", recorded on 4 September; and "Darn That Dream" (vocals by Hagood), "Move", "Moon Dreams" and "Budo" recorded on 18 September.