Hear Miles Davis & John Coltrane Battle It Out on Their Final Tour Together, 1960

One of the great­est tour sto­ries of jazz takes place not in its birth­place but in Europe, where John Coltrane reluc­tant­ly joined Miles Davis for a nine-date “Jazz At The Phil­har­mon­ic Euro­pean Tour” in 1960. It’s not down to any shenani­gans off­stage, but the pure musi­cal fire that erupt­ed onstage. This is the sound of two genius­es pulling apart and head­ing in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. They may have returned to the States at the same ter­mi­nus, but Coltrane and Davis land­ed on dif­fer­ent plan­ets after­wards.

You can hear that in the above video. Kind of Blue had been released the year before–imagine a time where that was the case!–and here the Davis quin­tet dive in to “So What” with a fury not heard on the record.

The con­certs have been end­less­ly boot­legged, and right­ly so. They are stun­ning. Sev­er­al were record­ed for radio broad­cast, oth­ers went into the hands of col­lec­tors. Not all of the nine dates are com­plete, but there’s plen­ty of mag­ic in those sets to sat­is­fy the curi­ous.

But the final meet­ing of Coltrane and Davis near­ly didn’t hap­pen. Months after the release of Kind of Blue, Coltrane had record­ed Giant Steps and was pret­ty much ready to go his own way. But Davis plead­ed with Coltrane–he knew the mate­r­i­al real­ly well, of course, hav­ing played it all that year–who even­tu­al­ly, reluc­tant­ly gave in. (Coltrane did sug­gest Wayne Short­er take his place, and Davis lat­er brought the young sax man into the group).

Along with Davis and Coltrane, the Euro­pean tour quin­tet fea­tured pianist Wyn­ton Kel­ly, bassist Paul Cham­bers, and drum­mer Jim­my Cobb. And accord­ing to Cobb, it was obvi­ous Coltrane’s mind was else­where on the trip.

“He sat next to me on the bus, look­ing like he was ready to split at any time. He spent most of the time look­ing out the win­dow and play­ing Ori­en­tal-sound­ing scales on sopra­no.”

But when he was onstage, that ten­sion result­ed in the kind of mind-melt­ing solos that made these record­ings so essen­tial. The “sheets of sound” that one crit­ic used to describe Coltrane’s style is all here, as are moments where Coltrane just seems to be obsessed with two or three notes, toy­ing with them, try­ing to uncov­er their essence. (Some in the audi­ence thought it was too indulgent–you can hear them whistling in dis­ap­proval on some of the num­bers.) In some of these record­ings you also hear Davis becom­ing the side­man in his own band as Coltrane takes off into the stratos­phere. By the way, you can stream the full album on Spo­ti­fy.

It’s not ani­mos­i­ty, just the sound of two artists going their own way, and that’s rarely some­thing that gets record­ed. For­tu­nate­ly, the best of five dates–two in Paris, two in Stock­holm, one in Copen­hagen–are now offi­cial­ly released, 50-some odd years lat­er for the rest of us to enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear a 65-Hour, Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Miles Davis’ Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Jazz Albums

Kind of Blue: How Miles Davis Changed Jazz

Stream the “Com­plete” John Coltrane Playlist: A 94-Hour Jour­ney Through 700+ Trans­for­ma­tive Tracks

Hear the First Track From John Coltrane’s Lost Album: The New­ly-Dis­cov­ered 1963 Col­lec­tion Will Get Offi­cial­ly Released Lat­er This Month

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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