Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Tribute To and Celebration Of the 89th Birthday of Miles Davis: 1926-1991


Happy Birthday Miles Davis May 26, 2015

Miles Davis Birthday 2015
Happy, Happy 89th Miles.
Photograph courtesy of Susan Olsen.


Miles Davis Statue Unveiling Set For September 12 In Alton, IL  

May 6, 2015

The Miles Davis Memorial Project committee is inviting the entire Riverbend community and fans from around the world to attend the unveiling ceremonies and celebration of the completion of the statue of renowned musician Miles Dewey Davis III on Sept. 12 in Alton, IL.

Area residents who visited downtown West Third Street in Alton recently would have noticed construction taking place for the music plaza where the sculpture is soon to be located. The stone wall, which will surround the music staff design, is underway, and sculptor Preston Jackson is preparing the mold in preparation for the final phase of pouring the bronze.

Read more at The Telegraph.



Born: May 26, 1926  

Died: September 28, 1991

(b. May 26, 1926--d. September 28, 1991) 

For nearly six decades, Miles Davis has embodied all that is cool – in his music (and most especially jazz), in his art, fashion, romance, and in his international, if not intergalactic, presence that looms strong as ever today.  2006 – The year in which Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on March 13th – is a land­mark year, commemorating the 80th anniversary of his birth on May 26, 1926, and the 15th anniversary of his death on September 28, 1991.  In between those two markers is more than a half-century of brilliance – often exasperating, brutally honest with himself and to others, uncompromising in a way that transcended mere intuition.

In carrying out what always seemed like a mission, Miles Dewey Davis III – musician, composer, arranger, producer, and band leader – was always in the right place at the right time, another defining aspect of cool.  Born in Alton, Illinois, and raised in East St. Louis, where his father was a dentist, Miles was given his first trumpet at age 13.  A child prodigy, his mastery of the instrument accelerated as he came under the spell of older jazzmen Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and others who passed through.  He accepted admission to the Juilliard School in 1944, but it was a ruse to get to New York and hook up with Bird and Diz.  Miles was 18.  Cool.

Within a year, he accomplished his goal.  He can be heard on sessions led by Parker that were released on Savoy in 1945 (with Max Roach), ’46 (with Bud Powell), ’47 (with Duke Jordan and J.J. Johnson), and ’48 (with John Lewis).  In 1947, the Miles Davis All-Stars (with Bird, Roach, Lewis, and Nelson Boyd) debuted on Savoy.  His years on 52nd Street during the last half of the 1940s brought him into the bop orbit of musicians whose legends he would share before he was 25 years old.

At the turn of the decade into 1950, as Miles led his first small groups, an asso­ci­a­tion with Gerry Mulligan and arranger Gil Evans ushered in The Birth of the Cool (Capitol), a movement that challenged the dominance of bebop and hard-bop.  Miles’ subsequent record dates as leader in the early ’50s (on Blue Note, then Prestige) helped introduce Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Horace Silver, and Percy Heath, among many others, establishing Miles’ role as the premier jazz talent scout for the rest of his career.

An historic set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955 resulted in George Avakian signing Miles to Columbia Records, and led to the form­a­tion of his so-called “first great quintet,” featuring John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones (the ’Round About Midnight sessions).  Miles’ 30 years at Columbia was one of the longest exclusive signings in the history of jazz, and one that spanned at least a half-dozen distinct generations of changes in the music – virtually all of which were anticipated or led by Miles or his former sidemen.

Over the course of those 30 years, service with Miles became an imprimatur for the Who’s Who of jazzmen.  Kind Of Blue, undisputedly the coolest jazz album ever recorded, was done in 1959 with the second edition of Miles’ “first great quintet” – principally Coltrane, Chambers, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and Jimmy Cobb – who stayed together until 1961.

After several intermediate groups (which featured such giants as Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, Victor Feldman, and George Coleman), Miles’ “second great quintet” slowly coalesced over 1963-64, into the lineup of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (who was 17 years old when he joined Miles).  They recorded with producer Teo Macero and toured around the world together until 1968, achieving artistic and commercial success that was unprecedented in modern jazz.

1968 was a cataclysmic year of sea change for Miles and for America, a year of upheaval – the escalation of the war in southeast Asia, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the rise of the Black Power movement were among the factors that pushed Miles’ music toward a more insistent electric (amplified) pulse.  At the same time, Miles dug the triple-whammy he heard in the music of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone.  What began in 1968 with Miles’ quintet quietly adopting electric piano and guitar, blew up into a full-scale rock band sound on 1969’s breakthrough double-LP Bitches Brew (which landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone, the first jazzman to appear on the magazine’s front-page.  Very cool.)

At the core of Bitches Brew, whose sessions took place the week after the Woodstock festival in August 1969, there was the final small group known as the “third great quintet” – Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette – augmented by John McLaughlin, Larry Young, Joe Zawinul, Bennie Maupin, Steve Grossman, Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Don Alias, Airto Moreira, Harvey Brooks, and former quintet members Hancock and Carter.
Six months later in February 1970, Miles kicked off the Jack Johnson sessions, shuffling many of those same players over the next two months, plus Sonny Sharrock, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Keith Jarrett and others.  In no uncertain terms, the jazz-rock fusion movement had been launched full-tilt, and the spirit of Miles permeated the three dominant bands who rocked the stages (as he did) of the Fillmores East and West (et alia) through the ’70s and beyond – Weather Report, Return To Forever, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

His freewheeling lifestyle and high-energy forays into funk and R&B grooves somehow dovetailed with a period of declining health in the early ’70s, until Miles finally went underground in 1975, after playing (what turned out to be) his final gig at New York’s Central Park Music Festival that summer.  A series of live LPs (domestic and imported from Japan) and other archival releases from the ’50s and ’60s were made available over the next five years to fill the void.

Into the ’80s, Miles’ reputation as talent scout extraordinaire went unquestioned.  He surfaced stronger than ever in 1981 on The Man With the Horn with a top-tier lineup of young players – Mike Stern, Marcus Miller, Bill Evans (no relation), Al Foster, and Mino Cinelu (all of whom went on to success­ful careers).  It was Miles’ first LP to skirt the Billboard album chart’s Top 50 since Bitches Brew, and the band was recorded live for the follow-up double-LP, 1982’s We Want Miles.  They remained stable (abetted by John Scofield) in 1983 on Star People.  The lineup then morphed on 1984’s Decoy, as Miller was replaced by Daryll ‘Munch’ Jones, Robert Irving III was added on synthe­siz­ers and programming, and Branford Marsalis shared saxophone parts with Evans.

