© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Here’s the second part of Simon Spillett booklet notes which he wrote in 2014 for the Acrobat box set - Miles Davis Quintet Featuring John Coltrane - All Of You The Last Tour. They add some further details to Ashley Kahn's fabulous notes to the recently issued "authorised" Sony release of recordings from this tour.
In addition to fronting his own quartet, Simon has won several awards for his music, including the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards (2011), Jazz Journal magazine, Critic's Choice CD of the Year (2009) and Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards (2007).
Simon has his own website which you can visit via this link.
© - Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.
The Tour: “Too new for the people…”
Taking in twenty dates in cities including Paris, Stockholm, Milan, Berlin, Amsterdam, Zurich and Vienna, the spring 1960 tour by the Miles Davis quintet was the brainchild of impresario Norman Granz, the promoter/recording magnate whose Jazz at The Philharmonic presentations had effectively launched the concept of the international touring jazz package. For this tour – presented under the title of Jazz Winners 1960 – alongside the Davis quintet, Granz employed the services of two musicians who he had recorded extensively for his Verve label, Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson, both extremely solid concert drawers. Davis was every bit an attraction too – not least because of his ineluctable combination of musical and sartorial style and bad-boy indifference – but, ever the businessman, Granz knew that sandwiching the trumpeters band between artists whose work had succeeded in reaching listeners outside of the regular jazz audience would help cushion the blow made by the such cutting edge music, in particular that played by John Coltrane.
Despite the time-lag between Coltrane’s recordings being made and issued in Europe, even by 1960 the tenorist had earned himself something of a controversial reputation among jazz fans outside the US. And although he sat well outside the more mainstream predilections the promoter personally favoured (the two men had met in 1954 when Coltrane appeared as a non-soloing sideman on a Johnny Hodges session), Granz knew that controversy was good for business. Whereas Davis already had a strong following on the continent, Coltrane had never been to Europe before – itself another coup guaranteed to pique curiosity – and so, on paper at any rate, the tour looked like it would tick every conceivable box – artistic and fiscal.
“Coltrane [came to Europe] with the one blue suit he wore, a white shirt, one other white shirt, an airline bag, and some rum-flavoured Life Savers that he liked”, remembered drummer Jimmy Cobb in 2001. “That’s all he had”. But whereas he may have been travelling light baggage-wise, Coltrane carried with him a whole portmanteau of musical ideas which, as Miles Davis remembered, would prove all too much for the uninitiated. “Trane was a big thing to be dropping on people! That was hard shit to just think of!”
The opening concert of the tour – at L’Olympia in Paris – proved to be all this and more. Playing the repertoire that Davis had been performing nightly for what seemed like an age – choice standards like Bye, Bye Blackbird and On Green Dolphin Street and a few of the newer modal pieces from Kind of Blue – the band met a decidedly mixed reaction. There was generous applause for the leader, with spontaneous outbreaks of clapping as the Olympia crowd recognised themes from his albums, and delight in the groovy hand-in-glove trio of Kelly, Chambers and Cobb, but for Coltrane, the reaction was polarised in the extreme, as journalist Frank Tenot recalled: “People were very surprised why there was no John Coltrane like on Kind of Blue…for Coltrane it was a new step. So, part of the audience thinks that Coltrane doesn’t play to well, that he was playing the wrong notes involuntarily. Too much drugs or alcohol or something like this. So they started to whistle.” After the barracking had died away, Tenot caught Coltrane backstage: “You’re too new for the people…you go too far.” The saxophonist merely smiled and replied, ‘I don’t go far enough.’”
While Davis attracted huge amounts of press coverage – mostly favourable – throughout the bands three week trip, the write-ups given Coltrane varied little from country to country, with the baffled reaction of the Parisian audience being mirrored time and again in the press. In Holland, several newspaper reviewers and jazz critics rounded on the saxophonists “annoying melodic poverty”, with one even going so far as to say the Coltrane produced nothing less than “terror” whenever he soloed! “What John Coltrane presented us with”, reported another paper, “was frankly scandalous and bore no relation whatsoever with playing the saxophone.”
Jimmy Cobb remembered that Coltrane’s reaction to these critiques was typically passive. “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.”
