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Miles in Paris, Paris in Miles.. For more than 40 years, the city of lights holds a special place with the jazz trumpeter. On this Monday March 21, 1960 as much as on Wednesday July 10, 1991, when Davis will play one of his final concerts in The Grande Halle de la Villette, just a few weeks before his death.

Miles Davis has discovered le French capital as early as May 1949. On his first trip abroad, he performs at the Festival International du Jazz at the Salle Pleyel, with a quintet that includes pianist  Tadd Dameron . In the wings stand 2 pretty parisiennes , Michelle Vian, wife of famous Saint Germain des Prés figure Boris Vian, and a friend, singer Juliette Gréco. Both are fascinated by the young and good looking 23 year-old trumpeter. Miles falls for the charming brunette and is therefore introduced to the intellectual and artistic elite of the period. « This was my first trip out of the country, » recalled Davis in his autobiography. « It changed the way I looked at things forever … This is where I met Jean Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Juliette Gréco…I loved being in Paris and loved the way I was treated. Paris was where I understood that all white people were not the same; that some weren’t prejudiced. »

Even years later, in 1956, Miles is back in Paris for another European tour, backed by a trio of young French sidemen, such as René Urtreger. The story goes that once again he has an affair with a Paris lady, Jeannette, who  happens to be Urtreger’s sister. A year later, Jeanne is credited with taking Miles Davis to private screening of the almost completed film of an innovative newcomer in cinema, Louis Malle. It’s “Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud” (Lift to the Scaffold). What is certain is that Davis, back in Paris in December 1957 for a lengthy gig at the Club Saint Germain with Urtregrer and expatriate drummer Kenny Clarke, records the film’s soundtrack in one night with actress Jeanne Moreau as an onlooker.

And for four decades, the bond Paris-Davis has remained constant. In October 2009, the Cité de la Musique Museum in Paris honored the musician in “We Want Miles”, an exhibit entirely dedicated to Davis. »Miles often talked about Paris, » says the Australian film director Rolf de Heer, who worked with Davis in Paris in 1990. « He liked that because it was a form of respect he didn’t get in his own country. » Sideman René Urtreger comments: « Miles was proud and touched by the fact that in France, jazz was considered to be very important music. »

Back to March 21,1960. It is a few days after General Eisenhower’s decision to send for the first time 3.500 US soldiers to Vietnam, and  3 months after the recordings sessions of the mythical album “ Kind of Blue”.  As usual, Norman Granz has embarked his now illustrious « Jazz At The Philharmonic » tour throughout Europe. The line-up is impressive: the Oscar Peterson Trio, the Stan Getz Quartet and the Miles Davis Quintet. The tour starts in Paris on this Monday night and is afterwards booked up to April 10 in various European cities, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Zurich, and Amsterdam.  Inside the quintet, the mood is tense. Since February, Coltrane has expressed his desire to leave the group. But Miles has convinced Coltrane to wait until the end of this European tour. In addition, the two men are separated by fundamental artistic differences: in this new ground of modal jazz Davis wants his partners to be simpler, almost minimalist. In contrast, Coltrane develops his “Sheets of sound” brilliant improvisations.

On this Monday night, the tenor is booed by half of the Parisian audience, probably put off by his daring innovations. The next day, the French newspapers give the concert a thundering write-up:

“It is the echo of the bush, of a blind Africa…This first day of spring, March 21, was the opening night of the “Rite of Spring” of modern jazz” raves Charles Estienne in France-Observateur.

“Coltrane plays in such a demented, brilliant way that we stay paralyzed in our seats” writes Pierre Fallan of Arts.

In the May 1960 issue of Jazz Magazine, some of the personalities in the public express mixed feelings. Violin jazzman Stéphane Grappelli declares “all these gargles, all this display of virtuosity are in the long run tiring and unnerving.” On the contrary, drummer Daniel Humair is a definite fan: “What a jolt! Coltrane throws fistfuls of harmonies to the audience, he pours a heavy rain of notes on the rhythm section…” For Daniel Filipacchi, one of the concert’s promoters, Coltrane generates during his live appearances “an astonishing and obsessional climate of tension – and tiresome, in my opinion.”

This mythical concert, during which Coltrane clearly steals the show from Davis, acknowledges the emergence of the lyrical freeform style of the saxophonist. Following his performance, John Coltrane comments the Paris crowd’s reaction: “If they booed, it’s because I didn’t go far enough.”

In the fall of 1960, Frank Ténot and Daniel Filipacchi bring Miles Davis back to the Olympia Hall in Paris, this time with Sonny Stitt. The Parkerian tenor has replaced Coltrane who left the group in Baltimore when the quintet returned to the States in April. This time, Miles takes care of business and stands up front. No more booing from the audience on this Tuesday night: the jazz trumpeter doesn’t turn his back to the audience any more, nor does he retreat in the wings. Davis is in great shape for this gig with Stitt. He remains on stage throughout the evening, and on several occasions, puts a gentle smile on his lips… Nice Smile, Nice Miles.