Miles’ final album for Columbia Records was released in 1985, the cryptically titled You’re Under Arrest.  It (re)-introduced Miles’ nephew Vince Wilburn into the lineup (he played briefly on The Man With the Horn), as Bob Berg took over the big chair from Evans and Marsalis.  The album debuted two ballads that would be staples of Miles’ performances for the rest of his career, Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
The following year, Miles began recording for Warner Bros., a prolific period that yielded one new album every year (the first four co-produced with Marcus Miller): Tutu (1986), Music From Siesta (1987, a film soundtrack collabora­tion with Miller), Live Around the World (1988), Amandla (1989), Dingo (1990, an orchestral collabora­tion with Michel Legrand), and his final studio album. the hip-hop informed Doo-Bop (1991), whose title tune gave Miles a posthumous Rap/R&B hit single in 1992.

“Miles Dewey Davis III – trumpeter, visionary, and eternal modernist – was a force of nature,” wrote Ashley Kahn (author of Kind Of Blue: The Making Of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, Da Capo, 2000) in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame dinner journal on the occasion of Miles’ induction.  “With an ear that disregarded categories of style, he sought out new musical worlds, and generations followed in his footsteps.  While the creative rush and experimental charge that come to most musicians in youth eventually run down, Davis held an exploratory edge for most of his 65 years.  It had to be fresh, or forget it.”

Beyond his defiant stance, his piercing glare, his amorous conquests and one-of-a-kind fashion statements – there was and always will be one eternal truth: the music of Miles Davis.

In 1996, five years after his death, Columbia/Legacy issued the first deluxe multi-disc box set in The Miles Davis Series, the 6-CD Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, (collaborations from 1957-’68).  It went on to win three Grammy Awards – Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes, and Best Recording Package (Boxed) – the second of only three times in Grammy history that trifecta was ever achieved.

Legacy’s Miles Davis Series was unofficially inaugurated in 1997 with five double-CD live digipaks, including Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (April 1970, when Steve Grossman replaced Wayne Shorter) and Miles Davis at Fillmore (at the New York venue, June 1970, with Keith Jarrett in the new lineup), along with In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall (New York, September 1972); Dark Magus: Live At Carnegie Hall (New York, March 1974); and Live-Evil (New York, February & June 1970; and Washington, DC, December 1970).

1998 brought the next two box sets: the Grammy Award-winning 6-CD Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings; and the Grammy Award-winning 4-CD Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (of 1969-’70).  The fourth box set was issued in 2000, the 6-CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961, which won two Grammy Awards, for Best Boxed Recording Package and Best Album Notes.

In 2001, one decade after his death – and in honor of his 75th birthday celebra­­tion – Legacy formally (re-)launched The Miles Davis Series, with the original motion picture soundtrack album for Columbia Pictures’ Finding Forrester(starring Sean Connery and directed by Gus Van Sant), consisting almost entirely of Miles Davis music.  Five new digitally remastered titles followed: ‘Round About Midnight (with four bonus tracks from the original 1955-56 sessions, not heard on the original 1957 LP); Milestones (with all three known alternate takes from the 1958 LP sessions); Miles Davis At Newport (the full-length performance from the 1958 jazz festival); Jazz At The Plaza (also from 1958, unreleased until 1973, but out-of-print for nearly two decades); and Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Best Of The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961, a single-CD of tracks from the box set.

Later on in 2001 came The Essential Miles Davis, the double-CD 23-track collec­tion gathered from the discographies of the six companies for whom Miles did his most important recordings (Savoy, Capitol, Prestige, Blue Note, Columbia, and Warner Bros.).  The Columbia archives then surrendered a live concert treasure long considered to be a crucial ‘missing link’ in the Miles Davis iconography, with the release of the double-CD It’s About That Time: Miles Davis Live At Fillmore East (March 7, 1970).  It was followed – on the fateful in-store day of September 11, 2001 – by the triple-CD box set The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions, covering those 1967-’69 dates.  In 2002, the three albums that came out of those sessions were restored, the classic In A Silent Way, and expanded editions of Filles De Kilimanjaro and Water Babies.

The Miles Davis Series returned in 2003, with the 5-CD box set The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, chronicling those February-June 1970 studio dates that intro­duced John McLaughlin.  (The resulting album, 1971’s A Tribute To Jack Johnson, was reissued in January 2005, in conjunction with the Ken Burns PBS documentary, Unfor­giv­able Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson.)  Meanwhile, August 2004 brought the sixth box set, the 7-CD Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis 1963-1964, the largest volume ever produced in the series.

In 2005, Legacy commemorated the 50th anniversary year of Miles’ original signing to Columbia in 1955, starting with the timely (February) release of My Funny Valentine for the first time on CD in the U.S. (recorded February 1964 at Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall in New York).  One week later came the ‘DualDisc’ configuration of Kind Of Blue, with the CD side containing the original album plus its only existing alternate take (“Flamenco Sketches”), and the DVD side containing a 25-minute mini-documentary, Made In Heaven.

As with its predecessor, the Seven Steps box set ‘broke out’ several titles as newly expanded editions in March 2005: Seven Steps To Heaven, Miles Davis In Europe, Four & More (the follow-up to My Funny Valentine), and Miles In Tokyo and Miles In Berlin (both issued for the first-time in the U.S.).  May brought ’Round About Midnight: Legacy Edition, the deluxe 2-CD version of  Miles’ first full-length Columbia LP plus bonus tracks on disc one; with disc two comprising the Newport Jazz Festival perform­ance of “’Round Midnight” (with Thelonious Monk) from 1955, plus the previously unissued 1956 Pasadena concert.

2005 concluded with the September release of the 6-CD box set, The Cellar Door Sessions 1970, six complete performance sets at the Washington, D.C. nightclub in December 1970, by the lineup that starred Miles, Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and (on the final night) guitarist John McLaughlin.

Altogether since 1997, the Miles Davis Series has reissued digitally remastered and restored versions (many of them expanded editions) of:  ‘Round About Midnight (1957), Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), Milestones (1958), Miles Davis At Newport (1958), Jazz At The Plaza (1958), Kind Of Blue (1959), Sketches Of Spain (1960), Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall – The Complete Concert (1961), In Person: Friday Night At the Blackhawk (1961), In Person: Satur­day Night At the Blackhawk (1961), Quiet Nights (1962), Seven Steps To Heaven (1963), Miles Davis In Europe (1963), Miles In Tokyo (1964), Miles In Berlin (1964), My Funny Valentine (1965), E.S.P. (1965), Miles Smiles (1966), Four & More (1966), Sorcerer (1967), Nefertiti (1967), Miles In the Sky (1968), In A Silent Way (1969), Filles De Kilimanjaro (1969), Bitches Brew (1970), A Tribute To Jack Johnson (1971), On the Corner (1972), Big Fun (1974), Get Up With It (1974), Water Babies (1976), and Aura (1985).