Fleshing out the bare bones of these reviews and recollections is made possible by the fact that of the twenty concerts the Miles Davis quintet performed in Europe that spring, many were either privately recorded or broadcast over various national radio networks. Several of these surviving tapes have been commercially issued on a myriad of small labels, with some of the recordings achieving almost cult-like status among collectors, but this new Acrobat release presents seven separate concert sessions taped in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. Sequenced chronologically, they afford the chance to witness how the band’s music varied from night to night, in much the same way that the posthumously released live sets by Davis’ later groups at clubs like the Pugged Nickel and The Blackhawk have done. Inevitably, there are some marked similarities between the performances – as can be expected from what was to all intents and purposes a regular working unit – but the trust, interaction and cohesion of just such a band also made it possible for there to be equal moments of great risk and musical daring, especially from John Coltrane.
And, as with any regular group, certain musical devices that may occur night after night are also apparent – Coltrane in particular uses several easily identifiable ideas that he was clearly working through at this point, some of which he would later abandon, including an almost obsessive use of split-tones and harmonics and a mesmeric use of melodic repetition (If I Were A Bell, recorded in Zurich, takes this aspect of his playing almost to the level of self-parody. Coltrane could, of course, simply have been making the gigs more interesting for himself by seeing how far he could push the material).
Another sign of the working familiarity between these players and their repertoire is the choice of tempos. Whereas a song like On Green Dolphin Street appears in remarkably similar form and tempo to the version which Davis had recorded for Columbia in May 1958, the various takes of So What reveal that, a year on from the debut of the composition on Kind of Blue, Davis and his sidemen were now comfortable enough with the modal approach to up the tempo. Among the very first things to indicate that a musician is looking for new challenges on a piece they’ve played frequently will be an increase in speed: the faster versions of So What heard here prefigure Davis’ later recordings of the composition with George Coleman and Wayne Shorter, and also look towards Coltrane’s own adaptation of the form for his theme Impressions.
As well as musical signposts, these recordings provide a certain amount of human drama. Indeed, knowing what we now know of John Coltrane’s reluctance to re-join the band for the tour and of exactly where his career would head within the next twelve months, they also afford the opportunity to hear how what had been arguably one of the greatest of all jazz partnerships sounded close to the moment of disintegration. Given Coltrane’s state of mind, the at times hostile reaction that his playing met from the varying audiences and the fact that, in Jimmy Cobb’s words, “he had outgrown everybody’s band except his own”, the saxophonists’ playing is suitably intense – even for a player renowned for his energy and concentration – as if he were trying to squeeze every last ounce of creative juice from what had become something a hackneyed format. In fact, nothing in Coltrane’s otherwise extant discography sounds quite like his playing on these recordings. Caught half-way between the rat-run harmonies of Giant Steps and the wide-open modal expanses of the Classic Quartet, his performance on this album is yet another example of how he continually reinvented, reconfigured and refreshed his art. Likewise these recordings also catch Davis in transition – mid way between the first great boom of wider success and the radical reinventions his bands would make during the mid-1960s. Together on the same stage, with background rumblings of reluctance, discontent and dissatisfaction, the music these two very different individuals made is also a reminder that occasionally in jazz the more adverse the circumstances, the more profound the musical results.
The Concerts: “The limit of the acceptable…”
Konserhuset, Stockholm, March 22nd 1960 (First House)
One of the key points of the success of the Miles Davis quintet was its emphasis on a regular repertoire consisting of a mere handful of familiar themes. Although there is some evidence that this approach occasionally frustrated the other members of the group (“He never uses any material written by the rest of us”, Paul Chambers was alleged to have protested during the tour), it also provided the band with the ultimate in musical freedom: having honed a core repertoire, the challenge became not so much one of invention but reinvention as can be heard on the opening version of So What. The tempo is up from the original version with the resulting mood far less mesmeric than that of Kind of Blue. Davis makes use of his favourite I’ve Found A New Baby quote, while Coltrane builds slowly at first before letting the fireworks begin.
Fran Dance – Davis’ appropriation of the old tune Put Your Little Foot Right Out, and dedicated to his girlfriend, the dancer Frances Taylor – gets what might be called the archetypal quintet treatment, the leader tightly muted, Coltrane mixing convoluted phrases with moments of melodic simplicity and Kelly and the trio bridging the gap. Indeed, as more than one writer has observed of this particular edition of the band, the group could sound like three units rolled into one.
