Saxophonist Bill Kirchner writes:
For several years In the 1980s I used to sub on occasion in the saxophone section of drummer Mel Lewis’s Jazz Orchestra—originally the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. When I wasn’t playing, I would often stop in to hear their weekly Monday-night gigs at NYC’s famed Village Vanguard. (A tradition that the band, now the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, continues to this day, after over fifty years.)
On one of those Mondays, a unique event took place. Trumpeter Miles Davis, on the verge of emerging from a six-year seclusion, sat in with Mel’s band. Recently—35 years later almost exactly to the day—someone posted an amateur recording of the event on YouTube.
For the record, here’s the probable personnel of the band that night as best I can remember:
Earl Gardner, Joe Mosello, Simo Salminen, John Marshall, trumpets; John Mosca, Lee Robertson, trombones; Douglas Purviance, Earl McIntyre, bass trombones; Stephanie Fauber, French horn; Dick Oatts, Kenny Garrett, alto saxophones; Bob Mintzer, Rich Perry, tenor saxophones; Gary Pribeck, baritone saxophone; Jim McNeely, piano; Marc Johnson, bass; Mel Lewis, drums; Miles Davis, guest solo trumpet.
In 1997, I wrote briefly about that night in the preface to A Miles Davis Reader, which I edited for the Smithsonian Institution Press:
“I had only one brief contact with Miles Davis…. In the spring of 1981 Davis was preparing to emerge from a nearly six-year retirement, and he spent several consecutive Monday nights visiting the Village Vanguard in New York and listening to Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra. During the last of those visits (at which, to my good fortune, I was present), Lewis persuaded Davis to sit in with the band. Lewis kicked off one of his orchestra’s staples, Thad Jones’s “The Second Race,” and Davis, borrowing in succession all four trumpets from the band’s trumpet section, played an extended blues solo to the delight of everyone in the club. Since he was playing borrowed horns and was still getting his chops back after years of inactivity, Davis sounded rusty, but what he played could have come only from him.
“During the next break, I was sitting at a table with one of the band’s trumpeters, Joe Mosello. Suddenly, Davis approached our table and crouched down next to us. He placed his left hand on my right knee, looked straight at Mosello, and said in his famous raspy voice, ‘You know, you shouldn’t drink beer on the gig. It dries you out.’
He was right.”
Many thanks to Bill for sharing a splendid memory.