Category: Miles Davis

Sallie Blair

(1934 – 1992)

was an African-American jazz singer from Baltimore. She began her career singing with Johnny Otis and Duke Ellington in the early 1950s before she won the talent competition Chance of a Lifetime on ABC-TV. Soon after she joined Cab Calloway’s Cotton Club Revue and then became a popular nightclub act. Sallie was a reoccurring performer on Ed Sullivan’s shows and was rumored to have had an affair with him. She performed for the royal family at the London Palladium and broke protocall by kicking off her shoes and doing a sexy barefoot dance. Although Sallie released two albums as a solo artist, Squeeze Me (1957) and Hello, Tiger! (1958), she was more known for her beauty and sex appeal. Sallie often changed her hair color, but early in her career she was known for being a blonde. The press referred to her as the  "blonde bombshell” and Miles Davis called her the “brown Marilyn Monroe.” She married pianist and arranger Rene DeKnight in 1963 and still appeared on TV throughout the the 1960s as her popularity waned. In 1978, Sallie was linked to Warren Beatty then she disappeared from the public. She died at the age of 57 in 1992.

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Funk singer Betty Davis with her husband Miles Davis in front of one of his paintings at their home in New York City, October 1969.

Photos by Baron Wolman

Tutu

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)

On this day in music history: November 17, 1971 – “Live-Evil”, the thirty eighth album by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero, it is recorded at The Cellar Door in Washington DC on December 19, 1970, and at Columbia Studio B from February – June 1970. The half live/half in studio recorded double LP set consists of eight extended electric based jams featuring Davis supported by musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Airto Moreira, and Keith Jarrett. Originally conceived as a continuation of the landmark “Bitches Brew”, it differs greatly from its predecessor by incorporating more rock and funk elements. It is well received upon its release and is considered a pioneering jazz/funk recording, as well as one of the cornerstones of Davis’ “Electric Period”. The albums’ distinctive cover art was created by artist Mati Klarwein, best known for the cover art on Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and Santana’s “Abraxas”. Davis tells Klarwein that he wants something representing “life” on the front cover, and something representing “evil” on the back". The front features a painting of a pregnant African woman, while the back features a grotesque looking amphibian like creature in a powered wig clutching its belly. The latter painting is inspired by a picture that the artist sees of infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine. Originally released on CD in the early 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 1997, issued in a digipak, and eventually standard jewel case configuration. Out of print on vinyl for nearly three decades, it’s remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP by 4 Men With Beards Records in 2011. It’s reissued again by Music On Vinyl in 2016. “Live-Evil” peaks at number one hundred twenty five on the Billboard Top 200, and number four on the Jazz chart.

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Jet magazine

covers from 1971

Photo

On this day in music history: August 17, 1959 – “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero and Irving Townsend, it is recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studios in New York City on March 2, 1959 and April 22, 1959. Recorded in two sessions six weeks apart, it features Davis backed by musicians John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly. The songs are created by Miles giving the musicians chord changes based on musical modes rather than traditional chord progressions, then improvising on those changes. The original LP release of “Kind Of Blue” is a source of confusion among musicians and fans for years when the three tracks (“So What”, Freddie Freeloader", and “Blue In Green”) on the first side of the album are a quarter tone sharper than originally played. The problem turns out to have been caused by one of the two tape machines recording the session running slower than the other. The album is not reissued with the songs at the correct pitch until 1992. All reissues from that time on are mastered using the back up 3-track session tapes cut during the initial recording session. The album goes on to become one of the most popular and influential jazz recordings of all time. Having taken over thirty years for the album to sell over million copies, its sales explode during the peak of the CD boom, tripling in sales during the 90’s and 2000’s. For the album’s 50th anniversary, Sony Music releases a three disc edition featuring the original album along with alternate takes of “Flamenco Sketches” and “Freddie Freeloader” (w/ the false start), along with in studio dialog recorded during the sessions. The second disc includes live recordings featuring the sextet, with the third disc being a DVD featuring a documentary about the development and recording of the landmark album along with the rarely seen television program “The Sound Of Miles Davis” originally aired on April 2, 1959. The album is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1992, and in 2002 is added to the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress.“Kind Of Blue” is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: July 30, 1969 – “In A Silent Way”, the thirty third studio album by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero, it is recorded at CBS 30th Street Studios, Studio B in New York City on February 18, 1969. Recorded in one session, it is an important turning point in Davis’ career as it marks the beginning of his “Electric Period”. Moving forward from his previous two albums “Miles In The Sky” and “Filles De Kilimanjaro” which are the first to incorporate electric instruments into his sound, even more emphasis is placed on the electric guitar and electric piano on “Silent”. Broken up into two side long suites (edited and sequenced by Davis’ producer Teo Macero), the album features support from several of Miles’ regular sidemen including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Joe Zawinul and Tony Williams. The decision to make such a dramatic musical shift proves to be very controversial at the time, among many jazz purist fans and critics who feel “betrayed” by the change. At the same time, it earns praise from more open minded jazz and rock critics, winning Davis a new generation of fans, paving the way for his next release, the landmark “Bitches Brew” the following year. Originally released on CD in the early 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2002 with one alternate takes as a bonus track. It is also reissued as an SACD, featuring both the original stereo mix and a 5.1 surround multi-channel mix. Sony Legacy also reissues the album as a 180 gram LP in 2008. “In A Silent Way” peaks at number three on the Billboard Jazz Album chart, number forty on the R&B album chart, and number one hundred thirty four on the Top 200.

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On this day in music history: July 18, 1960 – “Sketches Of Spain”, the thirty-fourth studio album by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero and Irving Townsend, it is recorded at Columbia 30th Street Studios in New York City on November 20, 1959 and March 10, 1960. Barely three months after the release of the landmark “Kind Of Blue”, Miles Davis returns to the studio to begin recording the follow up release. Having previously worked with arranger Gil Evans on “Miles Ahead” and “Porgy And Bess”, Davis once again calls on the Canadian born musician to collaborate once again. Initially the project is started without a central concept or theme, at first recording the piece “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Spanish composer  Joaquin Rodrigo. A composition originally written for guitar, Evans and Davis transform it into an epic orchestral jazz masterpiece. It features Miles accompanied by his core band of musicians including Jimmy Cobb (drums), Paul Chambers (bass) and Elvin Jones (percussion), backed by brass and woodwind instruments. The nearly side long recording becomes the centerpiece of the new album, with Gil Evans writing the Spanish tinged “Saeta” and “Solea” as well as the band recording early 20th century composer Manuel de Falla’s “Will O’ The Wisp” from the ballet “El Amor Brujo”. In spite of the challenging nature of the material, compositionally as well as technically, it sees Davis and Evans both at the peak of their creative powers. Miles’ control and command of his instrument is apparent from the first note to the last, displaying extraordinary degrees of sublitity and nuance. Released in the Summer of 1960, “Sketches Of Spain” receives unanimous acclaim from fans and critics alike, recognizing that Miles Davis and Gil Evans have again raised the bar for jazz music. In time, it is regarded as one of the most important albums of the 20th century. It wins Davis and Evans their first Grammy Awards for Best Original Jazz Composition in 1961. Originally released on CD in 1983, it is remastered and reissued in 1997 with three additional bonus tracks. It is remastered again in 2009 by Sony Legacy as an expanded two CD edition, featuring more outtakes and alternate recordings from the sessions. Reissued numerous times on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is most recently reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2011, with the long out of print mono mix being released in 2012. “Sketches” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1997. “Sketches Of Spain” peaks at number thirteen on the Billboard Jazz Album chart, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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