John Glatt’s recent book Live at the Fillmore East and West: Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legends reaffirms the importance of Bill Graham’s concert venues — the Fillmore Auditorium and Fillmore West in San Francisco, and Fillmore East in New York — in the development of rock through the late-60s psychedelic era through the early 70s. Although the mainstay acts at the Fillmores were bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Santana, and Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company, part of Graham’s genius as a promoter was to bring in artists from other genres, often on the same bills as those rock bands.
In particular, Graham brought jazz to the Fillmore audiences. And although it would be silly to give Graham full credit for the invention of jazz-rock fusion, a few milestones in that development took place at the Fillmores. The sounds of John Coltrane and Miles Davis were towering influences over the rock musicians who played there, and the jazz musicians who played there soaked up some of the local flavor as well.
Glatt doesn’t mention it specifically, but the first jazz artist to appear at the Fillmore Auditorium was tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Lloyd was known as a popularizer of Coltrane’s mid-period modal style; he reached out to white rock audiences and often shared bills with acts like Joplin and the Airplane. His Fillmore debut was in January 1967, on a bill with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, whose album of the time, East-West, featured a Coltrane-influenced title track. Lloyd’s Fillmore performance was captured on the album Love-In.
Coltrane passed away later in 1967, but Miles Davis went on to play at the Fillmores. Glatt describes one particular bill Davis shared with the Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead; Davis also shared bills at Fillmore venues with Neil Young, Stone the Crows (a sort of British analog of Big Brother and the Holding Company), Leon Russell, and blues-rock guitarist Elvin Bishop. Miles Davis at Fillmore (East), recorded in 1970, is an important early document of Miles’s absorption of rock influences. His band at that gig included drummer Jack DeJohnette, who had played with Charles Lloyd at the Fillmore (Auditorium) three years previous. Later that year, Miles would record the hard-rocking Tribute to Jack Johnson with guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock.
Now fast forward to 1971. By this time, Miles and other jazz players had established the fusion genre. Alumni of Miles’s bands had started their own bands, such as Weather Report (Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Airto Moreira) and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (McLaughlin). The jazz influences that could be heard in rock music of the time aren’t as apparent: rock musicians generally lacked the chops necessary to play jazz, and today much of that type of rock music is now in rotation on classic rock radio stations among music that wasn’t jazz-infliuenced. You might hear a Miles Davis track with McLaughlin on guitar on a jazz station, but you wouldn’t think of, say, the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” as anything but a classic rock track.
Yet two things happened at the Fillmore East in 1971 that drew rock closer to jazz. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” has long been my favorite Allman Brothers track — and of course I’m referring to the live version on the immortal Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. Yet anyone who listens to the complete recordings of those amazing performances will know that that recording of “Liz Reed” was patched together from among four takes of the tune during the Allmans’ three-night Fillmore East stand. Producer Tom Dowd chose in particular not to include an especially jazz-oriented aspect of the first night’s performances of “Liz Reed”: a soprano saxophonist. Rudolph “Juicy” Carter, a friend of drummer “Jaimoe” Johanson from Jaimoe’s R&B days, sat in that night. Dowd’s decision not to include his solos made sense for the simple reason that they weren’t very good. Yet we can still listen to those takes and imagine what would have happened if, say, Steve Grossman or Dave Liebman or Azar Lawrence had sat in instead.
The Fillmore venues didn’t last much longer, as Graham started losing his headliner rock acts to Madison Square Garden and other larger (i.e., more lucrative) venues. The Fillmore West closed in July 1971.
To mark the occasion, Graham set up a week’s worth of tribute nights featuring performances by mainstay Fillmore acts. One of these was a set by Santana that included a cover of Miles’s “In a Silent Way,” which Miles recorded in 1969 with McLaughlin on guitar. Carlos Santana starts the tune in the quiet, reflective style of the original, but then the band ratchets it up to the full Latin-rock treatment, culminating in one of the most screaming, blistering guitar solos Santana has ever recorded. This gem is only available on the obscure Fillmore: The Last Days set, alongside performances by the Dead, Elvin Bishop, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Taj Mahal, Hot Tuna, and many others. The concerts were filmed, and a documentary was made that includes some of these performances (and some not on the album), including Santana’s “In a Silent Way.”
Of course, Santana’s jazz influence was more explicit than the Allman Brothers’. He went on to record Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement” from “A Love Supreme” with John McLaughlin, and to make other records with Coltrane associates Alice Coltrane and McCoy Tyner as well as Miles sidemen Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. But the roots of that influence — buried though they may be on classic rock radio these days — lay at the Fillmores, East and West.