Miles Davis in Person at the Blackhawk Vol1 Friday Night (1961) Fontana

Track Selection: Walkin’


Track Selection 2: Bye Bye Blackbird

(The Amazon review post cited below made me listen again, and it reminded me, crikey Mobley was on top form that night, better than I have heard in many other sessions. I have added it to the post. He knows he is not Coltrane, but he is driven to show he can deliver too, in a wonderfully fluid sequence of solos. And yes, the guy in the audience can be heard clearly calling “Bravo! Bravo!” at the end, honouring the performance. To have been there…It is a great piece, a truly classic recording, which delivers all five of your recommended five-a-day)


Miles Davis (tp) Hank Mobley (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d) recorded at “The Blackhawk”, San Francisco, CA,  April 21, 1961


Fabulous live atmosphere, turn the lights down, open a bottle, enjoy. Miles, great, but the bonus is Mobley and Wynton Kelly, a classic live session over two nights, released in two volumes, Friday Night Vol1 and Saturday Night Vol2. For some inexplicable reason Volume 1 has been much harder to find.

An “amateur” review of the complete set CD on Amazon gets the juices flowing:

” For me, this “transitional” group between Miles’ first great quintet with Coltrane and second with Shorter is the equal of the first ensemble and more satisfying than the second. Miles’ chops were never better, and as if to make up for the absence of Coltrane, he plays with uncharacteristic fire and pyrotechnic flare. Jimmy Cobb has by now erased the memory of Philly Joe and fits in perfectly with Chambers and Kelly. No rhythm section ever achieved a greater sense of vitality and vibrancy within the conventional 4/4 walking-bass pattern of mainstream modern jazz. (Many drummers would do well to listen just to Cobb’s ride cymbal, noting how little else is required to keep the music fresh and flowing.)

But for me the most compelling reason for owning the set is Hank Mobley, whose innate lyricism blossoms to a degree not possible on his Blue Note/Van Gelder recordings. His sound is present but never “boosted”; it’s close and personal but at the same time totally natural, in keeping with the spacious acoustics favored by the Columbia engineers. And his playing in this musical context is so heartfelt and inspired, not to mention melodically inventive, that I can’t help but rethink Miles’ later published criticisms of him: perhaps Miles considered him less a drag on the group than a personal threat.

His solo on “Blackbird” is simply astonishing, a rare example of a musician willing to take every risk and hold nothing back in an unguarded, naked pursuit of all the beauty the moment is capable of yielding. Following two choruses by Miles, Mobley goes to work, through four inspired choruses, each phrase exceeding the previous in imagination and intensity until reaching a climax that is not so much arbitrary as the natural outcome of the musical journey itself. For me, it ranks with Coltrane’s “I Want To Talk About You” and Dexter’s “Body and Soul.” Nothing seems the least bit contrived, formulaic, or played for effect (though I’m emotionally spent after each listening)….Best of all, at the end of Mobley’s “Blackbird” solo you can hear someone in the audience shout “Bravo” three times. I’d like to meet that person, if only to express my thanks.”

“Bye bye Blackbird” is on this volume, though my initial track selection was “Walkin'” . I left the rave review in to remind myself to go listen, and I liked it so much I have updated the post with it. The reference to RVG/Blue Note is something you might expect from someone who listens primarily to remastered jazz on CD. Go head to head on vinyl – original Blue Note wipes the floor with has a slight edge on Columbia.

Vinyl: Fontana TFL 5163 original 1961 release

Fontana/Philips are very nice pressings. Original liner notes by San Francisco’s  Ralph Gleason ( he of the Red Garland / Rojo  blues dedication). Cover scores high as it looks to me like Miles is about to light a cigarette. The lady in the picture is Miles second wife to be, Frances Taylor.

According to historian Robin Keeley, (cited in Wiki) the  iconic image of Davis helped to demonstrate that Davis was a product and representation of “a masculine culture that aspired to be like a pimp, that embraced the cool performative styles of the players (pronounced ‘playas’), the ‘macks,’ the hustlers, who not only circulated in the jazz world but whose walk and talk also drew from the well of black music“.  Masculinity defined as Pimp Aesthetic, familiar enough territory through to the visual culture of modern rap (pronouncedcrap’)

You have the cultural antithesis, the “pimp” who controls the woman and profits from her work, possibly believing his share is justified by “protecting her”, and the “client” who is a loser who has to pay to get laid. Its a strange heirarchy, in which the real hero would be the one who gets a job, so his lady no longer has to work on her back. But that would involve getting out of bed before noon.  No doubt there are other interpretations.

Purchase Tax code O/T nails it as manufactured 1961-2, though it already says that on the label, “Recording first published in 1961”. This original pressing was followed a few years later with a repress on CBS orange label, sonically indistinguishable, both pressed by Philips

UK Philips pressing (420):

Source: eBay

Sellers Description:

“in good condition with a few minor scuffs and scratches”

The seller failed to answer a request for more detail about the condition before auction close, I bid anyway, as a result of which, all of £3,  the seller came back and offered to let me have the record for free in return for a few tips on how to sell jazz vinyl on eBay. I was delighted to oblige, myself being not short of a few words on the subject.

The real reason I was searching for the Fontana original is that my previous copy of Volume 1, the slightly later pressing by CBS, has an atrocious cover lamination fault (seen right). It must have been a batch fault as other CBS copies seem to have the same problem, where the surface lamination has turned into a horrid translucent grey film. A nice cover worthy of the session is essential.

There is an (out of print) CD set of the Blackhawk sessions with more material, spread over four CDs, which gives you an idea of how much was left out of the initial vinyl editions. However I am not sure I could take listening to the entire two nights of performance in one sitting. It might just require opening another bottle or two, possibly more.

Postscript: The London Sh-cool of Music Criticism, graduate course in Total Bullshit (from a Miles biography):

What is cool? At its very essence, cool is all about what’s happening next. In popular culture, what’s happening next is a kaleidoscope encompassing past, present and future: that which is about to happen may be cool, and that which happened in the distant past may also be cool. This timeless quality, when it applies to music, allows minimalist debate – with few exceptions, that which has been cool will always be cool”

You just know when somebody is writing rubbish, don’t you?

3 thoughts on “Miles Davis in Person at the Blackhawk Vol1 Friday Night (1961) Fontana

  1. Hi LJC I just found the Columbia 6 eye version in my collection and it has both nights so a double album rather than 2 volumes and the cover is nice and shiny! I also found Miles Ahead Miles Davis +19 on Columbia 6 eye, Miles Davis & Carnegie Hall 1961 Columbia 2 eye, Seven Steps to Heaven Columbia 2 eye, Sketches of Spain in Mono on Fontana, Have you got any of these yet or still looking? I also have some later Miles that may be of interest Miles in the Sky, Basic Miles, Miles Davis Live all on Columbia and Miles Davis Live in Europe on Embassy EMB 31103?

  2. LJC:
    Best review of a great record. It’s too late to congratulate Miles and the group for the performance, but it’s not too late to give you a hand for a great job in presenting it.

  3. Beautiful record…so great to hear this important group live. This may be my favorite version/era of the quintet, but I really do like all of it quite a bit–depends on my mood I guess.

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