Wall, Mobley, Philpott & Sorensen | Interpretations of Miles Davis 9.24.23

Joy Hill
Denver, CO

Words by J. Picard
Photos by Nancy Isaac Photography

The MusicMarauders Residency at Joy Hill on South Broadway in Denver is something that we look forward to monthly. There is something about the space, the vibe, the staff, the food and the drinks that never waivers. It's been just over a year since we started doing music in the funky and comfortable space and it was time to expand to a Sunday afternoon. I started my day on-air on KWPPR with the Sunday Morning Jazz Show, where I played a full show of Miles with John McLaughlin from Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI in 1970. Needless to say I was excited for what was to come! It was a mid 70s day on Joy Hill's rooftop patio and as the band loaded in they caught up with one another and joked around. The mood was light as it always is though the material would be heavy. Initially when the conversation came up between Pete and I and was brought to Blake, he seemed unsure. It was great to see a professional like Blake feel out of his comfort zone, but with a little convincing, he was in. Also on the show would be Tim Philpott on bass and Carl Sorensen on drums. The task at hand: interpreting the music of the great Miles Davis.

My wife, Carly, and I sat off to the side with photographer and friend, Nancy Isaac. We lead off with a charcuterie plate and pepperoni rolls which were delicious and well executed. Owner, Andrew Templar, always the most gracious and attentive host, came over and chatted with us for a bit. It's easy to root for a place like Joy Hill with a guy like Andy at the helm. The patio began to fill in and a short time later Pete and company kicked the beautiful afternoon off with "Jean Pierre" off of the 1982 album, We Want Miles. Going into these tribute shows where material that I hold so near and dear is being covered, I am always a little nervous about how it's going to play out. From the beginning it was clear that we were in for a treat. Blake stood out immediately and I laughed about the prospect of his being uncertain about approaching this music. That's true respect. Pete soared over heavy rhythmic drum and bass that dug deep.

"What I Say" from Live-Evil (1971) featured some great nonverbal communication and smiles around as Blake and Pete matched melodies. "Ife" from Big Fun (1974) followed and the place was buzzing. Folks were moving in their seats and playing drums with their fingers on the edge of their tables. A jam built up and went into "Black Satin" which was performed with some normalcy before the band transitioned into a blues version of the song off of Miles' 1972 album On The Corner, then back to a little normalcy. The set closed with "Miles Runs The Voodoo" from his 1970 release and what is widely considered to be the quintessential jazz album of all time, Bitches Brew. Before its close, the song took on a gospel vibe. The band later joked about calling the track "Miles Runs The Gospel Down."

A short set break and some mingling with friends resulted in the musicians wandering back to the stage (actually just a corner) and kicking the second set off with "It's About That Time," off of In a Silent Way (1969). I ordered the bison meatballs which came with some fantastic bread that I dipped in the sauce. "Right Off," from A Tribute To Jack Johnson (1971) went into "Directions" (1981). At some point Carl was spinning a bicycle wheel on its axis and hitting it on the cymbal while running a drumstick along the spokes. It was insane, but frankly, it worked. Tim took a couple of solos that had me on the edge of my seat literally, only to turn it back to the other with perfect intuition. When "In A Silent Way" began, I got really excited. The composition built and built to a heavenly peak and Blake added these incredible tones and bends that really set it over the top. Pete leaned his head back in complete bliss and a single tear fell down my cheek.

The second set ended with another classic off of Bitches Brew, "Spanish Key." It was beautiful and transitioned back into "What I Say," (Reprise) a song Pete told me at set break that he just didn't feel quite done with. It was a magical afternoon in Denver. The sizeable crowd was super appreciative and even dropped some tips into Pete's sax case on their way out, which was delightfully awkward. I looked around, took a deep breath and exhaled gratitude. I was grateful to be in such a beautiful place with such vibrant folks. I was thankful to know such wonderful musicians and it was very meaningful to spend a couple of hours celebrating the music of Miles Davis. The MusicMarauders Residency resumes this Thursday with two hours of free improvised music featuring Blake, Dan Africano (Thievery Corporation) and Scotty Zwang (Ghost Light)!


Set One: Jean Pierre, What I Say, Ife, Jam 1 > Black Satin > All Blues Black Satin, Miles Runs The Voodoo

Set Two: It's About That Time, Right Off > Directions, In A Silent Way, Spanish Key > What I Say (Reprise)


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