Recorded live in concert at Philharmonic Hall, New York, February 12th 1964
Miles Davis (trumpet)
George Coleman (tenor sax)
Herbie Hancock (piano)
Ron Carter (bass)
Tony Williams (drums)
Part 1: Introduction [Mort Fega], [Autumn Leaves], So What, Stella by Starlight, Walkin', All of You, The Theme;
Part 2: Introduction [Billy Taylor], All Blues, My Funny Valentine, Joshua, I Thought About You, Four, Seven Steps to Heaven, There is No Greater Love, The Theme
This remarkable quintet is often overlooked in the appreciation of Miles Davis’ music, sandwiched as it is between the ‘first great quintet’ (with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones) and the ‘second great quintet’ (with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). Following the overwhelming success of “Kind of Blue”, Miles Davis seemed reluctant to record and even more reluctant to either write new material himself or commission it from sidemen. The only exception in this period is two numbers written by British pianist Victor Feldman (with additions by Miles Davis): “Seven Steps To Heaven” and “Joshua” which first appeared on the studio album “Seven Steps to Heaven” recorded in early 1963. By then, John Coltrane had left to form his own quartet and the first great quintet had disbanded. “Seven Steps To Heaven” carried only three tracks by this new band (together with a further three tracks based on very traditional standards recorded in Hollywood with a further set of musicians that included Victor Feldman). Miles was more committed to touring with material, much of it based on standards, that had been honed in style and approach by that first great quintet. Perhaps he sensed that this band would need to be “battle hardened” in performance if it was ever to emulate those earlier achievements. Whatever the reasoning, 1963 and 1964 saw this new band performing that already worked on material, mainly at large venues to appreciative audiences.
Miles own comments in his autobiography give a very clear idea of his reluctance to go into the recording studio at this time. He had been angry when the project initiated by CBS to produce a Christmas album had been released even though both he and Gil Evans had disapproved of it: “I wasn’t going into the studios …. because I was still angry with Teo Macero (Miles’ producer at CBS) for ****ing up with “Quiet Nights” like he did, and also because I was getting tired of recording in studios and just wanted to do more live music. I have always thought musicians play better in live situations and so that studio shit had gotten boring to me.”
Columbia responded by recording these live gigs – releasing the material as the albums “Miles In Antibes”, “Miles In Europe”, “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More” and, bringing these last two albums together as a double CD, “The Complete Concert, 1964”. In comparison with the outpouring of newly composed, studio recorded jazz that was set off by Wayne Shorter moving from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to replace George Coleman in this band (hence forming the second great quintet) this period may seem conservative. Yet Miles Davis was in little doubt that this was as great a quintet as anything that he had ever played in.
The new driving force of the quintet was the discovery of drummer Tony Wiliams: “He just lit a big fire under everyone in the group….. I was beginning to realize that Tony and this group could play anything they wanted to. Tony was always the centre that the group’s sound revolved around. He was something else, man…..Tony played to the sound, and he played real hip, slick shit to the sounds he heard. He changed the way we played every night and played different tempos for every sound every night. Man, to play with Tony Williams you had to be real alert and pay attention to everything he did or he’d lose you in a second…… All of this from a seventeen-year–old who nobody had heard of before the beginning of the year… nobody ever played with me as Tony did. I mean it was scary, but then Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock and George Coleman weren’t no slouches either, so I knew we had a good thing going.”
George Coleman had been recommended to Miles Davis by John Coltrane. His is a great talent that is still shining as brightly as ever today (listen for example to his recent recordings with Ahmed Jamal) yet he has frequently been overlooked when the great tenor saxophonists are talked about. He has a conventional enough sounding approach with no flashy excesses yet his greatness arises from the depth of emotion that he evokes, a memorable, unmistakable tone from the instrument that sounds at times almost smokey and a distinctive subtlety that underlies everything that he does. George Coleman’s tenor sax solo on “My Funny Valentine” at this concert is arguably one or the greatest sax solos of all time. You can hear his influence on many of today’s younger players – especially Ravi Coltrane and, to a lesser extent, Chris Potter.
Herbie Hancock had been heard by Miles while he was in Donald Byrd’s band and Ron Carter was playing in Art Farmer’s group. Miles arranged an unusual form of audition for the new group, all four new players came over to Miles’ New York apartment and played together while he listened in from upstairs on the intercom system that he had installed. After two days or so of these jam sessions, Miles came down and joined in, realizing that he had found a full blown replacement for the “great first quintet”. It is significant that the album “Maiden Voyage” came out of this partnership; that same grouping (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, George Coleman, Tony Williams) with Freddie Hubbard sitting in for Miles and playing Herbie Hancock’s compositions went on to make that great album.
