And have a look at it, too. Because music used to not just sound, but look different, too. Just think of Miles Davis’ own creativity in everything he did – his music, his paintings, his album cover art, his clothing. His style was essential to his substance. Miles Davis was one of the greatest jazz musicians and one of the greatest music pioneers, and he remains a beacon of cool to this day. In this same regard, the presence his music had in movies is no less impressive.
Miles Davis composed the score for Louis Malle’s L’Ascenseur pour l’échafaud while he was in Paris for a run of shows in the November of 1957. Just under half an hour in its original form, the soundtrack, one of the best parts of the film, was composed and performed by Davis and his local pickup quintet (featuring three French musicians and the great American expatriate drummer Kenny Clarke), and it is worth hearing entirely on its own (click on video above to listen).
Miles Davis, The Blue Note Years, recorded at Blue Note Records, a symbol in jazz imagery:
the label’s album covers basically reflected what you were going to hear.
Photographer Francis Wolf, co-founder of the company, once said of the label:
“We established a style, including recording, pressing and covers. The details made the difference.”
Here is what Miles said in his autobiography about his experience on the film: “I went to Paris to play guest soloist for a few weeks. And it was during this trip that I met the French filmmaker Louis Malle through Juliette Greco. He told me he had always loved my music and that he wanted me to write the musical score for his new film, L’Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows). I agreed to do it and it was a great learning experience, because I had never written a music score for a film before. I would look at the rushes of the film and get musical ideas to write down. Since it was about a murder and was supposed to be a suspense movie, I used this old, very gloomy, dark building where I had the musicians play. I thought it would give the music atmosphere, and it did.” The music score was later released by Columbia and the album was called Jazz Track.
A collage with some of Miles Davis’ best albums and most creative album covers
“Miles Davis is the only musician who has captured the power and essence of Spanish music”, said Pedro Almodóvar in his autobiography, Almodóvar on Almodóvar . For the title sequence and one of the scenes in his film High Heels, The Spanish director used pieces composed by Miles in the sixties that were inspired by flamenco. “They’re very strange,” Almodóvar confessed. “The first piece, which we hear while Rebecca’s alone waiting for her mother is called “Solea”, meaning “solitude” in Andalusian.” Almodóvar used another Miles Davis piece, “Saeta”, from the musician’s album Sketches of Spain for another sequence, when Rebecca goes to the cemetery to throw a handful of earth on her husband’s coffin. “During Holy Week processions, penitents sing for the Virgin Mary. Their cries are called a salta. It’s a cry of pain, recalling the death of Christ and sung a capella. Miles Davis recaptured with his trumpet this form of the human voice. It’s an extraordinary achievement. Such a musical cry of pain is perfect for Rebecca.”
Elsewhere on screen, Miles Davis’ rendition of the Eden Ahbez masterpiece “Nature Boy” can be heard under Mediterranean skies in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.
If you are in the mood for more jazz, here the playlist that’s been currently on repeat in our home:
Miles Davis – Lift to the Gallows (full album) / Miles Davis – So What / Ella Fitzgerald – Dream A Little Dream of Me /
Etta James – I Just Want To Make Love To You / John Coltrane – Giant Steps / John Coltrane – Moment’s Notice /
Dave Brubeck – Take Five / Billie Holiday – All of me / Buena Vista Social Club – Chan chan/ Bueno Vista Social Club –
Pueblo nuevo / Hubert Rostaing & son Orchestre – Oui, C’est ca / Barelli & son Orchestre – Riviera / Chet Baker –
Almost Blue / Duke Ellington – Rockin’ In Rhythm / Ray Charles – Ain’t That Love / Ray Charles – This Little Girl of Mine