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TV Review: Miles Davis: The Sound of Miles Davis

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This is really an incredible find. Miles Davis had formed one of the all time great sextets in jazz history at the time: saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianist Wynton Kelley, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Adderley sat out this gig, reportedly due to a migraine, but no matter, the remaining quintet is a wonder.

The two pieces that make up this special were filmed April 2, 1959. The quintet performs “So What” from Kind of Blue, unaccompanied. They are then are joined by members of The Gil Evans Orchestra for three songs from Miles Ahead. The three song medley includes “The Duke” by Dave Brubeck, “Blues For Pablo” by Gil Evans, and “New Rhumba” by Ahmad Jamal.

There are so many great moments preserved here, I hardly know where to begin. One of them comes very early, about a minute into “So What.” Miles takes his first solo, and the camera pans to Coltrane in the background, watching. It may sound corny, but I got goosebumps.

It has been speculated that due to Adderley’s absence, Miles took two solos in “So What.” One before, and one after Coltrane’s great solo. In any case, they are both terrific, as is Kelley’s piano solo. Incidentally, Kelley sat out the second piece in the program, the three song Miles Ahead medley. Miles solos on “The Duke” and “New Rhumba” here, and Coltrane switches from tenor to alto sax.

Miles Davis: The Sound of Miles Davis was originally aired July 21, 1960, as an episode of The Robert Herridge Theatre, on CBS TV. It was filmed in glorious black and white, and the print is remarkably well preserved. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Kind of Blue, the program is airing nationally on Public Television stations throughout the month of March (check your local listings). It is presented by WLIW21 in association with WNET.ORG.

Miles Davis: The Sound of Miles Davis is highly recommended viewing for jazz fans especially, but I'm preaching to the choir there. I think anyone interested in music of any type should watch this.  Miles' late Fifties sextet were one of the most legendary jazz groups ever.  Miles Davis: The Sound of Miles Davis captures them at an undeniable peak.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • majid klilib

    I fully stand by the above comments concerning the TV version of the masterpiece. However it should be noted that the legendary version is the studio one featuring Bill Evans on piano and Cannonball Adderley on alto saxophone. I do possess the VHS copy of the show and what fascinated me amongst other aspects of the document is the way musicians communicate using musical messages and silent eyes messages as well… It is more obvious in the mysterious esoteric dialogue between Miles and Gil Evans. When evoking Kind of Blue reference should be made to the great work of Eric Nisenson in his book ”The making of Kind of Blue Miles Davis and his masterpiece ” St Martin’s Press NY. Worth mentioning Also is the extensive article written by the French Jazz critic of the daily newspaper LE MONDE of Paris Francis Marmande at the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the release of the record.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Majid, I would love to see the footage you mentioned. I will be looking for it. To see all of the original Kind of Blue musicians performing together would be fantastic. Thanks for your input.-Greg