In 1964 Miles Davis had a new rhythm section in place–Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums–but he was still searching for a tenor saxophonist. Since John Coltrane’s departure in 1960, Miles had gone through Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Heath, and George Coleman; he really wanted Wayne Shorter, but Shorter was still committed to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In the meantime, the teenaged Tony Williams enthusiastically recommended a fellow Boston musician who was two years older than Miles–Sam Rivers, who had played everything from bebop and progressive big-band to r & b (he was working as T-Bone Walker’s musical director at the time) and free jazz.
Rivers filled the tenor chair for several months in 1964, and his time with Miles is one of the more fascinating chapters in the Davis saga. One LP–Miles in Tokyo–is the only musical documentation that Columbia has ever provided of this particular ensemble. This week on “Night Lights” I’ll be playing unreleased music from that same tour, featuring Rivers with Davis on “Autumn Leaves,” “Oleo,” and “Stella By Starlight”–tunes that were not played on Miles in Tokyo. (By the way, these unreleased dates will not be included in the forthcoming Miles Davis 1963-64 Sony box, either–not sure why!) We’ll also hear selections from Fuchsia Swing Song, the album that Rivers recorded for Blue Note later that year with Davis sidemen Ron Carter and Tony Williams, as well as pianist Jaki Byard.