Miles’ twin, still towering triumphs marked the close of the 1950s: the small-group Kind of Blue (1959) and the Miles-plus-large-ensemble Sketches of Spain (1960). The expectation would be that Miles would pursue the musical ideas in at least one of them. The former loosened and simplified jazz structures and improvised over modes rather than song chords, but Miles wasn’t ready to continue that exploration (though he did keep “So What” and “All Blues” in his setlist). Neither did he stick with his collaborations with arranger Gil Evans; after Sketches, they would join up for only one more effort at something new (Quiet Nights, released in 1964).
Miles, in the first years of the 1960s, was in retrenchment—less about breaking new musical ground, more about consolidating his sound, his stature, and his band. He allowed himself a second fling with the ballads and blues that had defined him in the 1950s, while his trumpet sound grew more edgy, clipped and dynamic. He poured energy into touring, often overseas, his name popular enough with mainstream audiences to fill theaters in major American and European cities. Columbia recorded Miles’ shows more than ever, releasing as many live as studio albums during this period.
Between 1961 and 1964, Miles’ albums reveal the dissolution of the great sextet of 1958-60 into a series of quintets. He held on to his stellar rhythm section—pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb—for a few years, and brought back Philly Joe Jones for a spell. The saxophonist chair was in constant rotation with personal styles pointing in diverse directions: from bebop stalwarts Jimmy Heath and Sonny Stitt in 1960, to hardbopper Hank Mobley in 1961. Then from 1962 through 1963, the bluesy, unhinged whir of George Coleman for awhile. The avant-edgy Sam Rivers for a moment in 1964.
Other new names had appeared: bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. A pianist with glasses named Herbie. The arrival of Wayne Shorter in mid-1964 divides the end of this period and the beginning of the next—with the birth of THE great quintet.