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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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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