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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