12.16 – 12.19.1970 The Cellar Door

The Miles Davis sextet maintained a steady touring schedule throughout the final three months of 1970, morphing from a relatively loose, borderline feral funk experiment into a taught road-tested ensemble with each successive gig. The scant amount of circulating tapes from this period enforce just how rapid the band’s evolution was. And though there were some truly incredible gigs along the way, the sextet’s four-night stand at the Cellar Door in Washington DC feels very much like a culmination of the journey.

Despite appearing in heavily edited form on the 1971 Live/Evil LP, and in a more comprehensive six-disc Cellar Door Sessions box in 2006, the released material is far from a complete document of the Cellar Door residency. By most accounts, the band performed a total of 12 sets (three per night), 10 of which Columbia recorded, and just six of those sets were released on the Cellar Door box. 352 minutes of material is a feast by any measure, but you can’t help but salivate over the remaining four unreleased/uncirculated sets of music.

The Cellar Door today – now a Starbucks
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11.15.1970 Philadelphia

The Miles Davis sextet spent much of November 1970 playing university fieldhouses, college gymnasiums, and other venues unknown throughout the northeastern US. This stop at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory produced one of only two tapes of the band during this stretch, as well as the only known footage documenting the “Cellar Door” lineup of Jarrett/Bartz/Henderson/DeJohnette/Airto. While the B&W video is curiously edited to resequence the set, it includes nearly the entire performance (20 more minutes of music than the circulating audiotape!).

Though the band is just a month removed from its run at the Fillmore West in mid-October, the rate of growth evident in this performance is remarkable, with the core of Henderson/Jarrett/DeJohnette having reached cruising altitude and oozing confidence. And while the intensity seems to put Bartz on his heels throughout the performance, Miles clearly relishes the fight – blowing with endless creativity and power from start to finish.

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Late 1970 Unknown Venue

A tape of mystery origin such as this one is a rarity in the Miles Davis electric timeline, but we do have a few clues as to the date and venue. The inclusion of “Untitled Original 701004” suggests the performance predated the November 15th Philadelphia gig, by which point the song had been dropped from the setlist, while the addition of “What I Say” indicates it likely followed the mid-October Fillmore West shows, none of which featured the tune. Paired with the modest crowd and the gymnasium-like acoustics, my best guess is that this tape is from a gig at a small Northeastern US college in early November.

Conjecture aside, one thing is certain: this is the first tape of the Michael Henderson/Keith Jarrett era that could go toe-to-toe with the Lost Quintet. And at a whopping 109 minutes, this tape also captures the longest complete set of Miles’ electric period.

There are so many things that make this tape exceptional. Fidelity wise, the mix is surprisingly balanced for an audience tape, and the band seems to relish the venue’s cavernous echo, with DeJohnette sounding downright Bonham-esque on occasion. It also catches this lineup sounding for the first time like a cohesive unit. Miles lets the songs unfold and run their course, he’s in no hurry to cue the next tune, and there are no lulls or awkward readjustments in the segues – the set simply flows with a trance-inducing quality the band would master in the spring of 1973, but never with the intensity heard here.

Featuring nearly every song in the sextet’s repertoire from the fall of 1970 through winter of 1971 (only “Yesternow” is absent), this marathon set is a universe in itself. An absolutely exceptional tape.

Get it here
1. Directions (12:50)
2. Honky Tonk (20:03)
3. Untitled Original 701004* (11:02)
4. Sanctuary (2:32)
5. It’s About That Time (16:05)
6. Funky Tonk (20:48)
7. Bitches Brew (11:04)
8. What I Say** (14:53)
9. The Theme (1:00)

*Final recorded performance
**First recorded performance

10.15 – 10.18.1970 Fillmore West

The Miles Davis septet returned to Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in October 1970 a dramatically different band than the one that shared a 4-night stand with the Grateful Dead earlier in the year. Gone was the effects-laden headiness, unpredictability, and unrelenting intensity that defined those April shows, replaced here by four identical sets built around dense, repetitive grooves. The resulting performances were likely a bit easier for the Fillmore audience to digest, and judging from their reaction on the tapes, the crowd certainly dug it.

In a typically eccentric Fillmore pairing, the septet shared the bill with Leon Russell, with support from Seatrain and Hammer. Not exactly the time traveler destination of a Miles Davis/Grateful Dead matchup, but a marked improvement from opening for Steve Miller. Curiously, there are no known photos from the October 15-18 shows, and tapes from only three of the four nights are in circulation – none of them complete. The fidelity of the October 15th tape suggests the shows were professionally taped, so a future Bootleg Series release may not be out of the question.

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10.1970 The Tonight Show

Much like the band’s blistering appearance on the Dick Cavett show a few months prior, the exact recording date of this NBC Tonight Show performance is unknown. Given the septet performed at UCLA on October 10th, it’s safe to assume they recorded this appearance around that date; it officially aired on October 30th.

And like that appearance on the Cavett show, Miles’ intent seemed to confound the American television viewing public. Following an enthusiastic intro from guest host Bill Cosby, in which he fawns over Bitches Brew and promotes the then soon-to-be-released Miles Davis at Fillmore, the septet throws down a bizarre 8 1/2-minute medley of “Directions” > “Honky Tonk” (a pair of tunes that would remain unreleased until 1981 and 1974 respectively).

