Miles Davis: Fran-Dance
Miles Davis (trumpet)
At Newport 1958 (Columbia/Legacy)
Composed by Miles Davis.
Recorded: live at Newport Jazz Festival, RI, July 3, 1958
Rating: 88/100 (learn more)
Miles Davis's celebrated appearance at 1955's Newport Jazz Festival had marked his official comeback (meaning the jazz press finally caught up with reality) from what Miles himself called a "four-year horror show" of heroin addiction. Miles actually got his act together in 1954, as evidenced by his influential recording of "Walkin'." But taking center stage at Newport earned him jazz's Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Now, three years later, the Approved Good Housekeeper returned, leading a sextet that many now consider the greatest small combo in jazz history.
Regrettably, when Bert Stern filmed his feature-length documentary of the '58 NJF, Jazz on a Summer's Day (released 1960), he shot no part of Miles's performance. "Personally," Stern explained, "I didn't like Miles Davis. He's too far-out for me." Yet while Stern's glib paraphrase of Arthur Godfrey's 1947 hit "Too Fat Polka" ("I Don't Want Her, You Can Have Her, She's Too Fat For Me") may have explained Miles's omission, that hardly excused it.
Certainly there's nothing far-out about "Fran-Dance," Miles's 4/4 reworking of "Put Your Little Foot Right Out," a childlike waltz from the Hollywood movie San Antonio (1945). Five weeks after the same group's better-known and frankly superior studio recording of this tune, Adderley and Evans solo to advantage, but Coltrane overloads his Sheets of Sound turn with pointlessly fleet finger exercises. Even so, wouldn't it have been wonderful to see this group on film? As missed opportunities go, Bert Stern's dismissal of Miles Davis as "too far-out" must rank among the most blockheaded decisions of all time. I'd like to Put My Little Foot Right Up Bert Stern's Arriflex.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz