Miles Davis: Columbia throw a party and a half

2nd April 2017

Title: Jazz at the Plaza

Label: Vinyl Lovers

I suppose that you can successfully blame the Colombia record label for this one. OK, praise them, then. Imagine planning a party and it’s humming along and the barriers have been lessened a bit by the odd sherbet or two and then someone asks for a bit of a sing-along or someone to play a couple of chords… Imagine then that out of a dark corner emerges Miles Davis, toting a trumpet, John Coltrane with his tenor sax, Cannonball Adderley and his alto sax, Bill Evans who heads for the piano, Paul Chambers who struggles with his bass and Jimmy Cobb who’s collecting drums as they roll by. Would you even believe your eyes? How many jaws would drop?


OK, I might be bending the truth a bit but Colombia only called for the party because the label was pretty darned smug about the excellent performance of its jazz division. So it rented out the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel on 9 September 1958 for a knees up. But this was still not supposed to be a formal thing. It was not supposed to be a recording session. A few drinks, a few laughs…yes, but not a recording thing. Not real work, as it where. That’s why other guys had joined in to favour the relaxing atmosphere. The Duke Ellington orchestra were there in force. Even Billie Holiday turned up.

Yet here they were. Playing. Recording. How good was this sextet? If I tell you that, just a few months after this appearance, these guys would record, what has often been termed as, the very best jazz album that there has ever been and (some say) will ever will be, Kind of Blue, then you get an idea of the talent available here.

The recorded occasion was originally split into two volumes. Volume 2 included Jimmy Rushing fronting the Duke’s men while Holiday sang a couple of ditties. This LP was originally sold as Volume 1. This 40 minute or so LP stands alone here, though.

Because the guys had no idea that they were being recorded, there is a lack of microphone discipline, so people wander around a lot. That said, the free and easy approach to the music does add an extra frisson to the performance as we hear Davis’ then new modal style.

Sound quality is good but offers a bootleg quality in terms of microphone pick-up. The sound is tracked wherever it touches, if you see what I mean. Hence, the Davis trumpet will either be balanced, sound around 10 miles distant or be right in your face and about to blow your ears apart. In short, with this performance, pretend that you are one of the guests or a fly on the wall. Don’t expect audiophile nirvana.