Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Miles Davis in Paris

Miles Davis, photographed in 1957, the year he went to Paris and recorded the soundtrack for the French film Ascenseur pour l'├ęchafaud.

Yeah, it's another Miles Davis post.  I like Miles Davis.  

So what?

Miles Davis loved Paris.

He first visited there in 1949, when he played as a sideman as part of the Tadd Dameron Quintet at the Paris International Jazz Festival.

He felt that black people were better treated in France than in America, and he said his trip "changed the way I looked at things forever."  He began an affair with the French actress Juliette Greco, a relationship that lasted many years.  

In November 1957, Davis was in Paris, playing club dates.  He was approached by the assistant to the French film director, Louis Malle.  

Malle had made a noir crime film, Ascenseur pour l'├ęchafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), about two lovers who plan to kill the woman's husband.  It was the 24-year-old Malle's first feature film.  Before that, he had made underwater films for Jacques Cousteau.

Malle invited Davis to record the soundtrack, and after watching a private screening of the film, Davis agreed.  I imagine Davis saw an enthusiastic young kid who had made a movie, and took pity on him.  

Film critic for the New Yorker, Richard Brody has said Davis's soundtrack: 

"is worth hearing entirely on its own.  It’s better than the film itself, by far, and there are better ways to hear it than in the movie - namely, by listening to a CD that features the entire studio sessions from which the score was edited."

Enjoy "Generique," from the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l'├ęchafaud:





On December 4, Davis brought the four local sidemen who were playing the club dates with him into a recording studio.  He had scratched together some chord progressions in his hotel room.  

With only that to go on, the group improvised music while scenes from the movie were projected against the wall.  The resulting soundtrack was released in France along with the movie in 1958.

It was released in the United States as Side One of the compilation album Jazz Track in November 1959, likely to capitalize on the roaring success of Kind of Blue, released earlier that year.   

Side Two of Jazz Track were previously unreleased songs by the same sextet that recorded Kind of Blue.

The haunting "Generique" (the first song on the movie soundtrack) is representative of the music Davis was making in the years just before the recording of Kind of Blue.  


A public relations photograph, nominally from the recording of the Miles Davis soundtrack for Elevator to the Gallows, December 1957.  From left to right, bass player Pierre Michelot, saxophonist Barney Wilen, female star of the movie Jeanne Moreau, and Miles Davis.      


Words of Wisdom

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

- Miles Davis


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