Various collections include four packages culled from the respective boxed sets, the single-CD The Best Of Miles Davis & Gil Evans, the double-CD The Best Of the Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68, the single-CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Best Of The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961, and the single-CD The Best Of Seven Steps To Heaven; plus Miles Davis Love Songs (a 1999 Valentine’s Day special) and 2003’s Love Songs 2; the 2-CD The Essential Miles Davis; the Miles Davis/Ken Burns JAZZ compilation; Blue Miles; Blue Moods – Music For You; The Best Of Miles Davis; and Miles Davis Jazz Moods – Cool; and Cool And CollectedThe Miles Davis Story, the first major documentary to be produced on Miles in nearly 15 years, was issued in 2002 on VHS and interactive DVD formats.

The 8 critically acclaimed box sets of The Miles Davis Series comprise:

Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (released in 1996), the 6-CD box set which won Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album, Best Album Notes, and Best Recording Package;
Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (February 1998), the 6-CD box set which won the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes;
The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (October 1998); the 4-CD boxed set which won the Grammy as Best Boxed Recording Package;
Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961 (February 2000), the 6-CD box set which won Grammy Awards for Best Boxed Recording Package and Best Album Notes;
The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions (September 2001), the 3-CD box set;
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (August 2003), the 5-CD box set which won the Grammy Award for Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package;
Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (August 2004), the 7-CD box set; and
The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (September 2005), the 6-CD box set.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sound Projections: Miles Davis, 1926-1991



I hope you enjoyed the fourth week issue from May 16-May 22, 2015 of Volume 1, Number 3 of SOUND PROJECTIONS, the online quarterly music magazine which featured the outstanding singer, consummate musical improvisor, actress, ensemble leader, and teacher Dee Dee Bridgewater (b. May 27, 1950). The fifth week issue of Volume 1, Number 3 of the quarterly begins TODAY on Saturday, May 23, 2015 @10AM PST which is @1PM EST.

The featured artist for this week May 23-May 29, 2015 is the legendary, iconic, and innovative musician, composer, arranger, ensemble leader, theorist, and teacher Miles Davis (1926-1991).  So please enjoy this week’s featured musical artist in SOUND PROJECTIONS, the online quarterly music magazine and please pass the word to your friends, colleagues, comrades, and associates that the magazine is now up and running at the following site. Please click on the link below:

Sound Projections

A sonic exploration and tonal analysis of contemporary creative music in a myriad of improvisational/composed settings, textures, and expressions.

Welcome to Sound Projections

I'm your host Kofi Natambu. This online magazine features the very best in contemporary creative music in this creative timezone NOW (the one we're living in) as well as that of the historical past. The purpose is to openly explore, examine, investigate, reflect on, studiously critique, and take opulent pleasure in the sonic and aural dimensions of human experience known and identified to us as MUSIC. I'm also interested in critically examining the wide range of ideas and opinions that govern our commodified notions of the production, consumption, marketing, and commercial exchange of organized sound(s) which largely define and thereby (over)determine our present relationships to music in the general political economy and culture.

Thus this magazine will strive to critically question and go beyond the conventional imposed notions and categories of what constitutes the generic and stylistic definitions of 'Jazz', 'classical music', 'Blues', 'Rhythm and Blues', 'Rock 'n Roll', 'Pop', 'Funk', 'Hip Hop' etc. in order to search for what individual artists and ensembles do creatively to challenge and transform our ingrained ideas and attitudes of what music is and could be.

So please join me in this ongoing visceral, investigative, and cerebral quest to explore, enjoy, and pay homage to the endlessly creative and uniquely magisterial dimensions of MUSIC in all of its guises and expressive identities.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

MILES DAVIS (1926-1991): Legendary, iconic, and innovative musician, composer, arranger, ensemble leader, theorist, and teacher







Featuring the Musics and Aesthetic Visions of:

April 25-May 1

May 2-May 8

May 9-15

May 16-May 22

May 23-29

May 30-June 5

June 6-June 12

June 13-19

June 20-June 26

June 27-July 3

July 4-July 10

July 11-July 17

Miles Davis: A New Revolution in Sound
by Kofi Natambu
Black Renaissance Noire
Volume 14, Number 2
Fall, 2014  

"Knowledge is Freedom. Ignorance is Slavery.”
—Miles Davis

"That period between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s was an era in which the resources of Jazz were being consolidated and refined and the range of its sources broadened. Some of the Jazz of this period reached across class and age lines and unified black audiences. Young people could see this music as "bad" in much the same sense that James Brown used the word, and older black people could see its links to black tradition."
--John Szwed

"To the yang of 'hard bop' Davis brought stillness, melodic beauty, and understatement; to the yin of 'cool' he brought rich sonority, blues feeling, and an enriched rhythmic capacity that moved beyond swing to funk. By refusing to color-code either his music or his audience, Davis rose at the end of the 1950s to the summit of artistic excellence."
--Marsha Bayles

“What is there to say about the instrument?   It’s my voice—that’s all it is."
                   --Miles Davis                        

On July 17,1955 at the second annual Newport Jazz Festival, Davis was literally invited at the last minute to join a group of prominent Jazz musicians in a staged twenty minute jam session that had been organized by the festival s famed music director, impresario, and promoter George Wein as part of an "opening act" for the then highly popular white headliner Dave Brubeck.

Scheduled merely as a quick programming lead-in to stage changes between featured performances by the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras, Lester Young, and Brubeck, nothing special was planned in advance for this short set which, like most jam sessions, was completely improvised by the musicians performing onstage. Davis was then the least well known musician in the assembled group which was made up of Thelonious Monk, individuals from the MJQ, and other individual members of various groups playing in the festival. Wein just happened to be a big fan of Davis and added him because he was "a melodic bebopper" and a player who, in Wein's view, could reach a larger audience than most other musicians because of the haunting romantic lyricism and melodic richness of his style. Wein's insight turned out to be prophetic.

Despite the fact that most of the mainstream audience on hand had only a vague idea of who Davis was, he was a standout sensation in the jam session and his searing performance was one of the most talked about highlights of the festival. Appearing in an elegant white seersucker sport coat and a small black bow tie, thus already demonstrating the sleek, sharp sartorial style that quickly became his trademark (and led to his eventual appearance on the covers of many fashion magazines in the U.S, Europe, and Asia), Davis captivated the festival throng with haunting, dynamic solos and brilliant ensemble playing on both slow ballads and intensely up-tempo quicksilver tunes alike. Taking complete command of the setting with his understated elegance and relaxed yet naturally dramatic stage presence, the handsome and charismatic Davis breezed through two famous and musically daunting compositions by Thelonious Monk ("Hackensack" and "Round Midnight"), and then ended his part of the program by playing an impassioned bluesy solo on a well-known Charlie Parker composition entitled "Now is the Time" which Davis had originally recorded with Bird in 1945. That clinched it. He was a hit. Miles had returned from almost complete oblivion to becoming a much talked about and heralded star seemingly overnight (of course this personal and professional recognition had been over a decade in the making). After a long, arduous struggle as both an artist and individual that began in his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois when he started to play trumpet at the age of 13 in 1939, Miles Davis had finally "arrived." For the first time since 1950 he was completely clean and off drugs. No longer addicted, Miles now played with a bravura, command, and creative clarity that he had been fervently searching for well before he had become addicted to heroin. It would be the beginning of many more incredible triumphs and struggles that would catapult the fiery young trumpet player to the very pinnacle of his profession and global fame and wealth over the next ten years.