All Blues – another theme from Kind of Blue – finds Davis muted in the theme statements but playing open during his improvisation, offering the definitive argument against those who considered him a weak technician. Coltrane’s solo toys with vocalisations and demonstrates his fascination with split-tones and multi-phonics (the playing of two or more notes on an instrument only designed to produce single notes), an effect he had already used on several studio recordings, most notably the Coltrane Jazz album. This device, repeated on virtually all the shows during the tour, seems to have been the cause of much of the saxophonist's bad press. Michiel de Ruyter, reviewing a concert in Holland, noted the shock of hearing “two high flageolet-like tones” which had “made high demands on the listeners’ capacity to absorb and understand.” Some observers thought the effect indicative of Coltrane’s “anger”, but according to de Ruyter it was “fascinating to witness these experiments oneself now that they are not done privately so that we can only hear the final result.”
During the interval between shows, Swedish journalist Carl-Eric Lindgren took the opportunity to quiz Coltrane backstage and, in what has proven to be one of the most quoted of all the saxophonist's interviews, he asked his subject whether he thought his own playing was angry. Coltrane replied that he was working through “so many things at one time” to get to “the one essential” and that among his goals was to produce a more beautiful sound. There is no hint whatsoever of any belligerence in his replies and the impression he makes on this brief but valuable encounter is that of a truly humble artist; the contrast between his speaking voice – and the quiet patient delivery of his answers – and that energised geyser of sound emanating from his tenor barely a few minutes before could not be more pronounced.
Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden, March 22nd 1960 (Second House)
The second performance of the evening opens with another account of So What, longer and more combustible than the first with Coltrane in particular opening a veritable Pandora’s Box. Listeners familiar with the saxophonists’ later recording of his own composition Impressions (based on the same modal chassis) will recognise characteristic shapes and patterns. Also, although one can already sense Coltrane pulling at the musical leash, the relatively straight-forward nature of Kelly, Chambers and Cobb’s accompaniment only adds to the innovative impression made by the tenorist’s playing.
Having once famously let a drum stick slip out of his hand whilst accompanying one of the saxophonists marathon improvisations – causing Coltrane to wonder if it had been thrown at him for playing so long – here Cobb matches him blow for blow, as does Kelly, a masterfully unselfish comper whose cheerfully hip style might not have initially seemed suited to the tenorists’ earnest soul-searching experiments. “Love him!” Kelly remarked of Coltrane to British journalist Val Wilmer that same year. “When you’re playing with him though, he’s got to give you a set part because he won’t do nothing conventional. You kind of fight you know.”
On Green Dolphin Street - a standard that Davis had done much to popularise in jazz circles – is bookended by more lyrical muted trumpet, cast over the danceable groove laid down by Kelly and co. In between comes a Coltrane outing which shows a growing fascination with the setting up and reconfiguring of small rhythmic or melodic motifs. The triplet-based phrase that occurs here is a direct lift from the saxophonist’s own composition Like Sonny, dedicated to Sonny Rollins, the player who Coltrane had revealed to Carl-Eric Lindgren was his favourite tenor.
The highlight of the gig, however, comes on the closing version of Walkin’, on which Davis “strolls” with only bass and drums for accompaniment, delivering a solo full of smears, blues licks turned inside out and self-parodying quotes (including those from I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed from Miles Ahead and – amazingly – Jean Pierre, a “composition” that he would not debut on record until the early 1980s!). No-one hearing Davis’ playing here – or anywhere else on this collection – could dare to call into question the quality of his instrumental command.
In what is arguably his finest solo from the concert, Trane starts out using his classic late 1950s vernacular, but the real action begins when Kelly lays out leaving only Chambers and Cobb to keep pace with the saxophonist. Coltrane clearly relishes the space afforded him, combining “double density” fingering with an especially gripping passage in which he takes a simple motif, moving it in and out of the key, in effect providing a prototypical example of the “side-slipping” atonality that would later famously feature on the opening movement of his 1964 suite A Love Supreme. Nobody could deny that Coltrane’s delve into a “whole bag of things” was coming up with some distinctly futuristic devices.
