Rare Classic Footage Resurfaces of Miles Davis from the Fifties
50 years ago, on April 2, 1959, the Miles Davis Quintet teamed with the Gil Evans Orchestra to perform in New York City on a TV series called The Robert Herridge Theater. Music aficionados might be amused to learn why the legendary trumpeter’s combo that day wasn’t the usual sextet, namely, because alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley had cancelled due to illness. Miles’ sidemen in attendance were giants of jazz in their own right, including tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers, pianist Wynton Kelly and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
Filmed in black & white, the show starts with a casual introduction by Herridge standing in front of the camera with a lit cigarette in his hand. Between numbers, the chain-smoking host, a man of few words, simply shrugs that “this is music that should be “listened to and not talked about.”
Sans audience, the set opens on a dimly-lit, shadowy stage with the group playing “So What” from its upcoming Kind of Blue album. What makes this rendition of the jazz standard unique is that in Cannonball’s absence, Miles took a couple of extra solos, one just before and another after that of Coltrane.
Another factual footnote for trivia buffs is that in March and April of ’59 Miles was recording Kind of Blue for Columbia in the label’s studios located nearby on 30th St. in Manhattan. Although the lp wouldn’t be released until August 17th, it would become the best-selling jazz album of all time.
The Gil Evans Orchestra is featured as accompanists here in a medley of tunes from Miles Ahead- “The Duke,” “Blues for Pablo” and “New Rhumba.” The musicians include trumpeters Ernie Royal, Clyde Reasinger, Louis Mucci, Johnny Coles, and Emmett Berry; trombonists Frank Rehak, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Elton, and Rod Levitt; woodwinds Romeo Penque and Eddie Caine; bass clarinetist Danny Bank; French horn players Robert Northern and Julius Watkins; and tubaist Bill Barber.
In a personal aside, I must mention that I was pleasantly surprised to see an old friend, Bob Northern (aka Brother Ahh) in the film, since he had served as my mentor, given me my African name (Kamau) and even allowed me to play on one of his albums during my short-lived career as a jazz musician. In any case, the rare footage comprising The Sound of Miles Davis, despite its brevity, is an historical treasure unearthed and a must see for any avid fan of black classical music.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 20 minutes
Presented nationally by WLIW21 in association with WNET.ORG
The Sound of Miles Davis airs nationwide and debuts in New York on Wednesday, March 11 at 10:30 PM (check local listings)