Making Sense of George Shearing's "Conception"

A few days ago, I made the mistake of trying to learn a tune—this time, George Shearing's "Conception"—from a Miles Davis recording. As I've experienced in the past, lifting the melody and changes from a Miles recording yields some often hip changes and phrasing, but not always the most reliable for playing with other people at sessions. The recording in question is Dig (1951), which features a young Sonny Rollins, Mingus on bass, Art Blakey on  drums, and Walter Bishop, Jr. on piano. 

Miles plays this one in C, whereas Shearing plays it in Db. The main discrepancy between how Miles and Shearing's arrangements is in the solo form: Shearing's version of the tune is AABA and each A is 12 bars long while each B is 8 bars long; Miles interpolates an 8-bar "interlude" or pedal-point variously in the tune, which is a holdover from "Deception," from Birth of the Cool (1949). Miles's version of "Conception" has a solo form that ends up being 14 + 14 + 14 + 8, which is different from the form of the head—12 + 12 + 14 + 8. How does this make any sense?

Miles Davis: confounding the world since 1926

As it turns out, the best explanation for this arrangement is that Miles was playing the solo changes of "Deception" while playing a combination of "Conception" and "Deception" for the head. It seems that I wasn't the only one confused by this arrangement—on a recording of "Conception" with Stan Getz and Chet Baker, from Quintessence, Vol. 2 (1983), they play the last 8 bars (Miles's pedal point line) as an intro, then play the tune down in C. In the bridge, they play Shearing's changes for the chromatically descending ii-V bars (mm. 17-20 become: F#m7 B7 | Fm7 Bb7 | Em7 A7| Ebm7 Ab7 ), but keep the rest of the head the same as Miles. And, in the solos, they play over the same form as the head! Strange. Kurt Rosenwinkel's version from Intuit (1998) is straight Shearing, though—in Db and all. I'll have to go back and shed Shearing's version, but at least I know; a friend let me know that players almost always play Shearing's version of the tune, which is good to know. 

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In case you're still interested in Miles's historical role in the obfuscation of composer credit and the like, Doug Ramsey wrote a bit about Miles and the tune "Solar," which came up in the jazz blogosphere about a month and a half ago.


  1. Thank you for sharing this, very useful observation!

  2. Very helpful. Thank you!


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