Léonie Sonning Awards 1984

Miles Davis

The composer and trumpet player Miles Davis received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 3pm on 14 December 1984 in Falkonér Teatret.
The music prize was presented by Børge Friis, Dr.Phil.

The programme

Palle Mikkelborg Aura. Dedicated to Miles Davis. First performance. Commissioned work.
Ray Pitts Beyond Logic. Dedicated to Miles Davis
Miles Davis Time After Time (encore)
  Jean-Pierre (encore)


John Scofield, guitar
Kenneth Knudsen, keyboards
Niels Eje, oboe
Marilyn Mazur, percussion
Vincent Nilsson, trombone
Jens Winther, trumpet
Jesper Thilo, clarinet
Thomas Clausen, piano
Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen, bass
Bo Stief, bass 

Danish Radio Big Band 
Conductors: Ray Pitts and Palle Mikkelborg


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 is hereby awarded to Miles Davis for his inspiring and stylistically innovative contribution as an instrumentalist, band leader and composer – as well as his capacity for constant innovation.

You can listen to the speech given in Davis' honor at the ceremony:

Miles Davis and Denmark

It was the composer and band leader Ray Pitts who got in contact with Miles Davis in 1984, after which the head of Danish Radio Big Band, Erik Moseholm travelled to New York to agree the programme for the concert nine months later. Only when Moseholm suggested that in conjunction a with the prize-giving concert an exhibition of Miles Davis’ paintings could be organised did he show an interest in coming to Denmark – further animated by the news that Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein had received the prize previously. The honour and idea of an art exhibition weighed more heavily than the money or any imaginary music prize.

Before the prize-giving concert, there had been a number of opportunities to get to know Miles Davis’ music in Copenhagen: When he was on a European tour in 1960 with the Davis/Coltrane Quintet (a concert that was recorded by Danmarks Radio), when he was here in April 1964 and gave a concert in KB Hallen with his quintet – with, among others, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock – when he was here in 1969 with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, or in 1971, when he gave a formidable concert in Tivoli with his own group and no less than two keyboard players of Sonning Music Prize class: Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.


Miles Davis was so enthusiastic about Palle Mikkelborg’s Aura that a year later he returned to Copenhagen to record the music for a CBS issue, the first time in more than twenty years that Miles Davis recorded with a big band. The aura is of course the one that surrounds Palle Mikkelborg’s great idol Miles Davis and his music, where each of the ten letters in the maestro’s name represents a colour and a note. The main theme of ten notes lies above a long-held chord consisting of the same notes, after which come nine movements, each of which represents one of the notes.

The original idea was that Miles Davis would play along during the last ten minutes of Aura, but when he stood there in the music, it went on for over 40 minutes. A few years passed before the record came out [...] because CBS was unwilling to issue it – one of the most important reasons why Miles Davis changed record companies and went over to Warner Brothers.

The recording of Aura received both a Grammy (1990) and ended up as one of the ten most important Danish music works in the Danish cultural canon, which was motivated in this way: "For Palle Mikkelborg, music and art are universal, and also charged with spirituality. The spiritual, the improvised and the beautifully structured are united in Aura in an unusually successful symbiosis, and the choice of notes and colours leads to a great expansion of interpretative possibilities."

Selected Music by Miles Davis

Selected Tracks

Aura - Complete Album

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"It was like setting a Cuba-trained, squatter-qualified urban partisan free at a salvation meeting when Miles Davis crawled up onto the stage after almost two hours of warming up with Danish Radio Big Band. A completely different performance than the usual prize-giving concerts, where the finest classical musicians of the world are awarded the Sonning Prize, but it was also fitting that the evening was so different: Davis is the first jazz musician on the impressive list of prize-winners.."

(Orla Rasmussen, BT, 15 December 1984)

"Davis fully lived up to his role as the greatest living jazz myth, and his participation as soloist in Palle Mikkelborg’s large-scale jazz suite Aura was a mixture of brilliant musical creativity, incredible affectation and a moving openness towards the music, the audience and the event of which he was the main figure [...] Finally, however, Davis’ limited powers were exhausted and with a couple of abrupt toots he abandoned himself to the prize-giving ceremony and the audience’s tribute. He replied in conclusion with a warm little melody that he blew all the way out of the concert hall. We have never seen that particular Davis before. He stretched out a hand."

(Sten Bramsen, Ekstra Bladet, 15 December 1984)

"Davis made his entrance to an applause that made the music fall silent. Until he took hold of it. In fine form, with his inimitable sound on the muted trumpet – less convincing with his horn open when he only tried out some short sequences before stuffing the mute back in. But with his long, highly simple blues-and-soul saturated formulations and without a single superfluous note, Davis fully managed to say thank you for the prize."

(Jørgen Siegumfeldt, Berlingske Tidende, 16 December 1984)

"In the foyer of Tre Falke Scene, the concert audience could see 20 of Miles Davis’ oil paintings, and he had his international debut as a painter."

(Vendsyssel Tidende, 16 December 1984)


Days with Miles Davis, pt. 1

Days with Miles Davis, pt. 2

Days with Miles Davis, pt. 3

Days with Miles Davis, pt. 4