Saturday, January 1, 2011



In answer to the question:


Miles replied:


Legendary performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1970.

Miles, his ensemble, and an audience of 600,000...



Miles Davis (trumpet)
Gary Bartz (alto saxophone)
Chick Corea (piano)
Keith Jarrett (organ)
Dave Holland (bass)
Jack DeJohnette (drums)
Airto Moreira (percussion)

We Want Miles Exhibit Opens in Montreal

Exhibit on legendary trumpeter runs through August 29, 2010

By Lee Mergner

Miles Davis was always known as a jazz artist for whom image was important. He was also one of the music’s most photogenic figures. And he was a restless and creative artist who changed his music with the times. Finally, he was an artist who loved to paint large canvases of slightly abstract figures in bold bright colors. So it’s no surprise that a large-scale exhibit of photography, art and artifacts dedicated to the legendary trumpeter has been organized. The show, “We Want Miles” opened on April 30 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Quebec in Canada. The show had previously been mounted at the Musee de la Musique in Paris.

The exhibit was curated by Vincent Bessieres, who wrote about Miles: “More than the archetype of the cool musician—deliberate, distant, elegant, uncompromising—Davis is the incarnation of audacity and invention.” The exhibit certainly has gone to great lengths to capture his mercurial brilliance.

Included in this first North American multimedia exhibition on Davis are:
• Paintings by Davis and works contemporary artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Niki de Saint Phalle, among others;
• Original manuscripts and musical scores including the composition for Birth of the Cool;
• Musical instruments including horns that he played, and initial pressings of his records;
• Intimate portraits taken by such legendary photographers as Annie Leibovitz, Lee Friedlander, Anton Corbijn, and Irving Penn, among others;
• Video clips of and full length live concert footage, and stage clothes.

Naturally, it would impossible to appreciate the art without hearing the music, and so the museum has gone to great lengths to insure that visitors get to hear the Prince of Darkness in all his glory. Speakers shaped like trumpet mutes are scattered throughout the exhibit and there will be twenty listening stations, as well as a series of large scale projections of various performances and clips.

In addition, a companion book has also been published by the fine art publisher Rizzoli Press. The lavish coffee-table book with the provocative if somewhat contradictory title, We Want Miles: Miles Davis vs. Jazz, was written by Franck Bergerot, the editor-in-chief of Jazz Magazine in France. In addition to the text by Bergerot, the book includes remembrances of Davis by David Liebman, John Szwed, Ira Gitler, George Avakian and others. However, the images comprise the main attraction here. Included are nearly every iconic image of the trumpeter—from Don Hunstein’s photos of Miles in the studio recording Kind of Blue to Irving Penn’s stark and dramatic portrait for the Tutu album cover.

The exhibit and book are the subject of an upcoming Final Chorus column by Nat Hentoff in the July/August issue of JazzTimes.

July/August 2010 • By Nat Hentoff

A Fine Arts Museum’s Tribute to Nonpareil Miles

Nat Hentoff on We Want Miles Exhibit and Book

When I lived in Boston eons ago, the Museum of Fine Arts was within walking distance, and I often visited to get high on such paintings as a Renoir of a young couple in what looked like a New Orleans-style slow dance. I’d stand there fantasizing about taking the man’s place in the painting, but I never expected to find anything of jazz in this legendary museum’s exhibitions. Nor have I heard of jazz as a fine art in any of the other museums around the country. I have been at jazz concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but there’s nothing of Louis, Duke, Pres, Bix or Trane in the galleries there.

Suddenly, however, in a very prestigious museum of fine arts—having opened in April and continuing until Aug. 29—there is a stunning media exhibition on someone the museum accurately calls “one of the jazz world’s greatest innovators.”

Coinciding with the event is a very large-size, hardback catalog, on the cover of which—characteristically sizing you up skeptically—is Miles Davis. The book and exhibition are titled “We Want Miles: Miles Davis vs. Jazz.” And nowhere else have I seen so much of Miles, from his boyhood on.

Miles and I were friends—until Bitches Brew. He never forgave me for not turning handsprings over his venture into electronics. I felt Miles was electrifying without the added wattage. But since he was always trying something new, and always expecting attention, I’m sure he would have been delighted by this polyrhythmic, visual and sonic odyssey of his life.

