Miles Davis In Person at The Blackhawk (1961) Fontana Stereo


Selection: Bye bye Blackbird (Fontana Stereo)


Miles Davis (t) Hank Mobley (ts) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d) recorded at “The Blackhawk”, San Francisco, CA, 1st  April 21-2, 1961, Columbia engineer Russ Payne (whose other credits include In a Silent Way and Terry Riley In C)


An “amateur” reviewer on Amazon does such a thorough job, I’ll let them repeat the critical appreciation of the amazing Blackhawk sessions:

” 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.

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.”

I would just say Amen to that.

Vinyl: Fontana Stereo/ Philips pressing

 Vol. 1 – Friday Night At The Blackhawk  STFL.580 (Columbia CL 1669)

Miles-in-Person-at-the-Blackhawk-vol-1-labels final -2000

Vol. 2 – Saturday Night At The Blackhawk  STFL.581 (Columbia CL 1670)


LJC rekindles the mono versus stereo debate, with a head to head comparison between Fontana’s mono and stereo editions (Mono edition previously posted)

Comparethepressing meerkat veegee

Comparethepressing:  Bye Bye Blackbird – the mono edition goes head to head with the stereo. Will there be a “winner”?

reminder – FONTANA STEREO edition

Now hear the FONTANA MONO edition

eMCee VGee says: “the mono gives you a strong firm Miles Davis presence, centre stage, the stereo less prominent Miles Davis, surprising. The mono has an attractive balance that is hard to fault, but the stereo captures the live atmosphere at the Blackhawk better. Nothing wrong with having both“.

ComparetheCover:  join LJC’s Auguste Renoir de Meerkat  (VGee’s seventeenth cousin) for a critical appraisal of the Fontana mono and CBS mono covers:

auguste-renoir-demeerkat“Urgh! If the music sounds the same, the same can not be said about the cover.  Whatever happened to the CBS cover ? It must have  happened to the whole batch, I have seen several, all in the same state – mottled and milky laminate –  the manufacturing process for CBS in this case a disaster. I declare Fontana the winner, by a knockout.”




Collectors Corner

Vol 1 Ebay, and Vol 2 record store

The CBS versions are commonplace and even with the Philips pressed Fontana, many copies in circulation are mono. This is a record prone to wear and tear, because anyone with any taste will have played it to death – the same problem as with Bill Evans records. Assembling the set of both Fontana volumes in stereo and in very good condition has taken some time, but it’s worth it. Time to move on to the Columbia originals?

The Evil Silver Disk


Just a mention for the completist and lover of bonus tracks, the CD box set (two double CDs) issued by Sony on 2003 has the full unedited Friday and Saturday night sets. Oddly, the full length Bye Bye Blackbird appears only in Friday Night’s second set,and a number of other songs are exclusive to each particular night, so it’s worth owning the evil silver disk, of course remastered for CD by Sony. Perhaps some day its worth  auditioning the CD against the vinyl (if only as a reminder of how effortlessly superior the presentation of vinyl is). However, never mind the quality, experience the quantity. The entire Friday Night session, or Saturday Night session, exactly as they occurred. That is something special in itself. In the saying attributed to Stalin: quantity has a quality all of its own.


More editions, more opinions pouring in:

Put this one on my list for Santa: Mosiac multiple vinyl box set.


And this of course Columbia mono original six-eye:


AND the Dutch Fontana with alternative cover:


Any more?

29 thoughts on “Miles Davis In Person at The Blackhawk (1961) Fontana Stereo

  1. I have the original 6 eye Columbia 2 LP set in stereo. Got it at a record store in my area. They wanted $35 for it, but it had a pretty big scratch along one of the sides, so I got them down to $30. Sure enough, it played through without a sound. Resilient vinyl Columbia made back in the day. And it sounds pretty clean, too. Great score for an original. And usually I prefer mono for a lot of jazz releases, but this just sounds right in stereo, like you’re there at The Blackhawk, watching Miles and the band tear it up. There is also an audiophile reissue on a label called Impex records (formerly Cisco records) of the 2 LP set, which supposedly sounds good, but goes for upwards of $50. For that price, you might be better off finding an original in decent shape.


  2. Interesting comparison here. I have a US 60s two-eye CBS stereo pressing. It’s a two-fer including both nights. I can safely say that it is one of the most incredible sounding live LPs that I have. The soundstage is perfect !! If you find one, grab it.


  3. Let me just ask a non musical question that’s got me thinking: does anybody out there know who this woman is on the cover? As on the classic E.S.P. album (Miles’ wife, Fran, ran away from him after the session, as the story goes),it seems like Columbia people somehow wanted to hint at Miles’ tumultuous relationship with women. It’s hard not to notice the dominant figure of Miles towering over a cowering woman in the bottom left corner of the frame.
    Am i really overreacting here or was there some kind of savvy marketing decision behind this cover?
    Be that as it may, the music is eternal.


  4. I have Friday Night on Fontana stereo which is very nice with a lovely ambiance and intimate feel. I’m amazed, though, by how much I like the mono on this rip – all the component parts are up in the mix producing a fuller sound to my ears.
    I recently chanced upon the Saturday night session on a Columbia 6-eye stereo pressing on eBay. Surprisingly for both myself and the seller I was the only bidder.
    Having never heard an original 6-eye before I was astonished – it’s like being at the venue.
    I think, though, of the two, the Friday night session is probably the stronger particularly where Mobley is concerned. On Saturday he seems somehow less confident.
    Don’t get me wrong I think Mobley is a great musician and composer but I can understand why Miles didn’t dig what he doing in this band.
    Miles had created a very edgy, brittle sound with his rhythm sections which was perfect for his rather austere, spacious sense of timing where he largely played on the beat.
    Mobley played a little bit behind the beat for the most part perhaps eradicating the tension and thrust that Coltrane, for instance, had provided.
    What I think is disappointing about the Mobley addition to the Miles’ band was that his excellent compositional skills were never put to good use.
    Mobley, along with Blue Note stablemates, Sonny Clark and Kenny Dorham wrote some superb melodies.
    Miles was perhaps intimidated by this so that’s why he didn’t use masterpieces such Funk in Deep Freeze as part of the repertoire with Mobley.


