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In 1970, Miles Davis Played Four Sets For A New Audience


In June 1970, Miles Davis played four nights at New York's rock palace Fillmore East, following earlier appearances there and at San Francisco's Fillmore West. A complete recording of all four of those June sets are now available for the first time.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the jazz trumpeter had gone to the Fillmore in search of a new audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good evening. With great pleasure, Mr. Miles Davis.



MILES DAVIS: (Instrumental)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: It messed jazz people up, the music Miles Davis made 1970. Like the four sets recorded that June now issued complete on "Miles at the Fillmore." two years earlier, he'd been meeting one of the most beloved jazz bands ever. The one with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Then he went electric. Instead of playing jazz clubs, now he was playing to kids who came out to hear the rock bands he split bills with.

As one of those rock kids go so Miles at the Fillmore in 1970, I got to admit the music was too weird for me. But later, could not stop thinking about it.


WHITEHEAD: Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett on electric keyboards. Miles Davis' classic ballads were disarmingly spare. This music for seven players could get absurdly dense - a bubbling stew of independent parts. Now Miles' jam sounded like they could go on forever but he was still jazz man enough to cue the end of a set with a traditional bebop signoff theme.


WHITEHEAD: Any familiar tunes Miles Davis played that season dissolved into the new band's acid bath. Like Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," a bonus number in this four CD set recorded at the Fillmore West. Now the tunes didn't so much provide a forum to improvise over as much as supply moments of relief from the chaos. Bits of melody function as sign posts along a strange highway.


WHITEHEAD: Dave Holland on bass guitar and Jack DeJohnette on drums. As in other Miles' bands, there was a tug-of-war between the leader and his younger sidemen. He fed on their new ideas but then they'd want to take things further out than he did. Miles wanted to be commercial, not avant-garde. He didn't want to just sell records like a rock star, he wanted to be a rock star.

Wanted to be Hendrix at the Fillmore. That allowed keyboard players Corea and Jarrett to go nuts with their wah-wah pedals, making guitar music without guitars.


WHITEHEAD: That was the sweet spot Miles was aiming for where the groove was all and the fabric wasn't quite so frayed. That said, in the '80s when his bands really got slick and funky the music was frequently terrible. He needed headstrong players like this crew who'd push back a bit.

The crazy quilt nature of the music Miles Davis made at the Fillmore in 1970 is one of its best features. His rowdy players showed him other ways to bring the funk.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed the new box set "Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore" on the Columbia Legacy label. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new remake of "Godzilla." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.