Jazz Album of the Week: Miles Davis and John Coltrane, The 1960 Final Tour

Sep 20, 2019

September 23, 2019. Imagine Sting playing just one more sold-out gig with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers as The Police. Or maybe Alexander Hamilton and George Washington getting together to teach the new country they built how to say goodbye, just "one last time."

If Miles Davis and John Coltrane—The Final Tour is any indication, not all fantasies of unlikely artistic reunions need be consigned to oblivion, even if the artists, corporeally speaking, have been.

Long live posthumous releases, because this Sony compilation captures the two most iconic performers in the history of jazz performing live together, in venues across Western Europe, for the final time.

And here's a great reason to add this very special 4-CD set to your collection:

Contribute to WRTI at the $240 level or $20/month during the Fall Member Drive —and we'll thank you with Miles Davis and John Coltrane—The Final Tour.

It was the spring of 1960; John Coltrane had been playing with Miles Davis’ band for the past five years and had evolved, taking giant steps some might say, from an unknown sideman who rarely soloed into…John Coltrane.

It’s no stretch to submit that Coltrane wouldn’t have become Coltrane playing with anyone other than Miles. That group together—Miles, Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums), Cannonball Adderley (alto sax)—enabled John Coltrane to find his voice…and use it. Cobb once told The New Yorker that, by the end of his tenure with Davis, Trane “would play an hour solo himself…[when] we were only supposed to be on the stand for forty minutes or something.”

But by early 1960, Coltrane was itching to leave the nest. Cannonball had embarked the previous fall, and with the commercial and critical success of Blue Train and Giant Steps already in his rearview, Coltrane knew that his day as a leader had come.

So when Miles asked him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” European tour in the spring of ’60, Coltrane flat didn’t want to. Trane recommended a young Wayne Shorter to serve as the tenor-man in his stead—and, in fact, Miles did eventually hire Shorter; Shorter would replace George Coleman as the quintet’s tenor in 1964—but Miles wanted someone who knew the group’s charts.

He wanted Coltrane.

And in order to get him, it seems—after listening—that the two giants had reached what I’d have to imagine was a sort of tacit understanding: It would be Davis’ band, but Coltrane would be out front more than ever before.

Coltrane’s playing, chordally and harmonically, was taking on musical character not before heard from a saxophonist. It was a new sound; it descended upon you and enveloped you—Coltrane’s famed “sheets of sound” style was born.

Miles is brilliant, of course. But this moment in time was about Coltrane playing with fire and fury, bravado and perhaps a tinge of machismo-infused rebelliousness.

The take of “On Green Dolphin Street,” from the Olympia Theatre in Paris (disc one), showcases the manner of genius Coltrane is beginning to display with more and more regularity by this time. Weaving one technical story after another, he wails, he screeches, he belches expressionistically in the lower register in a manner that presages the kinds of avant-garde sensibilities that would come to characterize late-stage Coltrane.

But here, Coltrane’s space-walks remain tethered to the chordal structure, whereas in later Coltrane works, he’d experiment by going all Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

The “So What” from the next night in Stockholm is nearly as mesmerizing, with Coltrane actually starting off what is arguable Davis’ most famous composition with a dizzying sheets of sound-style solo that is an exhilarating form of blasphemy in itself.

With Coltrane’s 93rd birthday celebrations underway and continuing through the week, this incredible four-disc set presents the perfect opportunity to actually hear the moments when John Coltrane became a truly international superstar.