With such a great band, it is no surprise that the concert recorded at Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, February 12th 1964 should merit attention. Yet even by the high standards set by this group in its live performaces there was some special chemistry that night that gave this music an intensity and a lyricism that has seldom been matched in any era of jazz. The event itself and its timing played a role in making this music unique.
The concert was organized to raise funds for the voter registration drives that in early 1964 were at the centre of the demands for civil rights amongst black Americans who, particularly in the South, had for generations been prevented from voting and who had had to endure a segregation that had been rigidly applied to lunch counters, public transport and much else. In what became know as Jim Crow, laws operating since the 1890s in these Southern states made such discimination mandatory. As legal attempts to change these laws stalled, by 1955 protests based on Ghandian passive resistance and civil disobendience began to spread, most notably following civil rights pioneer Rosa Park’s refusal on December 1st 1955 to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus to a white passenger who had claimed it. When Rosa was sentenced to prison for her refusal, a Greyhound Bus Boycott, headed by Martin Luther King (a campaign that made his name) that lasted for almost a year was put in place and eventually led the bus company to end its segregationalist policy. By February 1964 and the Philharmonic Hall concert, the campaign for civil rights was at its height and headed for victory. By the summer of that year, President Lyndon Johnson would have approved laws (originally tabled by John F Kennedy) that did away with most of the remnants of Jim Crow. But the battle was still raging at the time of the concert.
How far was Miles Davis concerned with these questions? And how far did this affect this music? Raised in East St Louis in a middle class family (his father was a dentist) Miles Davis undoubtedly saw racism from that particular perspective. In the early twentieth century East St Louis, dominated by the barbarism of the meat packaging industry, was in a strong sense an unkind place to all racial groups, and that included white European immigrant groups as much as Black Americans who had headed for the North to avoid the entrenched racism of the South. (See Upton Sinclair’s 1905 novel "The Jungle" for a graphic description of life for immigrants in the Packingtown district of nearby Chicago). However, fears of displacement amongst white groups set off by black workers being brought in to work in factory jobs during the First World War led to the infamous East St Louis race riot of 1917 in which 39 black people and seven white people were killed as over 3,000 white rioters went on a rampage. So shocking were the events that much of the detail was embargoed until 1986. As Miles Davis describes in his autobiography: “…..maybe some of that remembering is in my personality and comes out in the way I look at most white people. Not all, because there are some great white people. But the way they killed all them black people back then – just shot them down like they were out shooting pigs or stray dogs. Shot them in their houses, shot babies and women. Burned down houses with people in them and hung some black men from lamp posts. Anyway, black people there who survived used to talk about it. When I was coming up in East St Louis, black people I knew never forgot what sick white people had done to them back in 1917.”
Yet by moving from his birthplace on a farm in Arkansas and living in the North, Miles Davis’ father had become successful, attended both Lincoln and Northwestern Universities and, in addition to running a thriving dental practice, was a leading voice on East St Louis political scene. He favored the radical politics of Marcus Garvey over the more accommodating stance of the NAACP. Politics was featured strongly in the Davis family environment the whole time Miles Davis was growing up. To sum this up in a shorthand way, Miles Davis was politically aware at a deep and informed level; because of the history of East St Louis, because of his family’s informed political awareness.
Yet, like many an artist before him the main thing for Miles was his music itself. “When I got into music I went all the way into music; I didn’t have time for nothing else”. He had been annoyed when a writer had turned an interview with him for “Playboy” into a piece that suggested that Miles was overly concerned with issues of race. At a time when some black musicians were saying that they did not want to work with or for whites, Miles remained true to the idea that it was the music that mattered and the composition of his bands over all the years of his career showed no bias. Of course he was encountering the engrained racism that was still prevalent in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. Being one the most influential musicians of his generation had not spared him that. Indeed, he felt that this was in part affecting true recognition of his music. There is little doubt that he wanted to see a better world freed from racism. He had held a reception at his house (attended by Leonard Bernstein, Bob Dylan, Lena Horne and many others) to support Robert Kennedy’s campaign as New York senator. Later he would name the track “Tutu” after Archbishop Desmond Tutu and on the album of the same name the track “Full Nelson” for Nelson Mandela. That kind of commitment was the reason why he had agreed to perform at the benefit concert. Yet he was never going to let his music become subservient to politics in any way.