This tribute to the always-alive music of Miles is not in an American museum; the ones here are not yet hip to jazz as an art. This awakening challenge to our treasures of high art is mounted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the first one there, but it has been brewing for a long time. The MMFA’s director, Nathalie Bondil, has a long-term relationship with the Musée de la Musique in Paris, which originally conceived the exhibit, and Bondil is much involved, as she puts it, in “cross-roading visual art and music.”

Miles was a painter, and the exhibition shows some of his visual improvisations. Also, along with his original manuscripts and scores, there are horns he played. And dig this from Cecilia Bonn, the museum’s communications consultant: “Small chambers placed throughout the installation in the form of the ‘mutes’ Miles used are among the design initiatives to ensure optimal acoustic conditions. And twenty listening stations will enable visitors to immerse themselves in Miles’ multiple musical currents.” Also, you’ll be able to hear Miles “live” in “a series of large-screen projections featuring clips and full-length footage from such concert performances as the 1985 Montreal International Jazz Festival.”

My unsolicited suggestion to Nathalie Bondil is that she invite museum directors in the United States to come to Montreal and immerse themselves in the microcosm of Miles. Imagine such resourceful, imaginative exhibitions on Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Jack Teagarden, John Coltrane, Pee Wee Russell—you can add the names. And throughout this country—with music classes expunged from so many schools by No Child Left Behind—fine arts museums correlating sight, sound and American history shaped by jazz could invite public school classes to learn more about swinging the arts.

The kids would also learn something about the thrust and the often-exhilarating surprise of creation, as shown in the catalog in these juxtaposed quotes:

Pablo Picasso: “In painting you can try anything. As long as you never do anything over again.”

Miles Davis: “Now, nothing in music and sounds is ‘wrong.’ You can hit anything, any kind of chord. … Music is wide open for anything.”

Pablo Picasso: “You see me here, and yet I’ve already changed. I’m already somewhere else.”

Miles Davis: “Nothing is out of the question the way I think and live my life. I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning.”

The catalog further contributes permanently to jazz history with the deeply searching and knowledgeable text by, among others, Franck Bergerot, editor in chief of France’s Jazz magazine, writer of many Miles Davis liner notes, and coordinator of the first volumes of Miles’ complete works, released by the Masters of Jazz label.

Among the photographs, most of which are new to me, are those depicting Miles as a boy and Miles as the youngest member of trumpeter Eddie Randle’s Blue Devils, the house band at the Rhumboogie Club in East St. Louis. The evolving Miles became music director of the Blue Devils and was in charge of organizing rehearsals.

From the text about a time in his life when Miles had seemed to stop growing: “a young white cat by the name of Chet Baker was named best trumpet player for 1953; and while in Detroit, Miles heard the playing of Clifford Brown, the rising black trumpet star. In March, 1954, Davis was back in New York determined to make … a fresh start.
“However, once again his trumpet was in hock. He was playing Art Farmer’s trumpet, and Farmer accompanied him to make sure his trumpet did not vanish.”

I’d never heard that before, but now I have, thanks to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. According to Tourism Montreal, “the Museum is Montreal’s top cultural destination … and close to 100,000 people take part annually in its educational and cultural activities.” Now it’s also a swinging institution, revealing that in a vital area of the arts, America’s museums are, by contrast, culturally disadvantaged. I hope Montreal’s “We Want Miles” becomes a traveling exhibition south of the border. Any museum directors interested?

Friday, October 8, 2010


“The archetypal jazzman, as elegant as he was inaccessible, Miles Davis was considered the twentieth-century incarnation of cool, both in his attitude and in his playing. A ladies' man, an enigmatic personality touched by genius and by rage, this son of the African-American middle class established himself as one of the greatest innovators in jazz, a genre he never stopped confronting and de-compartmentalizing through various aesthetic revolutions. With exceptional photographs, handwritten scores, original record-cover art and expert biography, "We Want Miles" attempts to trace the legend of one of the most fascinating and extraordinary artists in the history of music.”

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Just when you think that you won’t have anything further to do with the most merchandised Jazz musician in the history of the music, this book comes along.

The book is essentially a companion volume to a museum exhibition initiated and organized by the Cité de la musique, Paris, with the support of Miles Davis Properties, LLC, in association with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It is published by Skira Rizzoli in a 9.5 x 11.5” folio format.

