Rare Miles Davis Live Recordings Capture the Jazz Musician at the Height of His Powers

Very early in his career as a bandleader, Miles Davis developed a reputation for a too-cool persona on stage. Whether turning his back on the crowd or walking offstage while his sidemen soloed, his refusal to cater to audience expectations only enhanced his mystique. Whatever fans and critics made of Miles’ seeming contempt—political statement, eccentricity, or dazzling egotism—his live playing transfixed those who had the privilege to see him and consistently drew the best players in history into his orbit.

The sixties saw him at the peak of his powers as a live performer. He hit the pop charts in the early part of the decade with the 1962 two-LP set In Person, recorded over two nights at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. The very next month he recorded the Grammy-nominated Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall with an orchestra led by Gil Evans. In 2007, a never-before released live gem from the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival thrilled fans (listen to “So What” from that recording above). All of these recordings capture Davis during his “transition period,” between his first and second “great quintets” (which featured John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter on sax, respectively).

Directly above, hear a lesser-known, officially unreleased recording from that transitional period. Captured by French public broadcasting company ORFT, the sessions took place at the Juan-Les-Pins Festival in Antibes in July 26-28, 1963, just a few months before Monterey. Davis is backed here by the same ensemble: George Coleman on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and (then seventeen-year-old) Tony Williams on drums. These recordings represent alternates and outtakes from the record originally released in ’64 as In Europe, reissued in 1989 as Miles in Antibes. The full tracklist (below) is bookended by two versions of Kind of Blue opener “So What,” and it’s interesting to compare these wildly frenetic ’63 live iterations from Monterey and Antibes to the classic of laid-back cool from the late 50s.

1. So What (July 26, 1963)

2  Stella By Starlight (July 26)

3. Seven Steps To Heaven – Walkin’ (July 26)

4. If I were a Bell (July 28, 1963)

5. So What (July 28)

Davis’ first and second “great quintets” are perhaps his most-loved groups. However, the short-lived 1963 ensemble above certainly pushed him in a new direction. For another pivotal moment of transition, watch the 1969 return to the Juan-Les-Pins Jazz Fest in the video below, which shows Davis again moving in a very different direction, presaging his ’70s swerves into acid rock and funk. This performance features another all-star ensemble, with Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano sax, Chick Corea on electric piano, Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

via Past Daily

Related Content:

The Miles Davis Story, the Definitive Film Biography of a Jazz Legend

Miles Davis and His ‘Second Great Quintet,’ Filmed Live in Europe, 1967

‘The Sound of Miles Davis’: Classic 1959 Performance with John Coltrane

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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