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Ascenseur pour l’echafaud wasn’t the first film to use a jazz soundtrack or to feature jazz musicians. Hollywood began making short films and features with some of the best jazz stars as soon as motion pictures with sound were invented. Duke Ellington had his own short film showcase beginning with the 1929 Black & Tan, many of which also used dancers, effects and strange camera angles. Louis Armstrong’s film career began in 1928 (although no reel of his first film, titled Ex-Flame, seems to have survived).
There were even all-black musical films like A Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, musical comedies featuring a combination of jazz artists and dance acts by some of the most renowned stars of the thirties and forties. However, the novelty of films such as Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’echafaud was the absolute integration of jazz music to a feature film whose story had nothing to do with jazz or even with music itself: the utilization of jazz music to emphasize the dramatic action and develop/support the film’s climax. Miles Davis’ improvisations fit the dark atmosphere of the film perfectly and contributed greatly to underline the many subtleties of the story and the internal thoughts of its characters. And the most amazing fact of all is that this entire body of music was improvised in the recording studio.
Besides being an absolute success, Louis Malle’s film set the stage for a new understanding between jazz and film, and probably opened the door for Otto Preminger’s 1959 Anatomy of a Murder, a thriller with James Stewart which had a complete soundtrack by Duke Ellington composed especially for the film.
The original LP Jazz Track, included the complete original suite for Ascenseur pour l’echafaud and also three tracks from an amazing 1958 session by the Miles Davis sextet including Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, John Coltrane and Bill Evans.
MILES DAVIS, trumpet on all tracks, plus:
SIDE A: Soundtrack for the film Ascenseur pour l’echafaud:
Barney Wilen (ts), René Urtreger (p), Pierre Michelot (b), Kenny Clarke (d).
Paris, December 4 & 5, 1957.
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (as), John Coltrane (ts), Bill Evans (p),
Paul Chambers (b), Jimmy Cobb (d).
New York, May 26, 1958.
01 GÉNÉRIQUE (Miles Davis) 2:50
02 L’ASSASSINAT DE CARALA (Miles Davis) 2:11
03 SUR L’AUTOROUTE (Miles Davis) 2:20
04 JULIEN DANS L’ASCENSEUR (Miles Davis) 2:09
05 FLORENCE SUR LES CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES (Miles Davis) 2:52
06 DÎNER AU MOTEL (Miles Davis) 3:58
07 EVASION DE JULIEN (Miles Davis) 0:54
08 VISITE DU VIGILE (Miles Davis) 2:06
09 AU BAR DU PETIT BAC (Miles Davis) 2:54
10 CHEZ LE PHOTOGRAPHE DU MOTEL (Miles Davis) 3:55
01 ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (Kaper-Washington) 9:49
02 FRAN-DANCE (Miles Davis) 5:49
03 STELLA BY STARLIGHT (Young-Washington) 4:43