Category: jazz

Photo

Miles Ahead

Billie Holiday with her

dog Pepi at Sugar Hill nightclub in Newark, New Jersey, April 1957.

Photos by Jerry Dantzic

On this day in music history: March 30, 1970 – “Bitches Brew”, the thirty third album by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero, it is recorded at Columbia Studio B in New York City from August 19-21, 1969. Ushering in his “Electric Period” with the release of the groundbreaking “In A Silent Way” in July of 1969, Miles Davis continues to move further into that musical territory. Maintaining Wayne Shorter (soprano saxophone), John McLaughlin (guitar), Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul (electric piano, organ), and Dave Holland (bass), Davis brings several new musicians into the fold. They include Jack DeJohnette, Lenny White (drums), Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), Harvey Brooks (bass), Larry Young (electric piano), Airto Moreira, Don Alias and Juma Santos (percussion), Davis begins rehearsals, bringing in “sketches” of new material. Miles tells the musicians to “play anything that they like”, as long as they follow the chords and tempo he lays down. Entering Columbia Records’ Studio B on August 19, 1969, the first session begins at 10 am. Giving the band only minimal instructions, Miles allows them to improvise while following his often audible cues. He uses multiple bassists, keyboard players, drummers and percussionists on the tracks. Davis’ own playing differs from anything he’s done before, often playing in an upper register in contrasting fast runs and short explosive bursts of his horn. Producer Teo Macero then extensively edits and reconstructs the songs, adding effects, and creating tape loops that repeat certain sections. On November 14, 1969, Macero sends a memo to CBS Records, with the now famous statement, “Miles just called and said he wants this album to be titled "BITCHES BREW”. Please advise. Teo". Artist Mati Klarwein is commissioned to create the now iconic surreal cover artwork. With its unique combination of jazz, funk and rock, “Bitches Brew” receives glowing reviews from many music critics (with liner notes by Ralph J. Gleason), greatly expanding Miles Davis’ audience. Though it also has its detractors, with jazz purists unable to grasp its sprawling and experimental nature. In spite of this, it becomes Davis’ biggest selling and highest charting album to date. It wins the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance – Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group in 1971. Regarded as one of the most influential jazz albums of all time, “Bitches Brew” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999. In 1998, it’s reissued as the 4 CD box set “The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions”. It is also reissued on vinyl numerous times, most recently by Sony Music’s Legacy division in 2020. “Bitches Brew” spends twelve weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Jazz album chart, number four on the R&B album chart, number thirty five on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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Albums Released In 1958

The Quartet!
Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison

The

Nat King Cole Quartet photographed by Herman Leonard in New York, 1949.   

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Jazz singer Keely Smith (1928-2017) photographed by Ken Whitmore for her album I Wish You Love (1957).

She began recording with her husband Louis Prima. In 1958, they won a Grammy for their rendition of “That Old Black Magic” at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards.

Jazz singer Sallie Blair (1934-1992) photographed by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE magazine, 1957.

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Frances Taylor Davis (September 28, 1929 – November 17, 2018) was the first wife of jazz musician Miles Davis. She was a successful dancer before Miles made her give up her career.

Frances received a scholarship to study dance at the Katherine Dunham Company. She toured with the dance troupe in Europe and South America.  In 1948, she became the first black ballerina to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet, when they recruited her for a special presentation. Frances’ popularity grew and she regularly appeared in African-American publications like Hue magazine and Jet magazine.

In 1954, Frances was set to star opposite Sammy Davis Jr in his sitcom, but television networks couldn’t get a sponsor for the show. Probably because the the African-American cast weren’t depicted as the usual stereotypes of the time. The show had a theme about struggling musicians.

After a brief marriage to a member of the dance troupe in 1955 and giving birth to a son, Frances moved to New York City where she was cast in various Broadway musicals between 1956 and 1958, including Mr. Wonderful, Shinbone Alley, and West Side Story. While she was dancing in the original production of West Side Story, Miles made her quit in 1958. She had first met Miles in 1953, they reconnected around 1957 and began dating. He let her teach her own dance classes for a little while before they married in December 1959. She became a dutiful housewife following Miles on his international tours. She introduced him to theater and influenced a few of his albums and she also was put on the cover of a few. Soon his drinking and cocaine addiction began to take a toll. He would get jealous and took out his anger on Frances. She was offered a part in the film West Side Story (1961) and the Broadway musical Golden Boy (1964), but Miles’s wouldn’t allow her to perform anymore. Frances finally left in him 1965 when the abuse became unbearable and moved across the country seeking refuge at her friend Nancy Wilson’s home. Their divorce was finalized in 1968.

After their divorce, France taught private dance lessons and appeared in television special, including Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special. She became a popular restaurant waitress in her retirement years. Frances died at the age of 89 in 2018.

(Video: Frances Davis Her Story – Life Before & After Miles)