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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7.22.1970 The Dick Cavett Show

Though the exact recording date remains a mystery (it was likely filmed between July 19-22, 1970), this performance of “Directions” from the Dick Cavett show aired on July 22nd to what was surely a gobsmacked television audience. Until footage is released from the ABC Television archive, this low-fi recording is all that remains.

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7.6.1970 Central Park

Miles returned to the Wollman Rink in Central Park for the 1970 Schaefer Beer Music Festival nearly a year to the day his quintet performed on the same stage. The Miles Davis septet shared the bill with the Buddy Miles Big Band for matinee and late sets at 7 and 9:30pm, and while there’s no indication of which set this audience recording captures, it’s an absolute thrill to hear this band blast a summer festival crowd with a performance so bold it borders on confrontational.

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6.17 – 6.20.1970 Fillmore East

Following a late April swing through the Bay Area and five hyper-productive sessions at Columbia B (Miles’ last studio dates until March ’72), the Miles Davis Septet returned to the Fillmore East for a four-night stand opening for Laura Nyro – the band’s first performances with Keith Jarrett in tow. While Miles’ previous pairing at the Fillmore East opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse was undoubtedly more explosive, this lineup was a bit more strategic. Miles had dropped in on Nyro’s session for the New York Tindaberry LP in June of ’69, so there was a clear mutual appreciation, plus Nyro’s audience gave Miles the broad exposure he sought from these Fillmore shows.

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4.24.1970 Greek Theater, Berkeley

Just 12 days after blowing minds at the Fillmore West, the Miles Davis sextet dove back into the festival circuit with an afternoon set at the University of California Jazz Fest in Berkeley. Did the band hang out in the bay area between gigs; did they drop in and jam at Keystone Korner; maybe check out Vince Guaraldi or a Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders gig at the Matrix? Nobody knows.

One thing’s for sure, this incomplete tape sounds as though it was recorded from deep inside the denim jacket of a squirrely undergrad. While that probably makes this one for completists only, it’s also the last document of the sextet before Keith Jarrett would join on electric organ.

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4.9 – 4.12.1970 Fillmore West

Having sized up Bill Graham’s Fillmore audience with two nights at Fillmore East the month prior, the Miles Davis sextet arrived at Fillmore West well-prepared for a four-night run opening for the Grateful Dead. They were also riding high on the release Bitches Brew, unleashed just days prior on March 30th, and by all accounts were fully intent on upstaging, outplaying, and straight-up out-psychedelicizing the Dead with nightly mind-melting sets.

Bassist Phil Lesh recalls his reaction to the April Fillmore West shows in his memoir, Searching for Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead

As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking, “What’s the use? How can we possibly play after this? We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.

Like most of Miles’ Fillmore gigs, all four nights were recorded, with the evening of April 11th memorialized on the Columbia double LP, Black Beauty.

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3.6 + 3.7.1970 Fillmore East

Shortly after the Bitches Brew sessions, Columbia head Clive Davis introduced Miles Davis to Bill Graham, rock impresario and owner of the Fillmore East and Fillmore West. These two nights at Fillmore East were the first of five residencies Miles’ sextet/septet performed at Graham’s East & West venues through 1971 for a total of 20 sets (at least by my count). The fact that he accepted Graham’s rate of $1500 instead of his typical $5000 per performance indicates just how dedicated Miles was to expanding his audience at the time.

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2.21.1970 Ann Arbor

1970 wasn’t just a pivotal year in the Miles Davis electric timeline – it was a universe away from what the quintet was up to just 4 months prior. Three main factors contributed to the drastic change in tone: Dave Holland switched over to electric bass, Chick Corea began running the Fender Rhodes signal through both an Oberheim ring modulator and Echoplex tape delay, and Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Airto Moreira joined the live lineup. The effect was stunning: a deeper, harder, more complex groove, and a sonic palette that would blow the minds of the headiest psychedelic warrior.

As if those changes weren’t significant enough to mark a clear change in direction, Miles added John McLaughlin on guitar for this February date at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. Though the soundboard tape trims “Directions” from the start of the set and the mix is pretty out of whack (“Sanctuary”, “Bitches Brew” and “Masqualero” peak out severely, so watch your headphone volume), the performance is as incredible as you’d expect.

February 21, 1970
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11.9.1969 Rotterdam

While the band closed out 1969 with a multi-night stand in Toronto and a pair of residencies at the Village Gate, this final stop on the European tour is the last known document of the Miles Davis Lost Quintet. Following large band studio sessions on November 19th and 28th, Miles began experimenting with an expanded live lineup – bringing guitarist Sonny Greenwich along for a few Toronto dates, making percussionist Airto Moreira a permanent fixture at the start of the year, and adding John McLaughlin for at least one gig in early 1970. And of course, Wayne Shorter would take his leave in the spring after 6 years by Miles’ side.

But first, Rotterdam. Maybe I was a bit premature in praising the Berlin gig as the quintet’s best of the year, because this show is every bit as good. Being the final night of a long tour, the band is both tighter and more playful than ever. Plus, the radio broadcast recording is phenomenal to boot – even Holland’s bass comes through loud and clear, which can’t be said for many of these ‘69 tapes.

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