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  • Rich Kassirer

Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead, April 1970

I recently came across a new posting on Wolfgang’s Vault of an old recording of a Miles Davis concert from 1970 at Fillmore West in San Francisco. The concert was one of a series of dates from April 9-12 where Miles and his electric band opened for the Grateful Dead. The recording (available at HERE) reminded me of some of my favorite quotes from the various musicians on stage for those shows.

The concerts are well-documented and historically relevant as Miles, already a jazz legend for pioneering modal music with “Kind of Blue” and much more, had just released the ground-breaking rock-fusion album “Bitches Brew” and was trying to capture some of the success of Jimi Hendrix by playing to larger and younger audiences in rock arenas.

So instead of the usual polite clap-after-solo crowds of the jazz clubs, Miles and his band – Steve Grossman on soprano sax, Chick Corea, electric piano, Dave Holland, electric bass?, Jack DeJohnette, drums, and Airto Moreira, percussion – took their crazy, electric jazz-rock to the drug-induced, dancing hippies known as Deadheads.

The Dead’s following was used to long and winding songs, with trippy guitar solos lasting as long as 20 minutes. But how would they respond to a wildly honking Miles Davis trumpet and the non-lyrical accompaniment of the “Bitches Brew” tunes?

Here’s Airto, from “The Miles Davis Radio Project” show, with his recollections: “The audience, they were rock ‘n’ rollers, they were totally crazy. Everybody was on acid. They would dance to anything. … We would play this very complex stuff, like rlrrlrlrlah, it was like a ramble kind of thing, and the people they were dancing, they were rolling on the floor.”

The members of the Grateful Dead couldn’t fathom having the great Miles Davis open shows for them.

In his autobiography, “Searching for the Sound,’’ Phil Lesh writes, “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.’ ”

Later, Lesh would say he has never listened to the tapes of his band playing that night – too worried that they sounded terrible. To this day, he is still embarrassed that Miles Davis opened for the Dead.

If you’re a Miles Davis fan, I highly recommend The Miles Davis Radio Project. It’s a series of eight segments that documents the life of Miles, with interviews from everyone from jazz greats to Joni Mitchell. Check it out HERE.

Also visit Wolfgang’s Vault for a whole bunch of really cool, old recordings, from the Doors to the Allman Brothers to Steve Miller and a lot more. Click HERE

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