Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix

My mom bought me the Miles Davis box set, The Cellar Door Sessions for my birthday a couple years ago.

The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (Miles Davis)
“The Cellar Door Sessions 1970” (Miles Davis)

In reading the liner notes, I was struck by the thought that one of the greatest musical tragedies of the early 70s was that Jimi Hendrix never got to make an album with Miles Davis. They had talked about it at some length apparently, with Keith Jarrett, and maybe Michael Henderson and the rest of Miles Davis’ crack funk-jazz band of this era, but they never got around to actually recording/playing before Hendrix died, at least that I’m aware of.

Electric Ladyland
Electric Ladyland

Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland1 remains one of my favorite albums, especially in the moody, jazzed up sections. However, Hendrix received so many accolades for being a bad-ass guitar wizard that I think he allowed himself to get lazy in subsequent years, playing down to (or occasionally up to) the level of his jam buddies. If Hendrix and Miles Davis had recorded an album, there would have been no way that Miles, as serious a musician as has ever been born in the States, would have accepted anything other than stellar work, and Hendrix would have obliged.

The Cellar Door sessions

This music reveals a truly muscular Miles Davis at the top of his form as an improviser and as a bandleader with the most intense and nearly mystical sense of the right place-the right time-the right lineup. These shows, played in a club instead of a concert hall, provided a virtual laboratory for possibilities Davis was exploring. The money for the gig was nearly non-existent compared to what he was used to making playing halls, so he paid the band out of his own pocket.

..What happens as the band plays each night is that the sense of adventure grows, while the utter relaxation and confidence in each member is carried through to Davis who pushes the buttons and in strange, nearly wordless ways, communicates what he wants on-stage, and the other players give it to him. There are so few rough moments here where someone drops a line or doesn’t quite make it; when it does happen on that rare occasion, some other member picks it up and goes with it. And DeJohnette’s drumming, in his virtual mind-lock with Henderson, is some of the best playing of his career.

Hendrix would have fit right in. A real tragedy this collaboration never occurred.

  1. aka Electric Dylan Lad []

7 thoughts on “Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix

  1. Evan says:

    Oh I agree completely…total shame.

  2. bernard says:

    Miles and Jimi did play together I think at woodstock ny where jimi was living before the concert. they were about to record an album and Miles manager wanted 50k so it didnt happen.Im sorry I cant name the source . Its in a 2010 magazine Ive got somewhere. Possibly Uncut or Mojo.

  3. yes, I think I read that too (in either Uncut or Mojo, if I run across the source, I’ll append it). Too bad Hendrix didn’t have control of his own money enough to write Miles a check…

  4. BR says:

    Hendrix never got lazy in his later years. When he was playing with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell that was the tighests arrangment in Rock. Listen to Rays of The New Rising Sun album that he was working on when he died. Those arrangements were incredibly complex (six guitar parts on Night Bird Flying…and that all came out of Hendrix’s head to make it work). Eddie Kramer his Engineer since the experience days said that this last years at Electric Lady Land Studious was the most creative phase of his career. Watch the performances…he wasn’t playing with his teeth or any of that shit anymore. According to Mitch and Billy both, most of the songs that they were playing at those shows had not even been layed down yet (hence improsisation and experimentation in the moment). They were using the stage to experiment and to see what the audience thought of the direction they were going in. Those songs on that posthumoustly released album they were finishing up were incredibly complex arrangements and they all came from Jimi’s head. He was a fucking genius. Download the album from itunes and watch the documentary that comes with it. Eddie, Mitch, and Billy talk about it and Eddie walks you through the arrangments on the sound board. Fucking brilliant!

    The lyrics also reflect that we wanted to turn shit arround and get his head straight…so sad the he was never able to.

  5. Perhaps lazy is the wrong word – but I’ve heard so many sub-par live and live-in-studio recordings of Hendrix in his later years. Who knows if he would have released them in that state.

    No question he was a genius.

  6. BR says:

    They *weren’t* released (or arranged and recorded) in that state. Last Rays of the New Rising Sun was pretty much the album he going to release before he died. Nothing subpar about it. It was just a complete 180 from Foxy Lady days that many people don’t get it.

    The music is not exactly rock in many cases…very contemporary different kind of music…some of it 70’s funck oriented…Curtis Mayfield type sounds in some of it…Just totally different…being the pioneer he was, unfortunately folks wanted purple haze and voodoo chile (great song), but he was an explorer and and artist and the world was changing and he was forging his own new kind of music for that world.

    Incredibly coherent and far more complex arrangements than anything he’d done previously, but it is a different kind of music…so naturally some can’t wrap thier heads around that kind of change when they have expections are for something else.

    Anybody who’s been in a studio knows that you lay down scratch tracks and stuff when your working things out and those sound subpar because they are supposed to.

    As for the live performances, like Billy and Mitch say in the documentary they were playing new material that they still hadn’t worked out in the studio completely and they were just jamming and experiementing on stage the way they were in the studio…hence jams that go off occassionally mixed with moments of brilliance.

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