  5. Too right about the CBS cover going all milky etc. Their vinyl however sounds excellent making them a bit of a bargain given their sonic excellence. I missed out on the Mosaic and I too would be interested how it compares. The other Mosaic Miles boxes are excellent.


  6. I think it always did a disservice to Mobley that Leonard Feather labeled him as the ‘middleweight champion’ of the tenor sax. As this piece in the Guardian so aptly puts it, Feather’s intention may have been in describing Mobley’s tone when comparing it to other tenor players but that certainly has never been the way it’s taken. I’m not sure this issue been discussed before on a previous entry of yours, LJC, but if so apologies if it’s too repetitive. Here’s the piece I read in the Guardian about Mobley:

    As for the album, I have ‘Saturday Night’ on the original 6-eye mono which of course sounds stellar. I also have ‘Friday Night’ but on the later Columbia limited edition. That’s one not as bad as I was expecting it to be but still pales in comparison to the original I’m afraid.


    • Bob, I think that may have been the case at the time and immediately after LF’s comments, but certainly since the mid-80s it has been common place to put those words into context. It’s been a long time – if ever – that I have seen Mobley denigrated by these words. I think all serious fans of jazz realise what a master of his instrument he is.
      In the context of his place in the Miles group he has suffered far more from Miles’ own put-downs, which I have had repeated to me by people who saw this version of the band live.


      • Dean, thanks for the comments. I certainly have always felt Mobley to be an incredible player and consider myself a serious jazz fan and tenor player (albeit amateur) myself. Judging by the number of fans Hank Mobley has and what his LPs always fetch, it is evident LF’s comments were taken with a grain of salt by other serious jazz fans as well. Also, that is pretty interesting about the comments Miles made about Mobley which I can’t begin to understand but that was Miles I guess. Cool too that you know folks that were at those amazing live performances.


        • One aspect of that abuse may have been Mobley’s quiet, reclusive and private personality. For example, he would often sit in his car smoking prior to a gig, come on stage right at the start, and play without too much talking. Someone like Miles would see that vulnerability a mile away and pick it apart without even trying.


    • People make a living in art, music and others to compare people to other people!
      Find it personally a mild waste of time; Hank Mobley, Lucky Thompson were great tenor saxophone players; Mobley composed a lot of great songs. Why to compare him to others??
      Sit back, take a glass of red wine, smoke if you like and put the speakers at max and relax and enjoy their great music.

      Bought some great japanese vinyls of Hank Mobley on a Brussels fleamarket for 10 euros each in 1999. Still deeply regret I didnot bought more, however money was short.
      So please do listen more to Hank Mobley and my favorite song: I should Care on the album: An Other Workout from Blue Note


      • Ton, I agree with you and believe me, I certainly never let any of that stuff get in the way of my enjoyment of the music! For example, I recently discovered Harold Land on a friend’s tip and found that I really enjoyed his playing – even if he may have been overlooked by alot of folks and the critics may have had something to say about him (not even sure what it was they said since didn’t bother to even find out). I don’t have that Mobley album you mentioned yet, but will be sure to add it to my ever-growing vinyl wanted list…


        • Bob, I’m very glad Harold Land caught your attention. Chances are that you’ve never heard the things he played with Clifford Brown. An absolute must. There was so much excellent music played in those early days of hard bop. Later on, the style got more and more boring and repetitive.


          • Yes my friend who tipped me off about Land said that the stuff he did with Clifford Brown and also Curtis Counce is very good. I only own “Harold in the Land of Jazz” and a later recording he did w/ Bobby Hutcherson (“Total Eclipse”) but I’ve certainly enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. Have been keeping an eye out on Ebay for more of his stuff. Thanks!


            • Bob
              a great Harold Land album is ‘The Peacemaker’ on Cadet. This features the band with Hutcherson, and is completely acoustic (some of those sessions included electric piano. I like those, but they’re not to some people’s taste). Some great modal moments.


              • Dean, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll look for that Land album too. Tough to come across his LPs in stores (at least the ones near me sadly) so it’ll probably end up being an online purchase.


                • A fine record this one, made at a time when something like “fusion“ was just beginning to be perceived by the jazz public. I remember seeing the Gary Burton Quartet with Roy Haynes in person in March 1968. Miles was to do “In A Silent Way“ and “Bitches Brew“ the following year. Those were the days, indeed.


  7. I am not too familiar with these recordings (never took the time to listen attentively) , but thought that the advantage of the Mosaic (vinyl) box (in stereo only) is to have the complete tracks as played those evenings, without the solos of Hank amputated or shortened as is the case on the first issue Columbias and Fontanas . I had both C2L- 20 and CL 1694 and 1695. I put the latter two on EBay a year ago. They sold for the entry price, no bidding battle.
    I prefer the Dutch Fontana issues to the U.K. Fontanas because of the alternative cover art.


  8. I have both Friday & Saturday nights on a Double album gate fold Columbia red 6 eye C2L-20 (CL 1694 & CL 1695) have you come across one of these before or is the original you are searching for?


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