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MILES DAVIS & JOHN COLTRANE: THE FINAL TOUR, Featuring A Panel Discussion With Miki Coltrane, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr., And Steve Berkowitz, Wednesday November 7th 2018

Miki Coltrane, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr

 

Jazz is a spiritual experience, this is an idea that Vince Wilburn Jr., kept evoking during the conversation at the Grammy Museum on Wednesday night. To discuss the new box set ‘Miles Davis & John Coltrane—the Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6.’, the museum had gathered an interesting panel featuring Miki Coltrane (daughter of John Coltrane, singer-songwriter and president of The John & Alice Coltrane foundation), Erin Davis (youngest son of Miles Davis, musician/producer/composer and co-executive of the estate), Vince Wilburn, Jr. (nephew of Miles Davis, accomplished drummer and producer who has both toured and recorded with Miles), and Steve Berkowitz (artist manager, musician, agent, production manager, concert promoter, and five-time GRAMMY-winning producer).

In 1960, John Coltrane went on a final tour with Miles Davis in Europe, and Steve Berkowitz went looking for the best sounding recordings out there to put this collection together and produce a box set of a remarkable collection of music. If the recordings have been out for a long time in different forms and formats, Berkowitz took the time to put the recordings together while working with both estates. Recordings from those 1960 concerts were distributed via small European labels, and sources were found in national recording companies in each country they toured, but they were fortunately brought together through the ‘80s and ‘90s in the same place, France’s INA (National Institute of Audiovisual). ‘We were able to find great sources’ said Berkowitz.

If the names of Coltrane and Davies now command reverence in the jazz world, fascinating things can be said about these recordings. First, the two men were described as ‘ice and fire’, a ‘2-horned paradox’ with a radically different approach and Berkowitz noticed that, in a world where there is currently very little tolerance, it is great to see that people were able to tolerate differences in opinion and in art and still tour together. ‘You can hear it in the music,’ he said, nevertheless their five-year union still resonates today.

Erin Davis, who said he had never heard the material live, ‘I’m not a bootleg guy’ agreed with Miki Coltrane to say the recordings have ‘a real fresh sound’… ‘It’s the clearest audio’, while Vince Wilburn, Jr., who hosts ‘Evolution of the Groove’ on KPFK Radio 90.7FM, added that this music has an impact on his audience, ‘It’s spiritual, it changes people’s lives, it makes people reflect.’

We get the chance to listen to a few excerpts of the box set, in particular, one of these moments when Coltrane was definitively pushing the boundaries of his saxophone lines to its limits. Even for people who understood jazz, there were some expectations, but what they got was much different. In particular, Coltrane’s solos were way different from these expectations, as he was drawing out of the lines of the melody, and going further each time. During the recording, you can hear people whistling, and once you know that whistling is the equivalent of booing in Europe, you realize that he was going in directions nobody was prepared for. But it was even the case in the US, as they narrated an anecdote of a woman who suddenly stood up and screamed ‘Make him stop!’ ‘The reaction tells the story as much as the music’, said Berkowitz

Coltrane was without a doubt the greatest discovery, playing off-scale, always pushing the envelope, but both men were always performing differently of what was recorded and the audiences were not prepared for this.

Berkowitz said he would hope for a jazz musician to seek further, going deeper, and open his soul, but if you are confused and disoriented about these crazy sax solos, don’t count on this Coltrane’s quote from a 1962 interview to completely enlighten you (as it was read by Scott Goldman, the artistic director of the Grammy Museum): ‘I start from one point and go as far as possible. But, unfortunately, I never lose my way, I ‘localize,’ which is to say that I think always in a given space. I rarely think of the whole of a solo, and only very briefly. I always return to the small part of the solo that I was in the process of playing. The harmonies have become for me a kind of obsession.’

Because of this mystery, jazz will always remain a mystery to me, a music both cerebral and visceral, but never twice the same. Miles’ 1959 classic album ‘Kind of Blue’ marked the apex of the collaboration between both men, but for them, it was just another day in the studio, the recording was not a big deal, as they played ‘Kind of Blue’ hundreds of nights and differently each time.

Like two thirsty and hungry men, Miles Davis and John Coltrane never played the same way, they touched the souls of individuals who were not necessarily ready for that sort of revelation as the panel agreed to say. ‘People were not ready to get inside, to unlock the door of the self’. However, the feeling was starting to get unlocked, and this is still true decades later.

 

 

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