Was Miles aiming that bead of sweat at Steve Allen?
Here’s Miles Davis on the Steve Allen Show in Hollywood in 1964. That’s Burt Lancaster sitting with Allen, and it’s Miles’s quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. Miles can be heard telling Allen that the tune is “All Blues,” but Allen, angling for a laugh, quips that Miles has “laryngitis,” then flippantly says, “Blues of some kind or other.”
Miles was renowned for understatement, and notorious for not suffering fools. Theater critic Kenneth Tynan used the Andalusian term duende to describe Davis’s style, which he heard as “...the ability to transmit a profoundly felt emotion with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of restraint.” But Tynan also referred to the 5'6" trumpeter as “the satanic elf” after observing him in social situations. In this footage of Miles playing both Harmon mute and open horn, note how at the end of his solo (4:32), he flicks a bead of sweat off his brow that looks pointedly aimed at someone. It's also worth noting that, contrary to legend, Miles offers a slight bow of his head in acknowledgement of the applause at the conclusion of the performance.
“All Blues” first appeared on Kind of Blue, and vies with “So What” as the tune Davis played most often from that landmark 1959 recording. (It outpaces the other four Kind of Blue originals in terms of how often it’s been covered by jazz artists.) Wayne Shorter first heard Miles in person at the Regal Theater in Chicago around 1960. Shorter was working with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, who opened for Miles, then Wayne took a seat in the theater to hear Miles’ set. “They opened with a song called ‘All Blues,’ Shorter told Davis annotator Todd Coolman, “and what I heard and felt was this penetrating…it was not a sudden blast with a show-like ‘bang!’ Instead they opened with a tremolo on the piano…sounded like a Ravel thing. This tremolo threw a hush over the audience that was different from the Messengers kind of opening impact sound of ‘bang!’ The music seemed to transport the audience to some place they don’t usually go in their everyday life.”
Let it transport you here. And tell me, was Miles aiming that bead of sweat at his host?