Miles Davis | Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud

Mar 17, 2023 |

Jazz music is a culmination of various elements that shaped the African-American community, from the spiritual to the blues. To this date, it remains a major form of musical expression. With his first commercially successful album, Miles Davis brought jazz closer to classical music with innovative and intricate arrangements that were unheard of at the time. With his early works, Miles Davis elevated jazz music and upgraded the level of complexity this genre could achieve.

An American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, his readiness to try new styles over the course of his five-decade career, Miles Davis was arguably the most influential jazz musician in the post-World War II period, being at the forefront of changes in the genre for more than 40 years.

This week's album recommendation is Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud, recorded at Le Poste Parisien Studio in Paris on December 4 and 5, 1957. Roping in Miles Davis was the idea of Jean-Paul Rappeneau, a jazz fan who found Miles Davis through the Modern Jazz Quartet's recording for Roger Vadim's Sait-on jamais (Does One Ever Know), released a few months earlier in 1957. Jean-Paul Rappeneau was also assistant to Louis Malle, a famed French filmmaker who used the album to feature musical cues to his 1958 movie Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.

Davis was scheduled to play at Paris' Club Saint-Germain in November 1957. Rappeneau brought Davis and Malle together, and both agreed to record music together after a private screening. On the day of the recording, Davis instructed his team of musicians to improvise on the harmonic sequences he had charted. The band put together the final composition after hearing the plot, while edited loops of musically relevant film sequences were projected in the background.

The soundtrack was not initially made available in the United States, but ten tracks from it were included on one side of the album Jazz Track. The album went to achieve fame and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance, Solo or Small Group in 1960.

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