Tivoli Konsertsal, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 24th 1960
Between the Stockholm and Copenhagen concerts, the Davis quintet had visited Oslo, one of the few locations from which a concert tape or radio broadcast has not been unearthed, but for the band's appearance at the famed Tivoli Konsertsal, Danish radio had arranged for the group to be heard over the airwaves. Sadly, only one set appears to have survived, reprising three items played during the previous Stockholm performance.
The version of So What that opens the concert is notable for several reasons: first, Davis makes an uncharacteristic sortie into the upper register during his solo – yet another one in the eye for those who persist in labelling him as a less than athletic instrumentalist – and continues to riff beneath Coltrane’s opening chorus, by no means a standard practise for a player who sometimes appeared to show little on-stage interaction - and on occasion even acknowledgment - of his front line partner.
Coltrane’s solo again plays with simple, melodic fragments, worried over and over again, and is replete with quotes from themes including Bahia, Dearly Beloved and Without A Song. Once more, the real meat of the performance comes during Kelly’s absence, as the saxophonist alternates passages filled to the brim of the bubbling brilliance that marked him out as the ultimate saxophone virtuoso with moments of stark melody. Kelly is left to mop things up, with a typically dancing improvisation.
On Green Dolphin Street reprises the classic arrangement: a rhapsodic Kelly introduction is followed by Miles’ muted solo (listen especially to Paul Chambers here, acting as the linchpin between the alternating rhythmic changes that occur throughout the trumpet solo).
The songful mood the leader has established is maintained through much of Coltrane’s solo, which contains quotes from Perfidia, Tonight We Love and even Rock-a-Bye Baby, before ceding to the uber-groovy Wynton Kelly. Chambers tails things off with an impressive exhibition of his arco skills. “It’s not like classical playing”, he told Val Wilmer in an interview for Jazz News magazine. “In jazz you have to turn the whole thing around, the whole conception. It’s easier for me, though, to take a bowed solo than a pizzicato one.”
Chambers also turns round the patented opening bass line to All Blues in manner that looks ahead to the revisionist way in the 1960s Miles Davis quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams would subvert and twist the conventions. The result is a mood which, particularly in Wynton Kelly’s solo, comes closer to the soul-jazz/gospel movement than to the airy atmosphere of the original.
Coltrane’s offering gives evidence of another lesson he’d learned well from his leader: microphone technique. Time and again he moves the horn away from the mic during the densely packed, changes-gobbling passages, bringing the music back into focus whenever he’s settled upon a more direct melodic line. There are also more false-fingered “ghost” notes, the eerie effect of which, rather than interrupting the flow of his improvisation, actually provides textural variety. Above all there is his tone – that pure, direct sound which has inspired generations of tenor saxophonists for over half a century and yet which remains truly unique. The performance concludes with a brief blast of The Theme, Davis’ sign-off music.
Kongresshalle, Frankfurt, Germany, March 30th (First House)
The tour moved onto Germany on March 25th, with the following six days being taken up by concerts in Hannover, Oldenburg, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and, included here, Frankfurt, from which comes what appears to be a private recording rather than a radio broadcast, including just two themes.
Although the German jazz scene had been remarkably receptive to the latest trends within the music, the visit of the Davis quintet – and John Coltrane in particular – led to consternation in certain circles. There is also evidence that there were escalating tensions within the band itself by this point in the tour, with communication between Davis and his reluctant sideman all but breaking down during their stay in the country. Covering the groups German gigs for the English magazine Jazz News, Tim Colwell presented an inconsistent picture of the two men’s relationship. “He’s the greatest tenor I know”, Davis had said of Coltrane, although Colwell’s article noted that “several days later they were not on speaking terms [as Coltrane] wanted to leave the group.”
(Colwell’s piece also suggests that both Miles and Coltrane recorded with string accompaniment during a trip to Cologne – a mouth-watering proposition but one which sadly appears to have no basis in fact. Also, a passing mention of a session in which “Coltrane recorded on his own” may well refer to the March 28th television appearance in Dusseldorf during which Davis was absent).
“Coltrane was the talking point of the show”, the journalist reported of one of the German concerts. “His unique sound roared and thundered through the hall. Every solo built to a terrifying frenzy. He seemed fascinated by a series of triplet crotchets which he repeated over and over again in every solo. Some of the audience became uncomfortable, some laughed in embarrassment, others covered their ears and a few walked out.” It wasn’t only the saxophonist who was proving controversial. Colwell condemned Davis for his “lack of showmanship” and found “there was something amiss with [his] playing”. Even Jimmy Cobb was accused of playing “the loudest drums [which] at times sounded unrelated to what was going on.”