On hand for that historic summer concert in Newport, RI. was George Avakian, a young music producer from the large corporate recording company called Columbia (now Sony). Miles had been after Avakian for over five years trying to get a recording contract with Columbia which was then the largest and most successful music company in the United States, but Avakian had been cautiously waiting for a sign that Davis had conquered his personal problems and was ready to commit fulltime to his music. Clearly Miles was now ready. Avakian's brother Aram whispered to George during the concert that he should sign Davis now, before he became a big hit and signed with a rival company instead. Miles, himself nonplussed about the critical acclaim he was finally receiving, wondered what the fuss was all about and maintained that he was simply playing like he always had been. While there was some truth to this assertion it was also clear that Miles's highly disciplined demeanor, new responsible attitude, and impeccable playing now indicated his intent on making a new commitment to living a life strictly devoted to his art.

Avakian and Columbia representatives met with Davis two days later on July 19, 1955 to sign him to a new contract with the understanding that Davis would first fulfill the remainder of his contract with the Prestige label by doing a series of recordings in the fall of 1955 and the spring and fall of 1956 while at the same time making his first recordings with Columbia that would not be released until after the public appearance of the Prestige sessions. These small label recordings for Prestige would immediately become famously known as the "missing g" sessions (so-called for the dropping of the letter 'g' in the titles of these records, (e.g. Walkin', Workin', Cookin', Steamin', and Relaxin'). As Miles's first great legendary Quintet this young aggregation (the oldest member of the group was 33 years old) featured then relative unknowns John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. From the very beginning this group and Miles himself would remake Jazz history and become innovative and protean harbingers of great changes to come in the music as well as the general culture.

As with many great musicians, Miles's unique, highly individual sound on his chosen instrument--the trumpet--would be the creative basis and structural foundation of this new cultural and aesthetic intervention. His was a sound that embraced the entire history of Jazz trumpet in its meticulous attention to the demanding technical and physical requirements of the instrument yet also sought a creative and expressive approach that openly allowed for more subtle emotional nuances to emerge from his playing than were common traditionally on trumpet. Miles brought a highly burnished lyricism that was both deeply introspective and fiercely driving all at once. A major characteristic of Davis's playing was a new and different way of phrasing in which a major emphasis and focus on the relationship of space to tempo and melody (and the intervals between notes) became the hallmark of his style. In the process Davis dramatically redefined and expanded the expressive and creative range of the tonal palette and instrumental timbre of the trumpet. By shifting the traditional emphasis from the heraldic and bravura functions of the instrument to a more diverse and expansive range of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas Miles was able to openly express the anguished conflict, sardonic irony, restless desire for cultural and social change, and questing existential/ psychological anxiety of the modern age. This intense attention to the broader expressive possibilities of both musical improvisation and composition also turned the feverish search for new forms and methods that characterized the era into a parallel personal quest for discovering a wider range of emotional and psychological contexts in which to play. The sonic exploration of the complexities and ambiguities of joy, rage, love, and melancholia was a major hallmark of Miles's style. Central to Miles's vision and sensibility was an equally exhilarating appreciation for the balanced expressive and intellectual relationship between relaxation and tension in his music. By focusing specifically on the spatial and rhythmic dimensions of melodic invention Miles developed musical methods that called for, and often resulted in, a precise minimalist approach to playing in which each note (or corresponding chord) carried an implied reference to every other note or chord in a particular sequence of musical phrases. Through a technical command of breath control and timbrai dynamics induced by his embouchure and unorthodox valve fingerings, Miles could maintain or manipulate tonal pitch at the softest or loudest volumes. By creating stark dialectical contrasts in his sound through alternately attacking, slurring, syncopating or manipulating long tones in particular ensemble or orchestral settings (a technical device Miles often referred to as "contrary motion") Miles was able to convey great feeling and emotion through an economy of phrasing and musical rests. This rapt attention to allowing space or the silence between note intervals to dramatically assert itself as much or more as the notes themselves created great anticipation in his audience as to how these tensions would be resolved (or not). In this respect, the insightful observation by the French Jazz critic and music historian André Hodeir that Miles's sound tends toward a discovery of ecstasy is a rather apt description of Davis's expressive approach. What emerged from Miles's intensely comprehensive investigation of the creative possibilities of the instrument was a deep and lifelong appreciation for the tonal, sonic, and textural dimensions of playing and composing music. These aesthetic concerns as well as Miles's innovative creative solutions to the rigorous challenges of improvisational and composed ensemble structures alike in the modern Jazz tradition soon revolutionized all of American music and made Davis one of the leading and most influential musician-composers in the world during the last half of the 20th century.

Davis's widespread social, cultural, and political influence didn't end there however--especially in the black community. Miles also quickly became a social and cultural avatar whose highly personal combination of cool reserve, fiery defiance, detached alienation, intellectual independence, and striking stylistic innovation in everything from clothes to speech embodied, and largely defined for many, the ethos of 'hip' that pervaded the black Jazz world of the 1950s and early 1960s. But Miles, while remaining very hip, at the same time also lived and worked far beyond the insular world of hipsterism and avant-garde bohemia. He was unique in that his stance was simultaneously existentialist and engaged. As many observers, fans, scholars, friends, and critics have noted, Miles became, in many ways, what the critic Garry Giddins called "the representative black artist" of his era. John Szwed, Yale University music professor and author of a 2002 biography on Miles entitled So What: The Life of Miles Davis speaks for a couple of generations of writers, fans, artists and musicians when he states that by the late '50s, early 1960s:
“Miles was becoming the coin of the realm, cock of the walk, good copy for the tabloids, and inspiration for literary imagination. Allusions to him could turn up anywhere…Tributes to him sprang up in poems by Langston Hughes (“Trumpet Player: 52nd Street”), and Gregory Corso…Young people ostentatiously carried his albums to parties and sought out his clothing in the best men’s stores. In person, his every action was observed and read for meaning…A discourse developed around him, one that bore inordinate weight in matters of race—Miles stories—narratives about his inner drives, his demons, his pain, and his ambition. Invariably, his stories climaxed with a short comment, crushingly delivered in a husky imitation of the man’s voice, capped by some obscenity…He was the man.”
Among many black people, Davis's outspoken, defiant social stance and hip, charismatic aura signified a profound shift in cultural values and attitudes in the national black community that also had a lasting political significance and influence. This was especially true for the emerging adolescent youth and radical young adults of the era whose overt displays of rebellion and defiance of racism and repression were becoming pervasive with the rise of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Miles quickly became a major symbol of this modern revolutionary spirit in African American culture and was seen by many as an important artistic leader in this struggle and its widespread social and political demands for respect, justice, equality, and freedom for African Americans that marked the period. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the various musical aesthetics that Davis devised and expressed during the late '50s and throughout the '60s consciously sought to advance specifically new ideas about the structural, formal, and expressive dimensions of the modernist tradition in contemporary Jazz music. These changes would openly challenge many of the orthodoxies of this tradition both in terms of form and content while at the same time asserting a radically different set of ideological and aesthetic values about the intellectual and cultural worth, use, and intent of the music that in attitude and style sought to resist or go beyond standard notions of both high art and commercial popular culture. Simultaneously however, Davis sought to consciously establish an even more socially intimate relationship with his black audience (and especially its youthful members) that would embody and hopefully expand Davis's views on the broad necessity for deeply rooted political and cultural change within the African American community and the U.S. as a whole.

