The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grateful Dead in 1970: Hear the Complete Recordings

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What’s that, you ask? Did Miles Davis open for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West? In what world could such a thing happen? In the world of the late sixties/early seventies, when jazz fused with acid rock, acid rock with country, and pop culture took a long strange trip. The “inspired pairing” of the Dead with Davis’ electric band on April 12, 1970, “represented one of [promoter] Bill Graham’s most legendary bookings,” writes the blog Cryptical Developments. I’ll say. Davis had just released the groundbreaking double-LP Bitches Brew and was “at somewhat of an artistic and commercial crossroads,” experimenting with new, more fluid compositions.

Aggressive and dominated by rock rhythms and electric instruments, the album became Davis’ best seller and brought him before young, white audiences in a way his earlier work had not.  The band that Davis brought into the Fillmore West, comprising [Chick] Corea, [Dave] Holland, soprano sax player Steve Grossman, drummer Jack Dejohnette, and percussionist Airto Moreira, was fully versed in this new music, and stood the Fillmore West audiences on their ears.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to see that performance live. But we don’t have to imagine what it sounded like. You can hear all of Davis’s set below. In his autobiography, Davis described it as “an eye-opening concert for me.” “The place was packed with these real spacy, high white people,” he wrote, “and when we first started playing, people were walking around and talking.” Once the band got into the Bitches Brew material, though, “that really blew them out. After that concert, every time I would play out there in San Francisco, a lot of young white people showed up at the gigs.”

Did the Dead become a crossover hit with jazz fans? Not exactly, but Davis really hit it off with them, especially with Jerry Garcia. “I think we all learned something,” Davis wrote: “Jerry Garcia loved jazz, and I found out that he loved my music and had been listening to it for a long time.” In his autobiography, the Dead’s Phil Lesh remembered having his mind blown by Davis and band: “As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking What’s the use. How can we possibly play after this? […] With this band, Miles literally invented fusion music. In some ways it was similar to what we were trying to do in our free jamming, but ever so much more dense with ideas – and seemingly controlled with an iron fist, even at its most alarmingly intense moments.” You can stream the Dead’s full performance from that night below. Think what must have been running through their minds as they took the stage after watching Miles Davis invent a new form of music right before their eyes.

Related Content:

Miles Davis Plays Music from Kind of Blue Live in 1959, Introducing a Completely New Style of Jazz

Jerry Garcia Talks About the Birth of the Grateful Dead & Playing Kesey’s Acid Tests in New Animated Video

In 1969 Telegram, Jimi Hendrix Invites Paul McCartney to Join a Super Group with Miles Davis

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

  • Mark Grissom

    I was on my way to the Friday night show but the vehicle I was in was pounced on by the SFPD and unfortunately, there were drugs under the front seat. Luckily, I hadn’t ingested any of the more powerful as spending the night in SF County Jail instead of inside the Carousel was not fun…at all. Sorry I missed this one.

  • Tom A

    am I wrong?
    there is only a 10:38 taste of the Miles.

    …..

  • John Hell

    I have all four nights of both the Dead’s sets and Miles’. I can tell you that the Dead were absolutely inspired by what they heard.

    Miles liked the Dead. He talks about it in his autobiography “Miles”. He really respected Jerry Garcia. He did NOT respect Steve Miller. Ha! You really do need to read that book. Brilliant.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • http://www.openculture.com Dan Colman

    Tom, if you let the clip continue to play, it will move to the next track on the Youtube playlist.

  • Steven

    Towards john h.
    Any suggestions on where I can find the dead with miles for my collection
    Is it available commercially

  • werner kehl

    Miles Davis and his band sound highly explosive that night! Grateful Dead seem devastatingly intimidated by what had preceded them, unable ever to find the right groove for the rest of the evening; thankfully they would recover from the drubbing they took in that pairing, most other bands would have packed it in…

  • jeff monk

    Will take Davis over the Dead any, ANY, time….

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