Miles Davis – and Laura Nyro – at the Fillmore East

I wrote this blog entry back in August, but somehow it was never posted. So, here goes.

I’ve been thinking about Laura Nyro recently. Why? She’s long been one of my favorite musicians and I periodically go through periods of heavily listening to her work. A few years ago, I played a couple shows of Laura Nyro songs, something I hope to revisit in the future (Billy Childs tells me that he always loved her music and is in fact working on a recording of Nyro songs).

So, why mention her in a book blog about my book projects about Mwandishi or Miles Davis? Well, it turns out that the four-night series of shows Miles played at the Fillmore East in June 1970, about which I have been writing, the band was the opening act for Laura Nyro.

What a fascinating juxtaposition. First came a high volume, tremendously intense two-keyboard (Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett), very electronic sounding show by Davis-Corea-Jarrett-Jack DeJohnette-Steve Grossman-Airto Moreira. This was followed at all eight shows by Nyro singing “Up on the Roof,” “Walk on By,” “Emmie,” and, presumably music from “New York Tendaberry” (1969) and “Christmas as the Beads of Sweat” (1970), which had been recently released.

Miles had made a friendly visit to the studio the year before, when “New York Tendaberry” was being recorded, but he declined to play on a track. Nyro was a big Miles Davis fan; he and John Coltrane were among her personal musical heroes. While this seems to go unmentioned, I hear hints of McCoy Tyner’s playing with Trane in Nyro’s piano during that period, particularly the pedal points and, amidst the triads and gospel-like suspensions, the fourth chords and that pop up. I could easily imagine a Coltrane version of “Lazy Susan” from her first album.

According to Nyro biographer Michele Kort, Nyro’s father Lou Nigro, remembers that the Fillmore was nearly empty for Miles’s warmly received sets, particularly in contrast with the tremendous ovations for his daughter. But then, so many important live recordings were made with few people in the house; Coltrane’s “Live at Birdland” is a case in point. The reopened Five Spot, where I first heard Ornette Coleman play in the 1970s (the original Five Spot was in a different Greenwich Village location) was a tiny room; if there were 100 people in the house when I was there, it would have been overwhelmingly full. New York Times critic John S. Wilson wrote that Nyro’s performance “won a steady round of acclaim, as she sang a program made up largely of her wry, perceptive songs of contemporary life in a high, husky, bittersweet voice.”

It had been Miles’s hope that young rock audiences would embrace his music. In his autobiography, Miles reports a substantial audience at his Fillmore West shows in April. Certainly, hundreds of thousands were on hand for his August 1970 set at the Isle of Wight. However, my recollection of hearing Herbie Hancock’s Sextet in a rock setting (July 1970, at the Shaefer Music Festival in Central Park, opening for Iron Butterfly), parallels Lou Nigro’s report. I found the audience to be, at best, indifferent, certainly stoned, very noisy and wandering around. Band members recall these kinds of shows as being no fun. But they did get at least their leaders’ names on big selling marquees and documented on recordings. It was no doubt largely a rock audience that purchased many of the copies of Davis’s “Bitches Brew” as well as Hancock’s “Crossings” when they were released. If you consider how the record companies marketed these releases, this seems to have been their target audience (a New York Times Sam Goody ad placed “Crossings” alongside new records by the Grateful Dead and Arlo Guthrie… but also Frank Sinatra!).

The irony, of course, is that the legacy of these shows is found in the recordings that we have the great fortune to listen to, again and again. The same is true of Laura Nyro’s work, which never received the kind of attention during her lifetime that it so deserved. But on those evenings at the Fillmore East, and at so many other shows, her adoring fans packed the houses. My first trips to the Fillmore remained a few months in the future, so I wasn’t in attendance at the Miles Davis/Laura Nyro show. My opportunities to hear her came later, in upstate New York, in the late 1970s and again, during her final performances in 1994. And what wonderful shows they were.

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~ by bobgluck on August 4, 2013.

6 Responses to “Miles Davis – and Laura Nyro – at the Fillmore East”

  1. Thank you, I’ve recently been looking for info approximately thiss subject for
    a wile and yors is the greatest I have found outt so far. However, what about the conclusion? Are you
    positive concerning the source?

    • Which conclusion do you mean — that the audience at the Fillmore East may have been more enthusiastic about Laura Nyro than about Miles Davis? Or about the more general experience that I had of audiences at mixed jazz / rock bookings where there was indifference towards the jazz musicians? If its the first, people have different memories about that show. The source I cite quotes Nyro’s father and I have to trust in that source (although one could conceivably argue that her dad might want to see the situation as favoring his daughter). On the other hand, another highly trustworthy source remembers it differently. Record producer and executive Michael Cuscuna recalls: “I was there and I don’t remember that [most of the audience milling around] to be the case. The Fillmore East audience was always open and appreciative. Certainly some abandoned their seats when Miles took the stage, but other did so when Neil Young took the stage. It was a revolving audience but always a respectful one.” Then again, I don’t think that Nyro’s dad was suggesting a lack of respect, just smaller numbers and less interest in Miles. Back in 1970, Chris Albertson wrote in the New York Times (in Down Beat) that the young rock audience at a July concert by Miles Davis at Madison Square Garden (opening for Blood, Sweat and Tears) “showed signs of not fully appreciating Miles’ music… but the 44-year old trumpet master continues to win over new followers from their ranks.” Albertson points out: “The rhythm section and its driving force, Jack De Johnette (sic) can teach the rocksters more than a thing or two.” Miles Davis himself reports a substantial audience at the Fillmore West in April: “when we first started playing, people were walking around and talking. But after a while they all got quiet and really got into the music.” My own experience of differences in rock audience interests was from other concerts – and clearly things varied show-to-show and place-to-place. So, in answer to your question, that’s what I’ve got on this! The difference between Cuscuna and Nyro’s dad’s recollections strikes me as differences in interpretation. Surely some rock fans could really get into the music of that Miles Davis band; for others, it was too complex; for others yet, it simply wasn’t what they came for.

  2. I to the June 20 show and didnt realixze till yesterday that they were recorded

  3. Where can you find recordings of the shows. I love them both! My favorite Laura concert was the one at the Fillmore East around Christmas time, her alone at the grand wearing that beautiful gown. To have seen her with Miles and his band would have been amazing! Are the recordings online , for sale? Help please! Thank you!!

    • The Miles Davis shows were released in highly edited form as a 2-LP set in 1970, and re-released in full, unedited form in 2014 as part of Sony’s “The Bootleg Series”. These are compared and contrasted in this blog post (and more in depth in my forthcoming book). The Laura Nyro sets were never “officially” released, but you can find the June 20, 1970 show at Wolfgang’s Vault (which you need a membership to access): http://www.concertvault.com/laura-nyro/fillmore-east-june-20-1970.html. But I also found the show posted on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4R1Hzdf0Uk. You can readily find a live recording of Laura Nyro’s May 1971 Fillmore East performance, also on Sony (and it is quite wonderful). I was really fortunate to be at one of her final shows, I believe in 1995.

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