The exhibition appeared at Musée de la Musique, Paris from October 16, 2009 to January 17, 2010 and then traveled to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion for a showing from April 30 to August 29, 2010. The exhibition curator was Vincent Bessieres.

Vince Bessieres also serves as the editor of the book which has contributions from George Avakian, Laurent Cugny, Ira Gitler, David Liebman, Francis Marmande, John Szwed and Mike Zwerin.

Skira Rizzoli has done its usual fine job with the formatting of this work which includes a bevy of photographs. The book retails for $50.00 although some booksellers are offering up to a 40% discount with shipping included.

Here is the chapter breakdown:

We have included below the introductions from the book as provided by the two, museum curators. Sadly, the exhibit did not visit a museum in a city in the USA.

© -Laurent Bayle & Eric de Visscher, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“In 1980, after nearly five years of silence, Miles Davis began to play again in the studio and on stage. The snappy title of one of the first records heralding his comeback was the self-evident statement "We Want Miles" Who is this "we"? How do you explain that simply saying a first name can conjure up an artist's undeniable power? To understand the univer sal respect commanded by a figure of this stature, recognized for ele vating a fledgling musical genre to a global phenomenon, we need only call to mind the course of his career: Miles Davis got his start playing in big bands in his hometown of St. Louis, enthusiastically embraced bebop, initiated the cool, embarked on a quest for a third avenue between swing and free jazz, and subsequently immersed himself in electric jazz, with occasional forays into soul and rock. Could this also explain how his name became legend, with musicians of every stripe all over the world incessantly chanting "We want Miles" to encourage him to return to centre stage?—a stage he would now take by storm, with numerous records, television appearances, advertising and film projects that transformed him into a genuine media icon. First, Davis became aware of the legend of jazz, which had expanded into a worldwide genre, then of his own legend as a "global" artist who transcended styles, schools and genres to assert himself as a musician, creator and leader of one of the twentieth century's signature musical cur rents. Although he contributed to the history of jazz in much the same way as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, no other musician embraced its many developments with such boldness and ingenuity. He even anticipated its major turning points, transforming music meant for entertainment and dancing into music that had to be listened to, and he was subsequently criticized for some of his choices by those who shunned progress.

As with Serge Gainsbourg, whose name immediately came to mind when the Cite de la musique was considering a first temporary exhibition on French chanson, cult figure Miles Davis instantly occurred to us as soon as the topic of jazz was proposed. In addition to a record title [You're under Arrest], these two figures, born in the same year, shared the desire to avoid being confined to any one style, always seeking out new, innova tive—and sometimes unexpected—musical avenues. They were inspired by the sense of "the moment" both in the way they related to their era and in their work: Gainsbourg wrote fast, Davis created music on the spot, pushing the art of improvisation to the limit without ever losing the connection with his audience. To quote saxophonist David Liebman from one of the texts in this catalogue, "When Miles went on stage, past and future didn't exist. It was all about the present tense, the essence of true improvisation and what most jazz musicians strive for daily when playing."

It is undoubtedly this "mystery of the present moment" that Miles Davis never ceased to explore, developing both the sounds (his move to electric and amplified instruments is an example of this, as are his collaborative efforts with Gil Evans) and the language of jazz. To do so, he tapped into a fertile source of renewal by working with new musicians. From John Coltrane to Herbie Hancock, the long list of artists who worked with Davis demonstrates his openness to the influences of other sizeable talents—his contemporaries as well as younger musi cians. From Kind of Blue and Tutu to Porgy and Bess and Bitches Brew, Davis' great albums all bear witness, in various forms, to his quest for the perfect moment.

This is the exceptional journey related in this book—a faithful counter part to the exhibition first presented at the Musee de la musique and subsequently at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts—which presents a chronological account by Franck Bergerot supplemented with reminis cences by certain key figures of the time. As for the exhibition, the photographs were chosen with particular care, since it is true that jazz and photography share a common history. Both capture the moment and record contrasts, immortalizing the illustrious heroes and pivotal moments of a musical genre that is quintessentially ephemeral. Neither the exhibition nor this catalogue would have been possible without the tireless efforts and unfailing ingenuity of curator and editor Vincent Bessieres. The project received steadfast support from the Miles Davis Estate, especially Cheryl Davis, Erin Davis and Vince Wilburn, Jr. The many lenders, photographers and institutions that contributed to the exhibition not only made it possible but also ensured its originality. To them, and to the people at the Cite de la musique and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, who helped make it a reality, we offer our heartfelt thanks.”

© -Vincent Bessieres, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“Jazz has had its fair share of eccentric personalities, picaresque protag onists, tragic destinies, meteoric careers and dazzling creators. But Miles Davis is still the most fascinating and mysterious of them all. The exhibition "We Want Miles" does not claim to be the last word on this artist who left his mark on the twentieth century; rather, it is an attempt to sketch a broad outline, analyze his transformations and follow his evo lution. Like the art of Picasso, to whom he is often compared, Davis' music has its periods. In step with the fast-paced century, he set out in a new direction every five years. He lost his audience, found another, lost that one—and won over yet another. When Miles shed his skin, you just had to keep up with him. He sparks both desire and frustration: when you arrive where you expect him to be, he's already gone. What he played one day he would never play again. And yet it's always Miles. His sound may have changed, his bands may have had a high turnover rate, he may have flouted convention and been electrified by electricity, but something remains, making it possible to identify him in just a few notes.

This is the thread running through the exhibition, which seeks to discover this complex and elusive man: Miles the proud young boy, Miles the coun try bumpkin who dreams of Bird, Miles the epitome of cool, Miles the boxer, arrogant Miles, Miles the down-and-out junkie, Miles who turns his back on his audience, Miles and his kind of blue, Miles as Porgy, Miles as Bess, Miles celebrating the saeta, Miles who finally smiles, Miles who questions jazz, Miles the hepcat, Miles the rocker, Miles the show-off, Miles and his bitches' brew, Miles who thinks he's Hendrix, Miles on the corner, Miles who vanishes, Miles who reappears, Miles the star demanding royal treatment, Miles haunted by his ghosts, Miles who never looks back, blue Miles, Miles who stares down the ignorant, Miles the macho, the hero, the leader, Miles with his nerves on edge, Miles beaten by the cops, Miles who shamelessly tells his story, Miles and his trumpets of many colours, Sphinx-like Miles, hip Miles, bop Miles... Miles, Miles, Miles. "We want Miles," you say. But which one? Can we separate the man from his music? Can we understand his work without connecting it to his life? His music has survived him, of course. But in the quintessentially personal medium that is jazz—this inti mate art form in conversation with the world—Miles inhabits the music as much as he plays it. Or is it the music that inhabits him? Imagine his silhouette on stage, his body hunched over, his trumpet raised. What did Miles play that he had not experienced? Aside from boxing, nothing else interested him. Miles never stopped looking jazz in the face and con fronting it.

Opening new pathways, absorbing trends, surpassing styles, he turned around and gave it back, all the while avoiding clichés, easy recipes and ready-made formulas. His misconduct cannot be dis missed on the grounds that he so often strove for excellence and originality. Who is not a fan of Miles Davis? Who cannot find, in this vast, varied body of work, a piece that speaks to them? Everyone has a favourite Miles Davis album, even Barack Obama, whose election as president of the United States adds symbolic resonance to an anec dote in Davis' autobiography about a White House dinner President Reagan invited him to in 1987.

When another guest, a woman of a certain age, condescendingly asked him what he had done that was important enough to merit an invitation to the hallowed halls of the White House, Miles replied, "Well, I've changed music five or six times." That's enough to warrant an exhibition ... and this book, which will serve as a lasting record of it. "We Want Miles," and we can never get enough of him.”

As the seven chapter breakdown spanning the years 1948-1991 of the book would indicate, there is a style, perhaps more than one, of Miles’ work that may appeal to a wide variety of audiences.

Like the one constant in the universe, Miles’ music was always changing.

As Miles was quoted as saying in 1985:

“… maybe in a way I change music and stuff …. Yeah, you can say that … I do change it … but I can’t help it, you know, It’s not that I am a genius but it’s just that I can’t help it.”

Posted by Jazz Profiles at 1:09 PM

Monday, December 27, 2010


Please Note: The following list of books is not organized according to any personal hierarchy of the relative value of each individual book. Rather it is a list that considers ALL of the books listed to be of equal intellectual value and interest, albeit for different reasons. In a couple of instances I even include texts that were originally published in 2009 but were subsequently republished in paperbook editions in 2010. A brief summation of the content of some of the books is included below the titles. The bottomline on this list is that each one of these books is extraordinary and invaluable in their own right and represents some of the very best writing published in the United States in 2010
--Kofi Natambu, Editor

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. by Isabel Wilkerson. Random House. New York 2010.

