Miles Davis Improvises the Score for Elevator to the Gallows

With his debut feature, the impeccably crafted crime thriller Elevator to the Gallows (1958), Louis Malle announced himself as one of France’s most dynamic young filmmakers and helped pave the way for the imminent French New Wave. One of the most remarkable elements of the film is its jazz score by Miles Davis, which accentuates the haunting and seductive mood of a tale of two lovers whose murder plot goes off the rails. It’s not just the evocative soundtrack but the circumstances surrounding its recording that have long since become the stuff of legend: over the course of a single night, in a rented Parisian studio, Davis and his accompanying musicians (including French pianist René Urtreger and American drummer Kenny Clarke) completed their work on the fly. The clip above, taken from a supplement on our newly upgraded edition of Elevator to the Gallows, offers a privileged glimpse of that nocturnal session, with Davis raptly playing along to the projected film, and Malle back in the booth describing the improvisatory method he developed with the trumpeter.

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