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In 1980, things were not looking good for Miles. He had been on hiatus for almost five years, alone and unwell in his apartment and though rumors of his return would be whispered now and again, he was mostly silent and off the scene. That’s when the LP boxset Chronicle first appeared; it would be reissued in 1992 on compact disc and cassette formats, and is now available on streaming platforms.
Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings was originally released by Fantasy Records (which acquired the Prestige label in 1971, and is itself now a part of Concord Music) as a comprehensive and well-designed package. It comprises all the music—17 sessions, 94 tracks—Miles recorded between 1951 and 1956 for the small independent, as a sideman but primarily as a leader including such milestone (pun intended) albums as Walkin’, his commercial breakthrough, and the famous four discs featuring his groundbreaking quintet: Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’ and Steamin’. (Prestige loved gerunds but not the final “g.”)
The music, and jazz historian Dan Morgenstern’s liner notes (a must-read especially for the track-by-track analysis), tell the tale of the trumpeter’s initial rise to national fame and primary influence, when, as Morgenstern wrote, “the legend of Miles Davis, Prince of Darkness, Man Walking on Eggshells, Evil Genius of Jazz, etc., etc., began building and kept building.”
Morgenstern used the essay as a chance to tell Miles’ complete history up until that point, and garnered a GRAMMY for the effort. He ended his liner notes: “If he should never pick up his horn again—an eventuality that anyone at all concerned about jazz abhors but nevertheless must (as of this writing in mid-1980) contemplate—Miles Davis will have left his indelible mark on jazz.”