Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour

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Sometime around the mid-1980’s, I bought an LP copy of Miles Davis & John Coltrane Live in Stockholm 1960, on the Swedish label Dragon Records. The March 1960 concert featured a stupendous Coltrane solo on the Bronislau Kaper standard “On Green Dolphin Street.” When I used to play the track on air, listeners would call in saying they had to pull over to the side of the road to listen to the amazing music. This album has been a treasure of my collection for the last 30 plus years.

I was thus very interested to see a new Sony Legacy box set called Miles Davis & John Coltrane — The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6with music recorded during a portion of that spring 1960 European tour. The four-CD box features five sets from concerts in Paris, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, using audio from the original radio source (Copenhagen) and the archives of the producers (Paris and Stockholm).

Extended booklet liner notes tell the backstory about these historic performances. This was Miles Davis’s first big European tour with his own group, and it would burnish his celebrity there. For one thing, performances took place in major concert halls to sold-out crowds and not in small, smoke-filled clubs. The real standout of the quintet, however, was John Coltrane, a reluctant participant whom Davis recruited to join the tour at the last minute when vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery backed out due to fear of flying. Coltrane didn’t really want to go, mainly because he had been busy developing his own style as a leader and didn’t want to return to the Davis group as a sideman. In the liner notes, drummer Jimmy Cobb recalls that, “Miles probably talked him into doing it for the last time.”

The opening night of the tour took place at the Olympia in Paris on March 21, 1960. Coltrane plays so wildly that it almost seems as if he’s showing everybody that he doesn’t want to be there at all. While the other band members—pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb—dressed formally in tuxedos, Coltrane only had time to bring along one blue suit and had to borrow a tux. He told Davis that he would be leaving the quintet at the end of the tour. The Olympia crowd jeers and whistles during Coltrane’s solo in the first set. The second set of that night (on CD #2) finds Coltrane more coherent and contained, and the crowd applauds enthusiastically.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane performing at the Olympia in Paris, March 21, 1960. (Photo by Jean-Pierre Leloir courtesy of Sony Music) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The second Paris set is followed on CD #2 by a Copenhagen concert recorded three days later, on March 24 at the Tivolis Koncertsal. In this as well as the other sets, the band repeats much of the same material. What provides interest is a basic element in jazz music—the art of creative improvisation. A song is never played the same way twice, and all the solos are different. Davis is more restrained in Copenhagen, especially on muted trumpet, a sound for which he became famous. The rhythm section of Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb is tight as a drum and serves as a consistent and cohesive backdrop for the group.

For the second stop of the tour, the group played two sets at the Konserthuset in Stockholm on March 22. The third CD of the box captures the concert I first heard years ago on the Dragon Records monaural LP, here with an introduction by tour producer Norman Granz. He names all the musicians individually—which didn’t happen often on the club circuit—and it gave credibility and showed respect for the group.

The fourth CD includes Coltrane’s amazing solo on “On Green Dolphin Street” as well as an interview with journalist Carl-Erik Lindgren, who echoed the thoughts of many listeners by assuming Coltrane’s wild playing came from some sort of inner anger. Coltrane told him he wasn’t angry about anything, just trying out new ideas that he hadn’t completely worked out. This was around the same time that a jazz critic accused Coltrane of playing “anti-jazz.” In retrospect this seems myopic, but many listeners who liked bebop and cool jazz didn’t like ‘Trane’s new style.

Miles Davis & John Coltrane — The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 represents an important piece of jazz history. Despite the title of the set, this is the first legitimate reissue of these recordings. Production credits go to Sony Legacy’s Steve Berkowitz, Blue Note/Mosaic Records guru Michael Cuscuna, and Richard Seidel, former producer at Verve Records. The recorded sound is good concert-hall mono—Europeans used quality microphones and reel-to-reel tape machines. Industry veteran Cuscuna no doubt had something to do with the excellent sound and editing. This is a gem of a set, nicely packaged with great notes and a photo-filled booklet. It’s a must-have for any Davis or Coltrane fan.

Banner image: The Miles Davis Quintet performing at Stadthalle Vienna, Austria on April 6, 1960, courtesy of Sony Music (Photo by Franz Hubmann/Imagno/Getty Images)