The Year: 1958
The Place: Paris, France
The artist: Miles Davis.
The Film: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, (English: Elevator To The Gallows) directed by Louis Malle.
Nineteen fifty-eight was a very special year.
But let's go back. a year earlier. Miles Davis was at a musical crossroads even contemplating retirement. He needed something different, something new. None of the projects his label and management suggested were of interest at the time. He did settle on recordings with Gil Evans which would turn into a 5 album collaboration over the next few years. Albums who's style would also be informed and influenced by the experience Miles would soon gain.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're still stuck in 1957 and miles is still "stuck" in his predicament. In November 1957 He travelled to France at the invitation of film director, Louis Malle, and was asked to compose the soundtrack for the director's first feature length film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Miles had never recorded a soundtrack before - let alone been asked to compose the score.
Perhaps with nothing to lose or perhaps nothing to be gained, Miles launched himself forward. He had an interest in modal jazz and was at the vanguard of that movement which was just being developed in the mid 1950s. With Miles success, it would be a guaranteed influence on generations to come. Miles was totally free. Free from the expectations that had come to fall on him from the jazz world. Film Director, Louis Malle, has suggested that he and Miles only discussed a few ideas before recording started in December 4, 1957. Miles was joined by French jazz musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and American drummer Kenny Clarke. Nothing was written down (composed). Nothing was planned.
The musicians sat in a darkened studio and watched the film unfold. With Miles leadership they completely improvised the score to the film based solely on the mood in the film. A film that would be a star vehicle for the smokey and dreamy Jeanne Moreau. It is a pure delight to listen to the different takes of the various themes as they each reflect the freedom of complete improvisation with nothing tied to paper. With no distractions or expectations Miles created a sound that would lead to some of his greatest work in the years to come. Coloring both his collaborations with Gil Evans but also having a huge influence on his solo recordings starting with MILESTONES (1958) and A KIND OF BLUE (1959) (arguably his greatest solo record). I'd go so far as to say that these albums would not have existed if it hadn't been for his experience in creating the score for this film.
I'd strongly encourage you to purchase a copy of the complete recordings of this amazing soundtrack Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.
Listen to what would be a nursery for the development of a new sound, new approach and new way of thinking about Jazz for generations to come.
2 thoughts on “The most fortuitous album in Jazz?”
I always have this album on my phone. it’s my fave Miles Davis album.
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yeah it is a fabulous album. Glad you like. 🙂
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