Despite drawing a decidedly knee-jerk reaction from Colwell, Davis’ German appearances contained some of the best performances of the tour. The Frankfurt version of So What begins with a relatively brief Davis solo before Coltrane enters. Although there is the familiar earnest intoning entry, the saxophonist soon builds towards a dazzling display of his “sheets of sound” technique, full of fluttering arabesques and a further allusion to Jerome Kern’s Dearly Beloved.
All of You repeats the classic 1956 arrangement for the album ‘Round About Midnight, the catchy two-beat dance feel of which had edged the trumpeter into Sinatra-like territory. As with other similarly Great American Songbook standards from the bands repertoire (including If I Were A Bell and I Could Write A Book) the main action for the soloists occurs not on the songs structure itself but on the lengthy round-and-round tags appended to the end of each improvisation. While the leader is content to maintain the dancing mood with blithe, lissom musical steps Coltrane takes the tail-piece as another opportunity to fully open his box of tricks – melodic, rhythmic and textural – using the minimalism of a few chord changes to stimulate the maximum in musical invention. Indeed, the concept of using the extended tag as the main improvised device was something he would retain in his own working units, most notably on themes including Bye, Bye Blackbird and But Not For Me, both of which were holdovers from the Davis book. Sadly, the performance is incomplete, leaving us to guess how Wynton Kelly might have handled his share.
Deutsches Museum, Kongress-Saal, Munich, Germany, April 3rd (First House)
Following concerts in Oldenburg and Berlin, the Davis quintet’s next appearance was in Munich, with the opening set of the night broadcast by local radio. Beginning with a particularly bright rendition of So What, again including Davis’ favoured I’ve Found A New Baby lick, the recording contains a frustrating anomaly. While both front liners are captured in especially vivid clarity (Coltrane’s tone in nothing less than magnificent here) there appears to have been an issue with the microphone(s) picking up the piano. Robbing us of hearing Kelly’s full contribution to the evening, this liability does have a silver lining in enabling a renewed appreciation of the formidable understanding that existed between Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, especially apparent during Coltrane’s solo. The tenorist quotes My Reverie and his own Blue Train, before reprising his idea of taking a simple phrase and moving it in and out of the basic tonality.
This futuristic mood also permeates ‘Round About Midnight, which although it contains the familiar outline of the arrangement Gil Evans helped sketch for the Columbia album of the same name has a slightly more abstract feel. Coltrane’s ghosted notes during the first half of the bridge are especially effective here.
The closer, Walkin’ begins with Davis strolling and once more proving his mettle as one of the great blues soloists in jazz (one need only think of his past performances within the blues format: Bags’ Groove, Blue Haze, Sid’s Ahead and Freddie Freeloader being just four noteworthy examples) before Coltrane enters. Comparing and contrasting performances made in close succession soon reveals that even a player as consistently inventive as Coltrane clearly retained devices that worked when playing certain themes, for example the choked, false-fingered figures heard on the Stockholm concert, which crop up again here. And, during the latter part of his solo, in which his phrasing and sound positively billow, one can sense that, although Jimmy Cobb plays passionately enough, Coltrane was perhaps already hearing an Elvin Jones in his head.
Deutsches Museum, Kongress-Saal, Munich, Germany, April 3rd (Second House)
Only a solitary item from the second house performance at the Deutsches Museum survives: a relatively short version of So What during which all three soloists take less time to build their statements. There are similarities with the version that opened the first show, most noticeably the leaders’ by now part-of-the-solo quote from I’ve Found A New Baby. Coltrane also rejigs some of his ideas from the earlier performance, closing with a favourite lick he would later employ on several versions of his own theme Impressions. Sadly though, no-one had thought to fix Kelly’s piano microphone.
