Listen to The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grateful Dead in 1970

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 9–12, 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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Comments (25)
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  • Mark Grissom says:

    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 says:

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


  • John Hell says:

    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.

  • Dan Colman says:

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

  • Steven says:

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

  • werner kehl says:

    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 says:

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

  • Randy Beucus says:

    I was at the first night and the audi­ence was very tense with young black men not knowing(or car­ing) how to inner act with the young white men & women in the audi­ence. It was for­tu­nate that for the most part they left after Miles played his set. I was also at the Hughie New­ton birth­day par­ty that the Pan­thers host­ed the fol­low­ing year in Oak­land where was again it was a very tense evening. Some young guy took a swipe at Weir while he was enter­ing the audi­tourm.

  • Randy Beucus says:

    I just real­ized that I mis­spelled inter­act. I don’t want to sound neg­a­tive but that first night was tough on us“longhairs” out in the audi­ence. Dit­to with the Pan­ther gig.

  • Stephen Pierce says:

    Check out “Miles Davis At Fill­more West:Black Beau­ty” Colum­bia CD

  • Zahller says:

    there are 10 sec­tions, they auto­mat­i­cal­ly play one after the oth­er so the whole show is there.

  • Willard says:

    isn’t that book 98% hyper­bole?

  • Gordy says:

    I’ll take ’em both. I think that jazz dudes that don’t get the Dead miss the point. And I think that jam dudes that don’t get Miles are exact­ly as dense.

  • Eric Westphal says:

    too bad the dead went with such a timid setlist…shoulda bust­ed out a dark star…doesn’t jibe with the list from dead­heads tap­ing com­pendi­um either…

  • Rose McLoughlin says:

    I was at the con­cert in 1970. From what I recall it was pret­ty bizarre.

  • truth says:

    Fill­more West — San Fran­cis­co, CA
    Set 1:
    Good Morn­ing Lit­tle School Girl
    Casey Jones
    Mama Tried
    Chi­na Cat Sun­flower
    I Know You Rid­er
    High Time
    Good Lovin’
    Good Lovin’
    Set 2:
    Deep Elem Blues
    Cum­ber­land Blues
    Dire Wolf
    Black Peter
    Uncle John’s Band
    Set 3:
    Dancin’ In The Streets
    It’s A Man’s World
    Vio­la Lee Blues

  • Randy Woodall says:

    Was­n’t the Miles Davis album “Live Evil” com­prised of music from this con­cert?

  • David O'Bryan says:

    No Live Evil came from Wash­ing­ton DC shows at the Cel­lar Door. The com­plete record­ings came out a while ago. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

  • Rob Maurice says:

    Damn , that is insane. You wit­nessed. My hats off to you for your his­toric mem­o­ries. I would love to hear more. Take care and peace to you, , Rob

  • Jim Bartle says:

    I went one of the nights, don’t remem­ber which. Davis was effec­tive­ly top-billed. The open­ing band played, the Grate­ful Dead played, Davis played, the Grate­ful Dead played again, then Davis played the final set. I thought the Grate­ful Dead played great.

  • Andrew B says:

    You have both set of the Dead on 4–10-70 ?! There’s alot of peo­ple that would like to lis­ten to that. Thats the miss­ing night!

  • Richard says:

    Randy, It’s a two way street, isn’t it? Maybe you did­n’t know how to inter­act with the young Black men. Per­spec­tive…

  • Mike says:

    And here I am, sil­ly me, think­ing that Pro­col Harem and Black Sab­bath were the weird­est dou­ble bill ever.

  • ziggy pop says:

    the whole write up is straight up lift­ed from the cryp­ti­cal enve­lope log.…


  • David R Peters says:

    I just got the ‘Miles at the Fill­more 1970 Boot­leg Series vol. 3’ (4 cds), most of which is from June, but there are some tracks from his per­for­mance April 11, 1970: Para­pher­na­lia, Foot­prints, and Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.

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