A powerful, groundbreaking, and exquisitely written history of the massive migration of African Americans from the south to other regions of the country north, east, and west that took place over a nearly six decade period after 1915 and its ongoing revolutionary impact on American social history, culture, politics, and art that reverberates to this day by the Pulitzer Prize winning African American journalist, historian, scholar, and teacher Isabel Wilkerson

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings. by James Baldwin; edited by Randall Kenan. Pantheon Books. New York 2010

This new collection of previously unpublished essays, reviews, criticism, and social commentary is a scintillating, dynamic, and profound reminder of why the extraordinary late novelist and essayist and social/cultural critic James Baldwin is justly considered to be one of the greatest and most influential American writers of the past century.

Sweet Thunder : The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson. by Wil Haygood. Alfred A. Knopf. New York 2009

The third book in a historical trilogy of grand biographical narratives of legendary African American male cultural figures of the 20th century (the previous two in this series were about Sammy Davis, Jr, and Adam Clayton Powell) by a man whom many consider to be one of the finest U.S. biographers writing today, the African American journalist and historian Wil Haygood. Like all of Haygood's work this book is an extremely well written and absolutely riveting examination of the life and times of the elegant champion boxer, urbane sophisticate, consummate artist, and bon vivant Walker Smith Jr. (aka Sugar Ray Robinson) who was and is considered to this day to be the best boxer pound-for-pound in the history of boxing. Robinson was also an iconic African American figure whom both Miles Davis and Muhammad Ali among many others revered and considered a major role model and mentor.

Black Is The New White: A Memoir. by Paul Mooney. Simon & Schuster. New York 2010 (paperback edition)

Paul Mooney is a legendary figure in American comedy circles over the past four decades and was also the best friend, creative colleague, comrade in arms, and fellow artist of the late, great Richard Pryor (1940-2005) for over 40 years. Writer of some of Pryor's most famous and enduring monologues, routines, and skits as well as an iconic staff writer for a number of television series featuring African American performers (e.g. everything from "Sanford and Son" to "In Living Color", "The Chapelle Show" and Saturday Night Live, etc.) A scathing and extremely perceptive satirist, Mooney is widely considered to be one of the funniest and most socially conscious comedians in U.S. history. This powerful memoir details the fascinating story of the major struggles and triumphs of Mooney's life and career and provides an important contextual study of the evolution of American culture and public entertainment since the early 1960s.

At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks To the Rise of Black Power. by Danielle McGuire. Alfred A. Knopf. New York 2010

This very important new book by the brilliant Detroit historian, professor, and scholar Danielle McGuire is destined to have a profound and lasting impact on our perceptions, knowledge, and understanding of the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s, '50s. and '60s, and an even more transformative effect on our ongoing appreciation and study of the pervasive, extraordinary and thoroughly revolutionary role of African American women in modern U.S. history.

Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat From Racial Equity. by Tim Wise. City Lights Books (Open Media Series). San Francisco 2010

Wrestling With The Left: The Making of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. by Barbara Foley. Duke University Press. Durham 2010

Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation. Edited by Adel Iskander and Hakem Rustom. University of California Press. Berkeley 2010

Nelson Mandela: Conversations With Myself. by Nelson Mandela. Farrar, Straus Giroux. New York 2010

A Presidency In Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and The Struggle To Control Our Economic Future. by Robert Kuttner Chelsea Green Publishing. Vermont 2010

The Mendacity Of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betryal of American Liberalism. by Roger D. Hodge. Harper. New York 2010

Coltrane On Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews. edited by Chris DeVito. Chicago Review Press. Chicago 2010

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. by Michelle Alexander. The New Press. New York 2010

The Obama Syndrome: Surrender At Home, War Abroad. by Tariq Ali. Verso. New York 2010

The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power. by Paul Street. Paradigm Publishers. Boulder 2010

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. by David Remnick. Alfred A. Knopf. New York 2010

Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. by Matt Taibbi. Spiegel & Grau 2010

Bob Dylan in America. by Sean Wilentz. Doubleday. New York 2010

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music. by Amiri Baraka. University of California Press. Berkeley 2010 (Paperback edition)

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. by Robin D.G. Kelley. Free Press 2010 (Paperback edition)