This is one of my favorite Miles albums. Tastefully recorded under electric circumstances, this live album comes from a 1964 benefit concert, and the material from this concert was put out on two records, this being one of them. Interestingly, Columbia decided to put the more upbeat, faster tunes on one album (Four And More) and the ballads on the other. (this album). Miles and his group are in a lyrical, whimsical mood on this album, stretching out on each track and probing each tune inside and out.
Recorded 12 February, 1964 in New York City, NY
Tune: ‘Stella By Starlight’
- Miles Davis: Trumpet
- George Coleman: Tenor Saxophone
- Herbie Hancock: Piano
- Ron Carter: Bass
- Tony Williams: Drums
As mentioned before, this concert was a benefit event held at the Philharmonic Hall (aka David Geffen Hall) and was co-sponsored by the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The concert was specifically in support of voter registration in Mississippi and Louisiana. According to a biographer, one of the concerts was in memory of John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the previous year. “Kennedy’s death had struck at the hopes of many in the Civil Rights Movement, a cause dear to Miles, who had expressed his admiration for the President in 1962: “I like the Kennedy brothers; they’re swinging people.””
The music on this album has been described by critics as ‘inspired’. I agree. Miles displays a movingly lyrical side to his trumpet that he rarely if ever displayed, at least on records. He seems to have inspired the rest of the group as well, although it may not have been solely based off his playing. During the intermission, Miles told the group they wouldn’t be paid for the performance, and that he had waived off the band’s fee in the name of the cause. Understandably, the rest of the group was upset. Miles credits the tension and inspiration behind the music to this argument with the group.
One of the reasons why I love this album so much is because of the chances the group takes with the songs. Often times, the drums drop out altogether, or the bass plays out of time. It makes for some arresting, beautiful and intense music. This 13-minute outing on ‘Stella By Starlight’ is a great example of this. Herbie Hancock (still with us and making music) plays a poignant intro, then steps aside for Miles’ entrance. Miles’ tone on the trumpet is sour and a little rough, attributed to his sorrow over Kennedy’s assassination, but it’s still every bit as expressive. The great thing about live recordings is you get the audience along with the music, and on this track, in response to sudden kick in Miles’ solo, somebody in the crowd makes a rather startling yell. I would have loved to see the audience’s reaction.
In the many great line-ups that Miles fronted over the years, saxophonist George Coleman often gets overlooked, which is a shame. He was (and is) a solidly swinging musician with a great tone on the sax, and in my humble opinion sounded just as great as Wayne Shorter and was maybe a notch more creative than Hank Mobley. He didn’t make you forget Coltrane, but he was an interesting soloist just the same. On this album in particular, which would be his last with Miles, Coleman plays some rather moving sax, weaving line after silky line. He even pulls a Miles and ends his solo in the middle of the chorus. Hancock plays some tasty piano here, and his flourishes behind Miles when he restates the melody at the end is gorgeous. All in all, it’s a wonderful performance.
Miles was always a sharp dresser. Always. On this album cover, his impeccably fitted navy suit and the polka-dot tie (NOT a skinny tie like you’d expect in the mid-60’s. Extra style points) against a crisp white shirt could very well appear on a model in GQ magazine. His facial expression coupled with the way he’s holding his trumpet gives one the impression that this photo was snapped mid-performance, Miles in thought, concentrating on the music. A very cool cover. What you (fortunately) can’t see is the number ‘147’ that the previous owner wrote in black marker in the top left corner. I have no idea why 147 is significant.
Again with the defacing of the record jacket. “But I’m sure you wrote your name on some of your CDs”, you may say. That’s different. CDs aren’t art, and they sure won’t be worth big bucks one day (I would love to eat my words, but I doubt it). This person had to write their name twice. Maybe that’s why one name has the II? The late, great Nat Hentoff provides the fantastic liner notes, chock full of trivia and intrigue. Like the factoid that drummer Tony Williams was only 18 years old during this recording! That bold ‘A’ at the bottom right corner apparently has something to do with where the album jacket was printed. Nobody seems to know exactly what they signify though, and some albums have numbers instead of letters. It’s a quirk unique to Columbia albums.
Dark red two-eye labels with the black ‘360’ arrows signify a first pressing. The runnout number ends with 1-C on both sides, which in Columbian means this is a 3rd cutting, which in civilian means next to nothing. In theory, the closer the record is to the first cutting (1-A), the better the sound should be. Depending on numerous factors, though, this is highly variable. Columbia records were some of the best-sounding records during its day though, so any record by them is liable to sound great. My copy was advertised as VG. It’s got some snap, crackle and pop in it, as well as a skip or two, but the music comes through pretty well. Every now and then, the bane of record collectors (especially poor ones like myself who can’t afford the better condition copies i.e. the more expensive copies) that is groove wear rears its fuzzy head, mostly affecting Miles’ already sour trumpet. But as this is one of my favorite Miles albums, I feel the minor sound issues here and there are worth it; at least I have the album in its original form. The stereo is nice, with nice placement of instruments. The horns and the bass are right in the middle of the mix, with Hancock’s piano on the left and Tony’s drums on right. The sound is so clear, during the quiet passages you can hear what I assume is the echo in the back of the building. It’s one of the best-sounding live jazz concerts captured on record.
The Place of Acquisition
I had to fight for this record. That is, I was in a brief eBay bidding battle with a few people. The seller was bidding quite a few jazz records, and I had bids on five of them. Lucky for me and my wallet, I only won two of them, the other being a Horace Silver album. They all started at $9.99, and after the minor skirmish, won the bid for this album at a little over $11, slightly more than the typical iTunes album and much cheaper than a new CD (yuck) or new vinyl album at Barnes and Noble (yuck squared). Not bad at all. The college student scores again! At this point, it seems like all my albums came from eBay; not true. It’s just easy and convenient for me to shop while in class (not proud of that) than actually travel down to the store. Then again, as of late, I rarely buy off of eBay, preferring to support the local record store. I should probably start spot-lighting some of the stuff I’ve found there…