In the quest to critique many of the philosophical assumptions governing conventional modernist discourse in art while still retaining a fundamental aesthetic connection to other important aspects and principles of modernism--especially those having to do with the continuous necessity of creative change and revision--Davis epitomized the 'progressive' African American Jazz musician's desire to use black vernacular sources, ideas, and values to engage these modernist traditions and principles on his/her own independent social, cultural, and intellectual terms. In such major recordings from the 1957-1967 period as his orchestral masterpieces Miles Ahead, (1957) Porgy & Bess, (1959) and Sketches of Spain (1960)--made in collaboration with his longtime friend and colleague, the white composer and arranger Gil Evans --and his equally significant and highly influential small group Quintet and Sextet recordings, Milestones, (1958) Kind of Blue, (1959) Live at the Blackhawk, (1961) My Funny Valentine, (1965) Four & More, (1964) E.S.P., (1965) Miles Smiles, (1966) Miles in Berlin, (1964) Miles in Tokyo, (1964) Live at the Plugged Nickel, (1965) and Nefertiti, (1967) Davis was at the forefront of those African American artists of the period who, in all the arts, were feverishly looking for and often finding fresh, new modes of pursuing aesthetic innovation and social change. By dialectically synthesizing and extending ideas, strategies, methods, and structures culled from such disparate sources as 20th century classical music, the blues, R&B, and many different stylistic forms from the Jazz tradition (i.e. Swing, Bebop, 'Cool' and 'Hard Bop' etc.)--many of which Davis himself had played a pivotal role in developing and popularizing--Miles helped bring about a new creative synthesis of modern and vernacular expressions that greatly changed our perceptions of what American music was and could be.

(This essay is an excerpt from a new book-in-progress by Kofi Natambu entitled A BRAND NEW BAG: How African Americans Revolutionized U.S. Culture & Changed the World, 1955-1975)

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition)
Natambu, Kofi. "Miles Davis: A New Revolution in Sound." Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire 14.2 (2014): 36+. Academic OneFile. Web. 23 May 2015.



For the Artists: Critical Writing, Volume 2
Published: August 13, 2014

“Miles' music of the 1970s is not just a rejection of beauty, but a beautiful embrace of the rejected.”
—Greg Masters    Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions Sony-Legacy Music, October 2007

"There is no architecture and no build-up. Just a vivid, uninterrupted succession of colors, rhythms and moods." —Arnold Schoenberg, describing his Five Pieces for Orchestra in a letter to Richard Strauss, 1909, quoted in The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

For the Artists, Vol. 2 -© 2014 Greg Masters

The music Miles Davis forged in the first half of the 1970s, his so-called "electric period," is not jazz. In a determined effort to keep his sound fresh, he took the audacious step of leaving behind all the frameworks of the art form which had made him a recognized and venerated figure throughout the world. In an effort to open himself up to new ideas and to expand his audience, his new sound maintains elements of the jazz style he'd evolved for the previous 30 years, while appropriating styles of music outside the jazz repertoire, namely the propulsive dance groove of 70s funk (particularly James Brown and Sly Stone), the raucous, rough-edged, electro-charged brashness of Jimi Hendrix, the metallic sparkle of India's Ravi Shankar, the European classical avant-garde methods of Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as the traditions of jazz going back to Dixieland and ragtime. It's also indebted to the free playing of Albert Ayler and late John Coltrane with Pharoah Sanders.

And what does this add up to? All I know is that the music manages to expresses feelings I've yet to find in any other art form. Complex, raw, primal feelings splayed and made tangible.

The music Miles made in these years—particularly with the scorching electric guitars of Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, grounded in the steady, incantory pulse of Al Foster's 4/4 rhythm on drums and Michael Henderson's unswerving definition of tempo and key via electric bass—defined an organic, body-centered response to nature. Bird calls and the sound of wind through the trees is as much a part of the pastiche as is the dance of the inner psyche. We've heard these sounds on walks through the woods.

But the music is—despite the assault of its unfamiliar gestures and its straying beyond bar measures—rooted in blues. The whole thing is still a child of the body and spirit-form called blues. Miles was clearly intending to move his music out of the elite confines of the music hall and into the street, or at least onto the radio.

Miles' generosity of spirit, his openness to influences from outside the expected, his need to dig deep into emotional recesses never before  expressed so vividly, make it seem that the music is contemporary. To these ears it is not at all dated or relegated to a nostalgic dip into the past. It was so far ahead of its time that we're still catching up to it nearly 40 years later.

The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony-Legacy Music, 2007) is the eighth and final set in a series of Miles Davis boxes. This six-CD package includes six-plus hours of music, including 12 previously unissued tracks, plus five tracks previously unissued in full. The package contains a 120-page booklet with liner notes and essays by musician/co-producer Bob Belden (Michael Cuscuna is the other co-producer), journalist Tom Terrell and arranger/musician Paul Buckmaster.

The Complete On the Corner Sessions is an inaccurate and misleading title in an academic sense. The tracks he recorded at Columbia Studio B over the course of 16 sessions presented in this set from March 9, 1972 to May 5, 1975 offer up at least two very different artistic intentions. The first is the material realized for what would be released as On the Corner in July 1972 —the "extended grooves," as bassist Michael Henderson explains in the liner notes. This is a singular event in the Miles chronology, although it can be seen as an extension of the sound he had developed in 1970 in an ensemble that included Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Michael Henderson, Gary Bartz, John McLaughlin and Airto Moreira (represented on The Cellar Door Sessions, released as a six-CD box set in 2005).

