Miles Davis opening up for The Grateful Dead seems like a surreal and unrealistic that couldn’t possibly happen. However, for one night only back in 1970, these two forces of nature from two opposite worlds come together collided and it was as beautiful as it sounds.
The April evening at San Francisco’s Filmore West saw the radically different styles of Davis and The Dead, an event which was the brainchild of legendary promoter Bill Graham who has masterminded some of the greatest concerts that the East Coast has ever seen, with this one being right up there with his brightest ideas.
This was one of the trumpeter’s first-ever concerts at a rock venue and he wasn’t used to playing in front of this kind of hippy crowd. However, that didn’t faze Davis who knew he could win anyone over with his genius. If there was a Venn diagram between his fanbase and that of The Grateful Dead’s then there would be very little overlap, with The Deadheads in attendance being unsure what to expect from the jazz extraordinaire.
“The place was packed with these real spacey, high, white people, and where we first started playing, people were walking around and talking. But after a while, they all got quiet and really into the music,” Davis wrote in his autobiography before adding: “I played a little something like [from] Sketches of Spain and then went into the Bitches Brew shit, and that really blew them out. After that concert, every time I would play out there in San Francisco, a lot of young white people showed up at the gigs.”
The fact that Davis won over the crowd with such ease shows that good music will always prevail and he not only won over the San Francisco hippies in attendance but also started a very special relationship with Jerry Garcia who was blown away by his excellent display. “I think we all learned something,” Davis wrote: “Jerry Garcia loved jazz, and I found out that he loved my music and had been listening to it for a long time.”
It wasn’t just Garcia who was in awe of sharing the bill with Davis, in his autobiography, the Dead’s Phil Lesh remembered the night with eternal fondness. “As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking what’s the use. How can we possibly play after this?” he remembered thinking. “With this band, Miles literally invented fusion music. In some ways, it was similar to what we were trying to do in our free jamming, but ever so much more dense with ideas and seemingly controlled with an iron fist, even at its most alarmingly intense moments,” Lesh added.
Seeing these two worlds join forces is something that those lucky enough to have been in attendance won’t have forgotten in a hurry and is a night that quite rightly as earnt it’s place in the history books. Listen to Davis’ performance of ‘Directions’, below.