As Miles Davis reported to Ian Carr, he had been told that one of the two concerts was to be dedicated to President John F Kennedy who had been shot and killed just a few months before. As Bob Dylan was to later tell Anthony Scaduto, if the President could be killed, no-one could regard themselves as safe; the protest for civil rights was rightly regarded as dangerous, not just for those who went to the South to support the movement but to those in the North who supported it. If there is added edge about the Philharmonic Hall concert, then this is also a strong contributory factor.
Finally there is the much reported fact that just before their performance, the band had a raging argument. One member of the band, whom Miles has never named, was unhappy about playing and not being paid; however, Miles had agreed to play for no fee in order that the proceeds could go to the campaign. The issue was resolved along the lines of; “OK, we’ll play without pay, but just this one time…” Maybe some of the passion in these performances came out of something as simple as youthful anger from this source. As Miles recalled: “When we came out to play, everybody was madder than a motherxxxxxx with each other and so I think that anger created a fire, a tension that got into everybody’s playing, and maybe that’s one of the reasons everybody played with such intensity.”
Whatever place these circumstances have in setting the scene for this music, the result is certainly something special. Nothing like this could have been achieved in a recording studio. The uptempo pieces (“So What”, “Walkin’ ”, “Joshua”, “Four”, “Seven Steps To Heaven”) are played at blistering pace and with a real cutting edge. At the same time the slower pieces (“All Of You”, “All Blues”, “My Funny Valentine”, “ I Thought About You”, ‘There Is No Greater Love”) are elongated, beautiful, emotional expressions of the hopes for change.
Miles Davis: “We just blew the top off that place that night. It was a motherxxxxxx the way everybody played – and I mean everybody…… George Coleman played better that night than I have ever heard him play…….”
Miles himself is inspired- listen to the outbreak of spontaneous applause that greets the moment of release in his towering introductory solo to 'My Funny Valentine". The audience rapport throughout is intense; intimacy felt and expressed in a large public space. A great album that is everything that is good about jazz.
CBS did not do very well in the way they released this music. Neither “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More” nor “The Complete Concert, 1964” (which bundles “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More”) allows the listener to hear the whole concert. At some point, perhaps desperate for album releases from Miles Davis at a time when he was reluctant to comply, Columbia extracted for release as “My Funny Valentine” most of the ballad material from the concert. The more up tempo material was extracted and released as “Four and More”. Along the way the version of “Autumn Leaves” was not released. (Perhaps this was in response to the release of versions of this song in the earlier live recordings of the quintet). So “The Complete Concert, 1964” could rightly be called the ” Almost Complete Concert”. Indeed the only way of hearing the entire concert is to invest in the seven CD box set “Seven Steps: Complete Columbia Recordings 1963-1964” (released on Columbia Legacy) and to listen to discs 4 and 5.
Indeed, the complete 7 disc set is worthy of attention in its own right. The remastering has really brought additional bite and brilliance to this music, including a large body of additional material featuring George Coleman that predates the Philharmonic Hall concert. Though undoubtedly expensive in this format, this is some of the finest jazz of all time. Note the bargain price offered by iTunes store.
Alternatively you can get much of the concert (albeit minus “Autumn Leaves”, “Seven Steps To Heaven”, “Stella By Starlight” and “There Is No Greater Love”) on the budget “Giants Of Jazz” label release. “The Complete Concert, 1964” on Columbia Legacy is now getting to be hard to find. iTunes Music Store has a good value version of “The Complete Concert, 1964” giving most of the tracks. A new edition restoring "Autumn Leaves" is now long overdue, as is a "Featuring George Coleman" release.
However you get to hear this music, track it down. It is probably the finest recorded live jazz concert of all time.
Star Rating *****
"Miles - The Autobiography" by Miles Davis with Quincey Troupe
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"Miles Davis - The Definitive Biography" by Ian Carr
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Other useful information on Miles Davis:
Details of just about every Miles Davis record release
Complete Miles Davis discography
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Complete Miles Davis sessionography
Major information resource on the music of Miles Davis
Miles Ahead- essential Miles Davis site
Review by Tyrone Williams at "Other Voices" of Gerard Early (Ed): "Miles Davis And American Culture"
Review: "Miles Davis And American Culture"
Free chord progressions for some Miles Davis compositions with listenable piano chords / drums and printable score
Miles Davis at Song Trellis
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