Video Vault Episode 84: Hey Miles! Watcha’ sellin’?

Hey Miles! Watcha’ sellin’?: A Guest Video Vault Post by George Grella Jr.

No disrespect, Miles deserved every dollar he got, and should have been paid a lot more. As I mention in Bitches Brew, Miles was more than offended when Clive Davis started to sign young white rock bands for six figures, he felt his music was better (it was), more important (it was), and that he deserved as much, if not more (it did). But the shameful economics of the music industry is a topic for every other day of the week.

Jazz and media have grown hand in hand since the beginning, from cylinder recordings to live streaming. Miles came of age artistically when television was becoming a mass medium, and we are fortunate that the American and foreign networks did not at first know what would make money, so they accidentally took an interest in out-of-the-mainstream culture. Welcome to the glories of Miles Davis’ Video Vault”

The earliest substantial clip is from a 1959 broadcast of the Robert Herridge Theater anthology series on CBS. This is a fascinating, arranged for television set, combining Miles’ Quintet around the time of Kind of Blue with a studio orchestra led by Gil Evans, the two parallel streams of his career up to this date amalgamated into playing and improvising:

“So What.” I love the cut to Gil in the foreground, digging the music. I think the trombone player who saunters into the background, smoking a cigarette, is Rod Levitt.

After presumably a commercial break, the show continues with Miles & Gil playing a medley that Herridge announces. Dig the chalk-board roster!

From 1964, here is an entire live set with the second Quintet. Wayne Shorter was the last of the musicians to come aboard, and this is thus early in the group’s life—they didn’t record E.S.P. until January, 1965, and the monumental Plugged Nickel recordings weren’t until the following December. The music is not as experimental as it would become, but you can hear, and see, the tremendous group interplay:

By 1967, live in Karlsruhe Germany, they go from 0 – 60, and change direction, instantaneously. Check out Miles’ tremendous charisma as he strolls onto stage and then hits “Agitation”:

After Bitches Brew, the next transition. At Tanglewood in August, 1970, this is the band with Gary Bartz, Keith Jarret, and Airto Moreira. This is a burning set, coming near to the end of this band’s life (there is extensive and exceptional documentation of the music this band made in the Live at Fillmore series of recordings):

The music would change again, with the Live-Evil and Jack Johnson albums, then continue to evolve in concert, up until illness (and drugs) forced Miles’ temporary retirement in 1975. His final set ensemble was based around the dual guitars of Reggie Lucias and Pete Cosey, and bassist Michael Henderson, and their series of live recordings are imposing and beautiful. Here is a tremendous gig from Vienna, in 1973:

– George Grella

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