Other tracks collected here, particularly those assembled on Get Up With It (released November 1974), are another matter. Following the June 1972 sessions that resulted in On the Corner, Miles moved the ensemble sound away from an insistence on a churning, full-speed-ahead jam on one chord. On a handful of sessions over the next few years, orchestral colors are explored and there's room for chord changes and melodies. Perhaps it's quibbling, but I'm more comfortable with distinguishing each of the original LPs as distinct periods, or moments, in Miles' continuous evolution.

The new solo

In the early 1970s, Miles could not play trumpet with the intensity, force and bravado he'd exhibited throughout his career and which had been at a peak in 1969 and 1970 as he put himself on display to a whole new audience of rock crowds at the Fillmore East (March 6-7, 1970 and again June 17-20, 1970) and Fillmore West (April 10-11, 1970 and again Oct. 15-18, 1970), at huge rock festivals (Isle of Wight, Aug. 29, 1970) and other venues larger than the night clubs and corner bars he'd been playing for decades.

His embouchure was compromised. He was in ill health. His use of recreational drugs was reportedly abundant. Playing trumpet is physically demanding and Miles, in the 1970s, was willing, but his body was just not near the same levels as it had been. His soloing and his steering of the ensemble sound via his horn was diminished from what it had been.

But what he lacked in physical stamina, he made up for by taking huge risks in exposing his every vulnerability via a shift in musical intention. He refused to rely on playing crowd favorites or tunes from his past repertoire. He was intent on forging something entirely brand new, of presenting something which hadn't been seen or heard before.

The case could be made that he was insulting his devoted audience by merely presenting incomprehensible noise. But I am in the camp which believes this music is valuable in its revolutionary intentions.

The Complete On the Corner Sessions box showcases Miles' power as a leader. While the musicians are not playing charts, within their prescribed roles each player contributes an individual intensity and voice while fitting into the ensemble sound.

Miles' conducting of the group improvisation is firm enough to give a recognizable shape to the tune while trusting enough of the individual voices to bring out their best. Not many of the musicians who passed through Miles' various groups ever sounded better than when they were with him. Why? Because part of Miles' genius was in encouraging his partners to reach for expressions they hadn't known were within them. As leader, he afforded them the time to expand on their ideas, while at the same time maintaining a unifying order to contain the amalgam of personal contributions.

However, here the soloing is less rewarding to listen to because the musicians aren't as skilled as were the musicians in Miles' previous ensembles. And there's often less gradations to which the improvisations can respond. Often the solos are enlisted to override the churning, molten funk of the groove laid down by the rest of the pack. So, less skilled and less brave than Miles was when he complemented Charlie Parker's fusillade attack with a whole different approach, the soloing musicians on these sessions take less risks and resort to sounding off on their horns in a frenzy of notes in their attempt to meet the demands of the ensemble sound. There's little  nuance, little chance to explore and test, as the musical concept is forceful and deliberate.

But this is less a liability because the act of soloing acquires a new purpose and intent on these tracks. Each solo is less ego-based than solos from the 60 years of improvisational music dating back to Louis Armstrong's emergence with King Oliver. Here, the solo is not the showcase for virtuosity it was before. While each player's skill is on display and each brings his own personal touch to the solo, it's more directed to serve the music. The solo is a momentary display within the textures of the process. It's a thread in the fabric.

Too, while Charlie Parker in the 78 rpm era only had three minutes to make his statement, Miles in the LP era can take his time and uses the space to elongate the music-listening experience so it can extend the range and incorporate moods and tones beyond bebop and standards boundaries.

The argument could be made that the level of musicianship in the ensembles Miles led throughout these electric years was not as skilled as it had previously been. These musicians lacked the virtuosic capabilities of the now recognized jazz masters who had played with Miles throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s, players who were capable of soloing at the proper time in their prescribed roles as sidemen—beautiful statements that adhered to the chord changes and showed off their technical facility and aesthetic craft in the service of making art music.

This was the basic structure: A small team of musicians would play a theme, then each would take a turn soloing, the theme would be stated again by the ensemble and the piece would end. The audience knew what to expect. The thrill was in how articulate the soloists could express themselves.

Miles, even at 19 years old when he joined the Charlie Parker band, added something different to the pyrotechnic virtuosity of players like Parker. Miles' sound brought a softer, feminine element, a brooding, reflective wistfulness that countered the alpha male assertiveness of most other jazz music of the time and of the preceding 50 years.

There are several reasons why Miles' music of the 70s may be less attractive to listeners. For one, it's nasty. It digs deep to express dark recesses of feelings and sustains those moods for long stretches. It is not enjoyable in the sense that art had served previously. As Theodor Adorno says, in discussing the music of Schoenberg, affability ceases. The music is less about serving as entertainment and is more an unrestrained attempt to express the rawest emotions. It's beyond entertainment. Miles was through pandering to audience expectations. Too, with his trumpet-playing limited because of poor health, he began using an electric organ to produce occasional howls, chords not heard before, eerie, dark blocks of sound.

Defiling the Cult of Beauty: The Influence of Stockhausen and Messiaen

The music deserves more serious examination and certainly more recognition and acclaim. It is remarkable music in that it integrates a universe of sounds. It's not simply bringing in the ethnic influence of a foreign culture, as Dizzy Gillespie did decades earlier by bringing Caribbean dance rhythms into his sound. The music adds textures and complexities learned from European avant-garde—particularly the collage effects of Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose pieces since the 1950s, besides traditional orchestral instrumentation, were making use of electronic effects (synthesizers, amplified soloists, ring modulators), as well as short wave receivers.

In the liner notes, Paul Buckmaster, a British cellist and composer who had experimented with tape loops, recounts how he exposed Miles to the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen at this time. The influence this had on Miles' sound is easy to imagine. Stockhausen's music is a radical break from the classical music tradition in that it does not rely on narrative. Like a Godard movie, it interrupts the spoon-fed story-telling structure to offer up a new palette of sensual and intellectual effects. It is full of surprises, as the listener can never anticipate what's coming next. It's a music free of sentiment, unencumbered from the Romantic strategy of appealing to common urges (assuming agreement is pleasing).

After an absorption in the compositions of Stockhausen, as well as those of Olivier Messiaen, with their open-ended structures, Miles' methods can be seen to jettison the traditional thematic structure left over from the Romantic era, where a piece of music follows a pattern, or narrative, describing a set of experiences or feelings through time. Miles begins here, like modern composers Messiaen and Stockhausen, to make use of the moment. The allegiance to a story is abandoned. Each moment of the musical piece is attuned to the extraordinary. Miles acquires a new tonal palette incorporating ominous and chilling explorations, such as examined in the music of Stockhausen and Messiaen.

Also, with the use of silences, the band's forward progression coming to a sudden halt, a strategy also likely picked up from Stockhausen, the music emphasizes the collage-like, fragmentary nature of perception, not an ideal make-believe illusion. The listener can enter and leave anywhere.

