The Gig When Miles Davis Jammed with Carlos Santana & Robben Ford (Giants Stadium, 1986)

The old joke about super­groups being less than the sum of their parts often holds true in rock and pop. Too many cooks, and all that. But what hap­pens when you bring togeth­er super­stars from dif­fer­ent gen­res? This was basi­cal­ly the idea of jazz fusion, and espe­cial­ly of Miles Davis, one of fusion’s prin­ci­ple pio­neers in the late six­ties and ear­ly sev­en­ties. It’s a genre of music peo­ple seem to either love or hate. Those who fall into the lat­ter camp often cite the ten­den­cy of jazz-rock ensem­bles to over­play, to the detri­ment of both jazz and rock.

Fol­low­ing Davis’ inno­va­tions, vir­tu­oso col­lab­o­ra­tors like John McLaugh­lin went on to form their own super­groups, while the star trum­peter checked out for a while. But “after five years of silence,” as Peo­ple mag­a­zine wrote in 1981, his trum­pet was “once again heard in the land.”

Davis assem­bled a few bands and charged ahead in an even more fusion‑y direc­tion, despite some severe crit­i­cism from music writ­ers, fans, and fel­low per­form­ers. He cov­ered Cyn­di Lau­per and Michael Jack­son and col­lab­o­rat­ed with new wave bands and pop stars like Toto. He seemed deter­mined to mix it up with as many major play­ers as he could.

The results were some­times less than the sum of their parts, though his exper­i­men­ta­tion crys­tal­ized in an excel­lent record in 1986, the Mar­cus Miller-pro­duced jazz/funk/pop/R&B album Tutu. That same year, Davis and a loose­ly-assem­bled band took the stage at Giants Sta­di­um for a short set at an Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al ben­e­fit con­cert, where they were joined by jazz and rock gui­tarist Robben Ford and, on the last song, by spe­cial guest star Car­los San­tana. Tutu, notes The Last Miles—web­site for George Cole’s book of the same name—“was still a few months away from its offi­cial release.”

The band jammed through two of the new album’s tunes, the title track and “Splatch.” Then, for the final song, “Burn”—“a rock-funk num­ber that Miles first heard in 1980”—Santana took the stage. You can see video of them play­ing that song at the top of the post and hear the full audio of the short per­for­mance, less than 30 min­utes, fur­ther up. The eight-piece band plays a typ­i­cal­ly busy fusion set, with solo after amaz­ing solo over a full-on wall of elec­tri­fied sound. I con­fess, I find this side of Miles a lit­tle assaultive next to the restraint of much ear­li­er work, but that’s a mat­ter of per­son­al taste. It’s impos­si­ble to say a bad word about the qual­i­ty of these per­for­mances.

How did these super­stars end up work­ing togeth­er, not only at this ben­e­fit but in oth­er con­certs and record­ings? Find out in the inter­views above from San­tana and Ford, both of whom describe their expe­ri­ences as major career high­lights. The respect in both cas­es, a rar­i­ty with Miles Davis, was mutu­al.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Miles Davis Dish­es Dirt on His Fel­low Jazz Musi­cians: “The Trom­bone Play­er Should be Shot”; That Ornette is “F‑ing Up the Trum­pet”

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

Miles Davis Opens for Neil Young and “That Sor­ry-Ass Cat” Steve Miller at The Fill­more East (1970)

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

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