10 Great Performances From 10 Legendary Jazz Artists: Django, Miles, Monk, Coltrane & More

Billie Holiday Sings ‘Strange Fruit,’ 1959:

Last week we brought you a post titled “Miles Davis and His ‘Second Great Quintet,’ Filmed Live in Europe, 1967,” featuring Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The response was enthusiastic, and it reminded us that a great many of you share our love of jazz. It got us thinking: Why not gather the material from our favorite jazz posts into one place? So today we’re happy to bring you ten great performances from ten legendary artists.

We begin with Billie Holiday (above) singing her painful signature song of racism and murder, “Strange Fruit.” The song was written by teacher and unionist Abel Meeropol, who was horrified when he saw a 1930 photograph of two black men hanging from a tree in Indiana, victims of a lynch mob. Holiday first recorded “Strange Fruit” in 1939 and continued to sing it, despite some resistance, for the rest of her life. The performance above was taped in London for the Granada TV program Chelsea at Nine in February of 1959, just five months before Holiday’s untimely death at the age of 44.

Dave Brubeck Performs ‘Take Five,’ 1961:

The legendary pianist Dave Brubeck died earlier this month, just one day short of his 92nd birthday. To remember him on that day we posted the clip above from a 1961 episode of the American public television program Jazz Casual, with Brubeck and his quartet performing the classic song “Take Five” from their influential 1959 album, Time Out. The musicians are: Brubeck on piano, Eugene Wright on bass, Joe Morello on drums, and Paul Desmond (who wrote “Take Five”) on alto saxophone. For more on Brubeck, including a delightful clip of the elderly master improvising with a young Russian violinist at the Moscow Conservatory, see our Dec. 5 post, “Remembering Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck with a Very Touching Musical Moment.

Chet Baker Performs ‘Time After Time,’ 1964:

Last December we featured the clip above of Chet Baker playing the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne standard, “Time After Time,” on Belgian television in 1964. Baker is joined by the Belgian flautist Jacques Pelzer, French pianist Rene Urtreger and an Italian rhythm section of Luigi Trussardi on bass and Franco Manzecchi on drums. Baker sings and plays the flugelhorn. For more of Baker’s music and a poignant look at his troubled life, be sure to see our 2011 post, Let’s Get Lost: Bruce Weber’s Sad Film of Jazz Legend Chet Baker.

Duke Ellington on the Côte d’Azur, 1966:

On a beautiful summer day in 1966, two of the 20th century’s great artists–Duke Ellington and Joan Miró–met at a museum in the medieval French village of St. Paul de Vence, high in the hills overlooking the Côte d’Azur. Neither one understood a word the other said, but Miró showed Ellington his sculpture and Ellington played music for Miró. In the scene above, narrated by the great jazz impressario Norman Granz, Ellington and his trio play a new song that would eventually be named “The Shepherd (Who Watches Over His Flock).” The trio is made up of Ellington on Piano, John Lamb on Bass and Sam Woodyard on drums. To learn more about that day, including recollections from the only surviving member of Ellington’s trio, see our May 10 post, “Duke Ellington Plays for Joan Miró in the South of France, 1966: Bassist John Lamb Looks Back on the Day.”

Django Reinhardt Performs ‘J’attendrai,’ 1938:

With only two good fretting fingers on his left hand, gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt created one of the most distinctive instrumental styles in 20th century music. The clip above is from the 1938 short film Jazz “Hot”, which features Reinhardt, along with violinist Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, perfoming a swing version of the popular song “J’attendrai.” (“J’attendrai” means “I will wait.”) To learn about Reinhardt and the fire that cost him the use of most of his left hand, be sure to see our Aug. 10 post, “Django Reinhardt and the Inspiring Story Behind His Guitar Technique.”

John Coltrane Plays Material From A Love Supreme, 1965:

In December of 1964 the John Coltrane Quartet recorded its masterpiece, A Love Supreme, in one session. A highly original blending of hard bop and free jazz with spiritual overtones, the album is recognized as a landmark in jazz history. The Smithsonian Institution declared it a national treasure. But Coltrane reportedly played the material only once in public, at a 1965 concert in Antibes, France. You can see a portion of that performance above, as Coltrane and his quartet play  “Part 1: Acknowledgement” from the four-part composition. The quartet is composed of Coltrane on tenor saxophone, McCoy Tyner on Piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. To watch and listen as the band plays “Part 2: Resolution,” see our 2011 post, John Coltrane Plays Only Live Performance of A Love Supreme.