Too, not answerable to any agenda, the music's idiosyncratic path is decidedly not intended to placate audience expectation. Pure art seeks to explore and enunciate more than entertain.

These expressions take art away from the merely beautiful and the artifice of luxury. The illusion of safe extravagance is removed in order to portray less-than-polite feelings. Left behind is good taste, decorative entertainment for the comfort of paying patrons.

The music is so densely layered and there is so much musical activity that repeated listening is rewarded as moments and threads are heard differently each time. And, without the formal dependence on theme and dramatic progression, our listening experience is splayed out to concentrate on the moment, not the anticipation of a climax and resolution.

Much of the music contained in this package could be designated "new age," though it's often more raucous than what we typify today as the calming ambient music we use for relaxing or performing yoga.

While Miles' intentions with his music might have been to get people up to dance, at the same time he created a panache of listenable grooves filled with surprises and unprecedented ensemble sounds that still retain their freshness and audacious attitude.

Dissonance, Our Friend

Miles' music of the 1970s is not just a rejection of beauty, but a beautiful embrace of the rejected.

For Miles, dissonance was an acknowledgement that there was more to be expressed in music than comfort and resolvable sensations. The musical vocabulary of traditional Western harmony—the I, IV, V form, the basic foundation for everything from church hymns to blues, standards and rock 'n' roll —imposed limitations to exploring and expressing a range of emotions and a depiction of possibilities beyond the familiar tonal centers available in major and minor patterns.

His departure from these confines might be traced back as far as 1959's Kind of Blue, which broke from the blues-based form by using modal scales that gave an effect of suspension, as chords didn't resolve back to the root chord as in the familiar traditional manner. Pleasing an audience with tasteful, familiar songs, providing entertainment, became too tired. Miles wanted to grow as an artist.

Miles' group of the mid-60s took it even further. Pushed by Wayne Shorter's spiral compositions and fragmentary style of soloing on sax and by keyboardist Herbie Hancock's schooling in Debussy and Ravel and drummer Tony Williams' aggressive splattering of bar lines, this music too offered a sense of suspension as it uprooted the root and tonic.

The shift from the traditional standards repertory to a push into something new is discerned in The Complete Live at The Plugged Nickel set from Dec. 22-23, 1965 (released as an eight-CD box set in July 1995). Miles, the leader, seems in poor health. His trumpet playing lacks breath and his soloing comes in short bursts which he can't sustain. He, in fact, does not play a lot over the course of the seven live sets over two nights. His weakness gives more of the spotlight to his young, energetic sidemen, who are eager to advance into new realms  beyond the standards repertoire to which their boss has been anchored.

Later in the decade, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea would even be nudging the music into totally free territory—leaving behind the grounding in a common key and time signature—before Miles, not quite convinced of the emotional impact of a total abandonment of order, would rein the group back down to a place of agreement.

Fortunate to be working for a record company—Columbia (now Columbia/Legacy, a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment)—that indulged his direction and allowed him to pursue his project, Miles ran with it. Not obliged to the record company to fester as a recognizable brand, Miles could use the studio and countless live dates, to continue developing and pushing into unexplored territory to create sounds which were unheard and unimagined previously.

The Tunes

There are some gems among the previously unreleased tracks, particularly "On the Corner (take 4)" and "Mr. Foster," and the release of unheard music from this phase of Miles' career will thrill devotees of his electric music.

"On the Corner (take 4)" offers up the entire universe in one chord. It's a five-minute studio fragment that propels the listener via one effect: a determined mining of a vamp pedaled to one chord onto which the musicians, particularly John McLaughlin, augment with furious yet mannered waves of variation. It could have fit onto side one of A Tribute to Jack Johnson (released Feb. 1971).

On "On the Corner (unedited master)," as well as the unedited master and issued take of "Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X," some new variants are heard, dark colorful chords on organ, but pedestrian, Theremin-like keyboard noodling by Harold Ivory Williams (my guess, the other two keyboardists were Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, or possibly it's Dave Creamer on guitar) is amateurish and grates after awhile. We hear for the first time instrumental solos by Keith Jarrett on electric piano, John McLaughlin on electric guitar and even Miles on wah-wah trumpet that were excised in the final mix, sacrificed for the ensemble concept.

The idea here is that individual efforts contribute to a whole. Ego is gone. What's important is the ensemble.

"Ife" repeats a riff over and over to induce a trance-like fixation on the spiral pattern. Onto that is layered Miles' solo, which wrestles with the rhythm, punctuating oscillations. Paul Buckmaster is noted on electric cello, but I can't discern his presence in the mix.

"Chieftain," another previously unissued track, has a startling, almost Caribbean multi-rhythmic groove provided by Al Foster on drums and Reggie Lucas on electric guitar, with Badal Roy on tablas and Mtume on congas. Michael Henderson provides a bass drone pulse and Miles solos achingly through the wah wah. It's nice to hear a sitar in the mix, but Khalil Balakrishna is no Ravi Shankar.

"Rated X" begins with Miles playing eerie chord clusters on electric organ. Michael Henderson enters on electric bass with an adrenaline-chilling vamp repeated over and over, with Al Foster laying down his basic pulse-enhancing 4/4. The tune proceeds as an exploration of the colors with no actual soloing, like a masseuse touching a nerve ending you never knew existed. It's a diagram of a mood, unexplained before, reaching foundation feelings rooted in primitive needs.

The previously unreleased studio takes of "Turnaround" and "U-Turnaround," a tune that would become a staple of his live shows for the next few years, doesn't quite get off the ground in this premier rendition. The elementary theme is stated repeatedly over the funk groove with Miles stretching the head statement into varying permutations, but there's little transcendence. Perhaps it's effective as a dance groove, but as concert music this doesn't provide enough complexity. Note: On his Miles Beyond website, Paul Tingen, in consultation with Miles discography expert Jan Lohmann, disputes the record company's titling of these tracks. They agree that "Turnaround" and "U-Turnaround," in fact, are two early takes of "Agharta Prelude."

The tunes which would be gathered on Get Up With It (collecting tracks recorded between 1970 and 1974 and released as a double LP on November 22, 1974), generally employ the churning groove layers of musical activity, but add reprieves in the form of chord changes and choruses, such as "Maiysha" and "Mtume." The earliest recorded track in this box, "Red China Blues," which would end up on GUWI, is another matter. This is a standard 12-bar blues with a compact horn arrangement. Miles' other-worldly-sounding solo through electronic effects is the only aspect that makes it unusual. It might have been an attempt to create a reasonably marketable track.

Miles is in fine form on "Mr. Foster," presumably so named in honor of the fine drummer keeping a steady, propulsive pulse with him. After the band sets up the groove and intones a sad mood, Miles enters on muted trumpet played through a wah-wah pedal and begins a long declaration, growling in the low register, meandering assuredly through the mid-range and even pushing into the high range, as expressive of states of sorrow as possible.

