In 1964, Downbeat magazine published a blindfold test with jazz legend Miles Davis, testing his ability to pick out fellow musicians based on the way they played. Predictably, Davis did quite well identifying the players, but didn’t hold back choice words that he had about many of them.

On saxophonist Eric Dolphy:

That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker.

On free jazz stalwart, pianist Cecil Taylor:

Downbeat: L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

I don’t give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don’t care who he’s inspired by. That shit ain’t nothing. In the first place he don’t have the – you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn’t have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.

On Les McCann and the Jazz Crusaders playing Davis’ own “All Blues”:

What’s that supposed to be? That ain’t nothin’. They don’t know what to do with it – you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don’t just play flat notes. I didn’t write it to play flat notes on – you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don’t try to play it like you’d play, ah, Walkin’ the Dog. You know what I mean?

That trombone player – trombone ain’t supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.

While Davis got into some left-field style jazz in the 70s with Bitches Brew and the electric fusion that immediately followed, he never did venture into free jazz territory. In 1964, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, and others were braving this new sound and bringing their own approaches to the chaos, but apparently Davis just wasn’t having it.

In his New Yorker blog post “Miles Davis: Peeking Through the Blindfold,” Richard Brody shares an interesting bit I didn’t realize about Davis’ search for a new saxophonist in the mid-60s:

When Davis was looking for a new saxophonist, [drummer Tony] Williams suggested Dolphy; Davis said no. He recommended Archie Shepp; Davis listened and rejected the notion. When Williams proposed [Sam] Rivers, Davis took him on briefly (and recorded with him in Tokyo).

Honestly, given the free and fiery nature of Rivers’ playing at the time, I’m surprised that Davis didn’t lump him in with the other free jazz reedmen of the time.

There are a couple of other blindfold tests from Downbeat worth reading with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

(ETA: There are three other Davis blindfold tests as well one with Thelonious Monk worth checking out.)