Miles Davis on The Robert Herridge Theater, 1959:

Most of the great performances on this page were preserved by government-funded broadcasting companies, particularly in Europe. Left to its own devices, the “invisible hand” of the television marketplace was fairly content to ignore jazz and allow its great artists to pass unnoticed and unrecorded. A notable exception to this trend was made by the CBS producer Robert Herridge, who had the vision and foresight to organize an episode of The Robert Herridge Theater–a program normally devoted to the storytelling arts–around the music of Miles Davis. In an extraordinary 26-minute broadcast, shown above in its entirety, Davis performs with members of his “first great quintet” (John Coltrane on tenor and alto saxophone, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums) and with the Gil Evans Orchestra.  A sixth member of the smaller combo (by that time it had grown to a sextet), alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, can be seen briefly but doesn’t play due to a splitting migraine headache. The broadcast took place between recording sessions for Davis’s landmark album, Kind of Blue.  The set list is: “So What,” “The Duke,” “Blues for Pablo,” “New Rhumba” and a reprise of “So What.”

Thelonious Monk in Copenhagen, 1966:

Here’s a great half-hour set by Thelonious Monk and his quartet, recorded by Danish television on April 17, 1966. The lineup includes Monk on piano, Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on Bass and Ben Riley on Drums. They play three songs–“Lulu’s Back in Town,” “Don’t Blame Me” and “Epistrophy”–with Monk giving the others plenty of room to solo as he gets up from the piano to do his stiff, idiosyncratic dance. For more on Monk, see our 2011 post on the extraordinary documentary film, Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser.

Bill Evans on the Jazz 625 show, 1965:

In March of 1965 the Bill Evans Trio visited the BBC studios in London to play a pair of sets on Jazz 625, hosted by British trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton. The two 35-minute programs are shown above, back-to-back. The trio features Evans on piano, Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. To read the set list for both shows, see our May 31 post, “The Bill Evans Trio in London, 1965: Two Sets by the Legendary Combo.” And for a fascinating introduction to the great jazz pianist’s philosophy of music, don’t miss our April 5 post, “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans: Advice on Learning to Play Jazz and the Creative Process.”

Charles Mingus in Belgium, 1964:

In April of 1964 the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus and his experimental combo, The Jazz Workshop, embarked on a three-week tour of Europe that is remembered as one of the high-water marks in Mingus’s career. The performance above was recorded by Belgian television on Sunday, April 19, 1964 at the Palais des Congrés in Liège, Belgium. Mingus and the band play three songs: “So Long Eric,” “Peggy’s Blue Skylight” and “Meditations on Integration.”  The group features Mingus on bass, Dannie Richmond on drums, Jaki Byard on piano, Clifford Jordan on tenor saxophone and Eric Dolphy on alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. A sixth member, trumpeter Johnny Coles, was forced to drop out of the band after he collapsed onstage two nights earlier. For more of Mingus’s music and a look at his troubled life, see our Aug. 2 post, “Charles Mingus and His Eviction From His New York City Loft, Captured in Moving 1968 Film.”

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Comments (6)
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  • terry decampo says:

    I watched DB quartet I believe in the late 50′ I was 10 years old. Then 58′ Armstrong and I was hooked.
    The only one I do not agree with the choice is Billy Holiday, my No 1. The lyric had a message but is was hardly one of her top performance. Listening to it if you do not know her it can never give you a clue of how great she was.
    Again fantastic, thank you for your great selection.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for all of you

  • John Conolley says:

    Yeah, Billie was past her prime when that recording was made.

  • Bogdan Petrovan says:

    Thanks for putting this together. Beautiful stuff.

  • tin says:

    this is wonderful. really appreciates the anecdotes you’ve included. my favorite one is on Duke Ellington and Joan Miro. truly once-in-a-lifetime!

  • Henry says:

    You have put together a miracle lyrics of performance.

  • joce says:

    merci !!!!!!

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