Kongresshaus, Zurich, Switzerland, April 8th
Close to the end of the tour, the band alighted in Zurich for a single performance in Swiss soil, broadcast on national radio. The excellent recording quality, together with a slight variation in programming, have long made this concert a favourite among Davis’ fans and from the opening take of If I Were A Bell it’s clear the band are alight with inspiration. The leader plays one of the most pyrotechnic-filled solos of the tour, closing with an extended ending a la All of You. Coltrane picks up the ball and again alludes to Without A Song during the tag of his solo, which mixes supersonic runs and pure singing melody. As if to outdo him, Kelly uses one of the saxophonists’ favourite gambits to begin his improvisation, taking a simple melodic fragment and playfully moving repeating it for much of his first chorus, beneath which Chambers and Cobb drive hard.
Kelly’s mind seems to be on his predecessor Red Garland (“That’s my man!” he told Val Wilmer when interviewed that same year) throughout much of his solo on Fran Dance, while Coltrane again appears as if he were two players operating the same instrument: one full of ideas of melodic lyricism, the other almost maniacally obsessed with finding new ways to superimpose substitute harmony. “I could play three chords on one”, Coltrane remembered of his time with Miles, “but on the other hand, if I wanted to I could play melodically. Miles’ music gave me plenty of freedom.”
The Zurich version of So What finds Coltrane taking the concept of thematic development a step further, with his rippling lines beginning to tear at the traditional notions of time and cadence (the ultimate destination of these ideals would eventually be realised in the saxophonists final recordings, principally on the duo with Rashied Ali, Interstellar Space) while All Blues, with Chambers again injecting more than a hint of soul-jazz into the celebrated bass figure, has far less of a mysterioso feeling than the studio original. Miles offers an uncommonly high-noted improvisation before Trane – once again quoting My Reverie – makes yet another thorough exploration of his horn range and timbre. Indeed, in listening to such a concentrated set of recordings, one of the most striking aspects of the work of this particular Davis quintet is its textural variety. Not only was Coltrane examining every nook and cranny of his instrument, ranging from high, off-register harmonics to booming bottom-of-the horn punctuations, the leader (via his muted playing) and Chambers (via his bowed solos) were also ensuring the overall sound of the band never became locked down into one particular groove. As can be heard here, Jimmy Cobb likewise varied the way in which he accompanied each soloist. “Of course, Miles has a pattern that he likes to hear”, the drummer confessed later. “There are some things you have to play that he likes and is used to hearing”. However, hear the way in which Cobb varies his use of cymbals behind Wynton Kelly’s solo – the mark of not only a master jazz performer but also a masterful jazz listener.
Kurhaus, Scheveningen, Holland, April 9th 1960
Spent in Holland, the penultimate day of the tour was especially eventful for the band. Having missed their flight from Zurich, they were left with precious little travel time ahead of playing two concerts for Dutch jazz fans, the first at Scheveningen and a second – at midnight – at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Not only were they tired and late in arriving, Paul Chambers’ bass had been damaged in transit, resulting in his having to borrow local musician Ruud Jacobs instrument for both of the evenings performances. However, adversity must have acted as some sort of artistic stimulus as the bands set from the Kurhaus, broadcast in VARA radio, was among the most exciting of the entire tour. Unsurprisingly, it was Coltrane who attracted a great deal of the critique. “We knew his albums Blue Train and Soultrane” remembered Dutch jazz writer Bert Vuijsje, “but we had never heard the sheets of sound on Giant Steps, let alone the multiphonics of Coltrane Jazz. Listening to [the concert on] the radio, I couldn’t comprehend what Coltrane was trying to do.”
Nor it seemed had many been ready for Davis’ new mode-based approach (“We had to wait until the late summer of 1960 to discover the modal improvising on Kind of Blue”, remembered Vuijsje) with the magazine Rhythme panning the band for its overly ambitious annexing of new musical ground. “The limit of the acceptable was cheerfully crossed”, it reported. “Folks who dare call this the ‘music of tomorrow’ don’t have the slightest comprehension of music.” Another critic dismissively opined that Coltrane had “spoiled the audiences pleasure.”