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10.4.1970 Seattle

This audience tape from the Seattle Jazz Spectacular captures the band three days after Miles attended the funeral of Jimi Hendrix on October 1st. The date was also a bit of a reunion for Miles and a couple of former sidemen, with the Bill Evans trio opening the Sunday night gig, and Herbie Hancock’s proto-Mwandishi sextet closing the show.

Scene report from the Northwest Passage Oct. 12-26, 1970.

Following the band’s triumphant performance at the Isle of Wight, Chick Corea and Dave Holland parted ways with Miles to form the avant garde quartet Circle with drummer Barry Altschul and reed player Anthony Braxton. Holland and Corea reunited with Jack DeJohnette and Steve Grossman to record the remarkable Japan-only LP The Sun in mid-September, Corea would join the On the Corner sessions in early 1972, and DeJohnette, Corea, Holland, and Keith Jarrett continue to perform together in various configurations to this day – proof that musicians never truly leave Miles’ orbit.

New to Miles’ live universe was 19 year-old Michael Henderson, who formally replaced Holland beginning with a September 13th gig at the Boston Tea Party – there’s no recording of that show, but Henderson wrapped a tour with Stevie Wonder’s live band on September 6th and it’s assumed he performed in Boston. Henderson joined a few of Miles’ early 1970 studio dates for the Jack Johnson LP, so “Right Off”, “Yesternow” and “Honky Tonk” from those sessions were added to the live rotation upon his arrival.

Meanwhile, Jarrett took over the Fender Rhodes following Corea’s departure. Steadfast in his contempt for electric keyboards, Jarrett remarked that he hated the Rhodes and Fender Contempo organ equally, so he simply arranged both into a “V” formation, added a wah pedal to the organ, and played them simultaneously in an effort to create a singular instrument.

Juma Santos, a member of the previous year’s Bitches Brew sessions, also began a brief stint with the group – adding congas and auxiliary percussion alongside Arito’s barrage of heady accoutrements.

An with that, the next phase of Miles’ electric period had begun.

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8.29.1070 Isle of Wight

When Dave Holland and Chick Corea joined the Miles Davis live band in August of 1968, the bassist was shocked that the crowd numbered just a few dozen for their opening night in San Francisco. “My expectation of Miles was that him being a great artist, everyplace he played would be absolutely packed. That was not the case.”

By contrast, Holland and Corea’s final gig alongside Miles at the Isle of Wight Music Festival on August 29, 1970 drew an estimated 600,000 – 700,000 people – the largest audience for a jazz performance in history.

Thanks to the resulting compilation album, documentary film, live DVD set, and 2011 Bitches Brew Live album, the band’s 35-minute Isle of Wight gig is perhaps the most well-known and frequently examined live performance of Miles’ career. And in spite of the heightened emotion of this being Holland and Corea’s final gig, compounded with the head trip of playing in front of such a mass of humanity, the band delivers on a level that is nothing short of astonishing.

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8.18.1970 Tanglewood

The septet’s performance at the Tanglewood Music Center was the finale in a series of “Fillmore at Tanglewood” shows produced by Bill Graham in the summer of 1970. In one of the better pairings of the year, the band shared the bill with The Voices of East Harlem choir and the Graham-managed Santana, and given that half the septet was resplendent in sleeveless muscle shirts (captured on the Tribute to Jack Johnson LP cover), it was clearly a late August scorcher in the Berkshires.

The gig is the first known record of Gary Bartz on soprano and alto sax, who’d replaced Steve Grossman after a 5-month run with the septet. Evident within the first few moments of his “Directions” solo, Bartz meshed with the band impeccably and would remain with Miles for the next two years – the ensemble’s longest-serving reed player until Miles’ hiatus in 1975.

Notably, this is also the band’s second to last performance with Chick Corea and Dave Holland onboard, and the final recording of Corea on Fender Rhodes, as both he and Jarrett would perform on somewhat oddball loaner keyboards at the penultimate Isle of Wight gig.

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8.2.1970 Nassau, Bahamas

This brief, but complete tape from the CBS Records Convention in the Bahamas is a bit of an anomaly. The septet performed a truncated set to an audience of CBS Records personnel and despite no photos, video, or first-hand accounts of the event, this soundboard recording mysteriously appeared decades after the fact.

Brief sets weren’t uncommon for the band in 1970; they played a lot of festivals and supporting gigs, and even made a couple of TV appearances. This was a different beast: a 25-minute show for a small audience of invited guests, many of whom were responsible for promoting Miles’ records. The resulting set (young Steve Grossman’s swan song with the band) is an ultra-potent cross-section of nearly everything that made this lineup so exceptional.

Miles with CBS Records head, Clive Davis in 1969
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7.25.1970 Madison Square Garden

On the heels of a mind-melting 8 minutes on the Dick Cavett Show, the Miles Davis septet rolled into Madison Square Garden billed as an “Extra Added Attraction” for headliners Blood, Sweat & Tears. As evidenced by this distant audience tape, the cavernous, likely partially-full boxing arena did the band no favor – even the Times review of the gig called the murky mix a show spoiler.

“…the group’s ensemble passages went rolling and echoing around the vast Garden, covering and re‐covering themselves until they were turned into sludge … Miles Davis and his sextet, who preceded Blood, Sweat and Tears, suffered even more from the amplifying system. Only Mr. Davis’s trumpet succeeded in penetrating the thrumming echos set up by his electrified musicians.”

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