Miles Davis: Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud

The Songs:

  1. Générique
  2. L’Assassinat De Carala
  3. Sur L’Autoroute
  4. Julien Dans L’Ascenseur
  5. Florence Sur Les Champs-Élysées
  6. Dîner Au Motel
  7. Évasion De Julien
  8. Visite Du Vigile
  9. Au Bar Du Petit Bac
  10. Chez Le Photographe Du Motel

Personnel:

  • Miles Davis – trumpet
  • Barney Wilen – tenor saxophone
  • René Urtreger – piano
  • Pierre Michelot – bass
  • Kenny Clarke – drums

In 1957, the great French film director Louis Malle was completing a film noir work, Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, (known as “Elevator to the Gallows” or “Frantic” in the U.S. and “Lift to the Scaffold” in Great Britain), starring Jeanne Moreau . Malle’s assistant was a devoted jazz fan who suggested Miles Davis for the soundtrack. Miles was in Paris in late 1957, appearing with a group of sidemen that included American expatriate and Modern Jazz Quartet founding drummer Kenny Clarke, who Miles had played with frequently during his days as a sideman with Charlie Parker. After viewing a screening of the film, Miles agreed to the project and brought his quintet into the studio for two days of recording in early December.

Miles with Jeanne Moreau

The recording sessions became a testing ground for Miles’ masterwork album, Kind of Blue, which would be recorded a little over a year later. Like Kind of Blue, the music for the film started as only a few sketches of mostly harmonic progressions and chord ideas. The musicians improvised around these sketches while watching a projection of various scenes of the movie where musical cues were desired.

The completed original soundtrack album contained the 10 songs listed above. In 1959, Columbia Records, (Miles’ label), released an album called Jazz Track, that contained some of this music, along with unreleased sessions with John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Jazz Track was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1960. Since then, the Verve Music label has released the complete recordings of these sessions on a single disc, featuring the original 10 cuts along with 12 additional tracks that are unedited fragments that the soundtrack was edited from. The album is an important release from the very fertile years in Miles’ career during the late 50’s. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Ken Vail. Miles’ Diary: The Life Of Miles Davis 1947–1961.

Suggested Viewing:

Elevator To The Gallows (Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud).

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