Around that time everything was in flux. Music, politics, race relations, everything. Nobody seemed to know where things were going: everybody seemed confused— even a lot of artists and musicians who all of a sudden seemed to have more freedom than we ever had to do our own thing. — Miles Davis on the year 1967

In the closing months of 1967, anyone with a stake in the world of music and popular culture was looking back on a year of rapid, disarming change. Of all people, it would seem that Miles Davis—the master of perpetual motion—would have been the least affected by changing times. To him, musical progress had never been less than a career imperative. By ’67, he could claim significant responsibility for three major musical shifts—Cool, hard-bop and modal jazz—each innovative step increasing in influence over time. With his Shorter/Hancock/Carter/Williams team, Miles had already carved a looser approach to post-bop material that seemed swayed by the structural flexibility and freedoms typical of Ornette Coleman, yet without the alto saxophonist’s hard-edged dissonance. “Free-bop” was the name chosen later for Miles’s fourth and latest shift.

Yet, in ’67, Miles was acutely aware of the hurtling changes around him, just as he was of his own bellwether role in jazz. He was proud of his career and of his new band; he even seemed magnanimous that another had assumed his place as leader on the jazz scene.

“Trane was on a search, and his course kept taking him farther and farther out . . . he was expressing through music what H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers and Huey Newton were saying with their words, what the Last Poets were saying in poetry. He was their torchbearer in jazz, even ahead of me . . . I had been it a few years back, now he was it and that was cool with me.”

On July 17, Coltrane passed away from liver cancer; the entire jazz world felt the shock, including Miles (“Trane’s death seemed to put a lot of confusion in a lot of people.”) Whether it was his colleague’s demise, the anchor-less vibe of the season, an urge to regain the driver’s seat on the jazz scene—or some combination thereof—Miles spurred his quintet into their final, creative phase that summer.

— Ashley Kahn, July 2011