Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud

A favourite clip from Louis Malle’s 1958 debut movie, Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud, starring Jeanne Moreau with a wonderful improvised soundtrack by Miles Davis.

Davis was booked to perform at the Club Saint-Germain in Paris for November 1957. Jean-Paul Rappeneau, a jazz fan and Louis Malle’s assistant at the time introduced him to Malle, and Davis agreed to record the music after attending a private screening. On December 4, he brought his four sidemen to the recording studio without having had them prepare anything. Davis only gave the musicians a few rudimentary harmonic sequences he had assembled in his hotel room, and, once the plot was explained, the band improvised without any precomposed theme, while edited loops of the musically relevant film sequences were projected in the background.

I have to admit I’ve not yet seen the film (though I did once see Jeanne Moreau looking in our gallery window) but I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times. I bought the LP years ago after reading a recommendation by Richard Williams and I agree with him that it’s one of Miles Davis’s best.

Frames of reference

2 thoughts on “Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud”

  1. Your post Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud was magical. Unbeknownst to me, Paula was listening to it when I was in another room with an open window. The incredible music sounded as if it were coming from outside. I wondered, “Who is playing that horn here in suburban Prairie Village outside Kansas City?” For a moment I was transformed to an early morning in Brooklyn (even if I’ve never been in Brooklyn during an early morning). I came downstairs to tell Paula, and discovered her listening to your post, which I then proceeded to do four or five times. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Hank, that’s a nice story. It’s a haunting piece of music. I’m glad it reached you. I’m playing it in the car as I drive to work – it turns the journey into a movie.

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