Recorded: Harris Smith Studio, New York City, NY May 8, 1947
Charlie Parker - Alto Sax
Miles Davis - Trumpet
Earl "Bud" Powell - Piano
Tommy Potter - Bass
Max Roach - Drums
" May 8, 1947 was a Thursday. and though still under contract to Dial Records, Charlie Parker assembled his all stars in New York for a session for Savoy, and for the first time Miles Davis contributed an original composition, "Donna Lee".
All of the titles from this session were credited to Parker on the original 78rpm issues, and the mistake was perpetuated on numerous reissues, but "Donna Lee" is the work of Miles Davis.
In its most recent reissue, Savoy 2201 lists Parker as the composer, but corrects the mistake in the album notes.
The information that Miles, not Parker, was the composer came not from either of them, but from Gil Evans, who approached Parker, and was directed to Davis when he asked for the lead
sheet on "Donna Lee", in order to write an arrangement of it for Claude Thornhill's orchestra.
In all of his recording sessions with Parker, including this one, Davis was unlucky, in that his own solos never determined which take of a composition would be released as the master.
Very often his best solo occurs on the earlier takes, a fact that was recognized only years later. Although he managed a confident organically developed solo for a first, or second take,
he was either unable, or unwilling to invent new structural relationships on subsequent takes, and as a result his solos were often disjointed, and because too few of his best solos were
issued at the time, his reputation suffers, in some circles, to this day.
In the 1950s when he was approaching his peak both as a soloist and as a leader, Davis began recording everything in a single take, a practice that seemed reckless to everyone around him, but looking back on his earlier work with Charlie Parker, and his own superiority on early takes,one sees this later method as a custom-made accommodation of his own limitations". *
Again,"Donna Lee" is a perfect example of the deterioration in the quality of Miles' solos as the number of takes increased. There were 5 takes of "Donna Lee", and Miles' best solo is clearly Take 1. In this Take 1, ( available for comparison here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCTUm...) Miles has the temerity, if you will, to "step on" the end of Charlie Parker's solo as he makes his entry. But the version of the tune that everyone is most familiar with, the Master Take, was this Take 5.
The difference in Miles' solos on the two versions is clear.
Until some previously dis-guarded hand-written notes appear on paper, there may never be definitive proof that Miles Davis actually penned "Donna Lee", but to dismiss the possibility, based on his solos on subsequent takes, may be shallow at best.
* Text in quotations is from, "Milestones, The Music and Times of Miles Davis, pp. 61-63