So how does the surviving music square against these negative appraisals? The opener, On Green Dolphin Street, finds Coltrane in particular sounding a shade less voluble than the night before, although the strength and surety of his tone are again well captured. The real fireworks begin on So What, a performance driven relentlessly by Jimmy Cobb’s (very well recorded) drums. Miles’ soon shakes out all his clichés but it is Coltrane’s solo that provides the most gripping. At close to eight minutes in length, his ideas grow ever more complex and convoluted, never more so then when Wynton Kelly lays out. Especially noticeable is the passage in which he begins to explore a descending phrase, hinting at the tenor and drum duets he’d soon engage in with Elvin Jones. That the final version of So What included in this collection should so closely prefigure the immediate future seems extremely fitting. Supporting Jimmy Cobb’s observation that the saxophonist had outgrown the role of a sideman and now needed his own forum, Bert Vuijsje believed the Kurhaus performance offered irrefutable proof that “Coltrane didn’t feel satisfied anymore as a member of the Miles Davis quintet”.
The version of ‘Round About Midnight which follows receives a similarly abstracted reading to that given by the quintet in Munich a few nights earlier. Listen especially for Miles’ “screams” behind Coltrane’s opening. Having found something that clearly worked, the saxophonist also reuses his vocalisations on the bridge, while on the closing version of Walkin’ both front liners make the unusual decision of clearing the floor to allow Paul Chambers the first solo. The bassist delivers a truly virtuoso performance, which – to use the oft-applied but not always justified description applied to many bass solos – really does have dexterity and harmonic depth reminiscent of a bop horn player. Such a dazzling display clearly energised Chambers colleagues as Davis, Coltrane and Kelly’s individual solos respond in kind. After a short shout through The Theme, the band exits stage left, ready to head to Amsterdam for their midnight gig.
By the time the Miles Davis quintet’s return flight touched down at New York’s Idlewild airport on April 11th, the leader knew that his partnership with Coltrane was all but over. The saxophonist had a gig scheduled at New York’s Jazz Gallery and was already planning to take a band of his own on the road permanently. The fine tuning of this new group – which would ultimately transform into the “classic” John Coltrane quartet – took up most to the rest of the year, with Coltrane going on to form hand-in-glove unions with pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones. By the end of 1960, he’d recorded My Favourite Things, a piece that both simultaneously resuscitated the soprano saxophone in jazz and, via radio play, alerted many new listeners to his work. The rest – as the saying goes – is history.
For Davis, plugging the gap left by Coltrane proved difficult in the extreme: for a time Sonny Stitt joined the band, providing yet more saxophone fireworks but sounding ill-at-ease with the new concepts of modal improvisation. His place was taken in late 1960 by Hank Mobley – one of the most consistently inventive tenorists of his generation but whose quiet, lyrical style provided less of a contrast with Davis than Coltrane’s had done. Mobley was on hand for the recordings that Davis made in spring 1961, yielding the album Someday My Prince Will Come, on which the trumpeter had been able to lure back Coltrane to play two scene stealing solos. These cameos marked the end of the recorded collaborations between Davis and Coltrane and although the two men still remained in touch (with Davis occasionally catching the saxophonists band at The Half Note club in New York) never again would they occupy the same stage. As Davis and Coltrane made further music for the ages during the 1960s, the other former sidemen who had shared their eventful European tour at the beginning of the decade went through a variety of musical associations: for a time, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb worked as a trio, providing accompaniment to players ranging from Wes Montgomery to Joe Henderson, but the collaboration was cut short by Chambers death from tuberculosis, aged just 33, in 1969. Wynton Kelly died two years later from a seizure, aged only 39. Of this classic Davis quintet only drummer Jimmy Cobb survives.
The death of John Coltrane at the age of 40 in 1967 marked the close of one of the most remarkable careers jazz had ever witnessed, during which the saxophonist had continually reinvented his art in a manner which few could assimilate and – on occasion – even comprehend. Only Davis can truly be said to rival the strength of Coltrane’s influence upon subsequent generations of jazz musicians, and even he recognised that his former sideman had appeared to be on some sort of “mission”, driven relentlessly to dig deeper and deeper into the transcendent potential of music. Like so many of the most influential and dynamic partnerships in jazz – from King Oliver and Louis Armstrong through to Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry and beyond – the union of Miles Davis and John Coltrane existed for all too brief a moment in time, and although the trumpeter would go on to enjoy many more years of fruitful interactions with the various sidemen in his successive bands, nothing ever quite equalled the drama that had characterised his collaboration with Coltrane. The recordings in this collection make a fascinating valedictory testament to that very special union: fifty-four years after they were made, they still retain every bit of their power to move, inspire and amaze.”