Miles knew how to shape a solo. For the most part, his solos have something to say. They express an emotional theme. The other soloists—Dave Liebman and Pete Cosey, especially on this box—decorate the music, but don't have the lucidity of Miles' statements. But, at 15 minutes, the track ends too soon.

"Calypso Frelimo" rides on a jaunty texture, with Al Foster's cymbal work shuffling, allied with a simple, child-like statement played on the electric organ, which Miles would subsequently use frequently in concerts. Miles plays with a mournful pleading sound, as if appealing to the life forces from hell. At around 10 minutes in, a new movement begins quietly, with Henderson's bass figure repeated as an ostinato, setting up an eerie, mysterious, almost reverential atmosphere. Guitar chords are spread to open fields and the organ figure repeats, this time with other instruments joining in and answering. The figure has earned a presence. Miles again enters and begins his statement, calmly engaging the wah-wah to spread his notes with a feeling of suspension. We're enticed to slow down until the ensemble returns to the jaunty vamps of the first movement and we're restored to the surface of the earth. Miles is still expressing darker feelings, but gradually the bounce of the band's groove proves too infectious and his playing becomes more playful and as full of the celebration as the others. A re-statement of the organ figure closes the piece as if to wrap things up.

"He Loved Him Madly" is the most astounding of compositions, seamlessly assembled from five different tracks. A dirge for the recently deceased Duke Ellington, it begins with Miles playing chilling organ chords, or, more accurately, tone clusters—the likes of which I've heard before only in the music of Olivier Messiaen. Guitar shadings seem to be picking through bones, while Al Foster taps out a graveyard blues as the cortège passes. Things change when the bass enters at almost 11 minutes in and Foster, in a rhythmic chant never heard in music before, starts tapping out a slow 4/4, accenting each beat. Liebman enters on flute (through echo) for the first melodic improvisation, a tasty solo that picks up for a second iteration after a trumpet solo from Miles, which begins 16 minutes into the piece. He, too, is playing through an echo, which adds to the chill of his haunting cavernous utterances, an eloquent communication of grief over the loss of his much beloved and venerated predecessor, until it dissipates for all time.

Each track is astounding, but not all are completely successful as refined artistic statements. It's the nature of the improv business.

On "Jobali," for example, Michael Henderson lays down a riff, the sort of structure he's used before and will use again, but here it's just not as interesting and feels unrelenting and insistent, rather than a structure onto which a composition may develop and unwind.

In a typical funk or R and B song, after 12 or so bars, the vamp shifts into a chorus or refrain, but here it plods along as a root onto which Miles solos like a low-flying bird, texturing on an investigative explication. While the structure is a radical departure from traditional American song form, with lucid melody and an underlying chordal and harmonic structure to support and embellish it, here, there are statements, but they're more like calls, summonings.

Other previously unheard tracks in this set—notably "Big Fun" and "Holly-wuud" (really two different takes of the same material, 7/26/73), as well as "Minnie" from 5/5/75—seem to have similar commercial intent. They foreshadow the pop sound Miles would emerge with in 1981 after a six-year hiatus, while retaining some of the eccentricities of the other, more formidable "serious" tracks gathered here. Note: Tingen claims that "Minnie" is, in fact, a tune Miles titled "Mr. Foster" when it was recorded. As for the tune called "Mr. Foster (from 9/18/73) discussed earlier, who knows?

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Is this box too much of a good thing for those just getting initiated. I'd steer those seekers away from this package and toward the individual  releases, especially On the Corner and Get Up With It. Then, you can work your way back to In a Silent Way, A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew and forward a bit to the live Agharta, Pangea and Dark Magus. From there, the road is open.

As Bob Belden says in the liner notes, the box set is also a testament to the genius of producer Teo Macero, who sculpted the hours of studio jams down to artful form, excising weak sections, splicing together complementary movements, layering and performing all manner of tape acrobatics to fashion finished and refined musical compositions. He is more than an able producer, he is a collaborator.

Once again, I must fault Legacy's design department for the packaging of these Miles sets. While this package is beautiful to look at, for practical purposes it's irritating to use. The 120-page booklet, while colorful, is bound into the spine of the package, which makes it harder than necessary to peruse and the sans serif typeface is not easy to read, especially when blue type is used over a blue background. Worse, each track's discography data is scattered amidst the CD sleeves and various pages.

The photos add a lot of information, namely a sense of the theatricality of a live Miles Davis show during this era. The tableau we see is equal parts African warrior, Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street and Harlem street.

Another quibble is that the sequencing is hard to figure out. There seems to be a stab at positioning the tracks chronologically, as recorded, but that order breaks down with disc six, thus grouping the OTC material as originally offered on LP with unrelated tracks that diffuse the coherence and impact of the original OTC issue.

For more on electric Miles, Paul Tingen's Miles Beyond (Billboard Books, 2001) is the must-have book for its thorough and dependable documentation of the facts and extensive interviews. Philip Freeman's Running the Voodoo Down (Backbeat Books, 2006) has justifiably come under attack for its sloppy research resulting in a slew of historical inaccuracies (corrected by Tingen on his Miles Beyond website), but for its impassioned yet reasoned descriptions of the music and its discussions of how the music fits into the trajectory of its time, it is an invaluable aid and pleasant accompaniment to Miles' electric music.

From For the Artists: Critical Writing, Volume 2 (Crony Books, September 2014; this article originally appeared on All About Jazz, October 31, 2007)

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 MilesNat 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 universal 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

Posted by Kofi Natambu at 10:53 AM 

Labels: 1970, 2011, 20th century Art, Happy New Year, Isle of Wight Festival


Perfect Sound Forever
Miles Davis : The "Electric" Years

by Scott McFarland (August 1997)

Let me just state off the bat that Miles’ music, from Bitches Brew on, is my favorite music on this planet (for a lot of reasons, some of which I’ll touch on in my closing paragraph). I’m going to structure this writeup around the albums which have been released from what I believe to be Miles’ most exciting and fertile years (1969 through 1975) : classics like Bitches Brew, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, On The Corner, Get Up With It, and Pangaea.

By the time 1969 rolled around, Miles had been looking towards and striving for new sounds for a while. His famed 60’s quintet had been together with only one personnel change for a five year-plus run; this band had consisted of Tony Williams on drums, Herbie Hancock on keyboard, Ron Carter on bass, and Wayne Shorter (who replaced George Coleman in 1964) on saxophone. Five years is a long time for a jazz unit to be together. What once seemed inventive and exciting had probably started to sound like cliché to Miles. That band featured great tone and instrumental virtuosity - but by Miles’ own account simplicity and directness had been lost. One can compare the straightforward, soulful reading of Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints" done on his own Adam’s Apple album (it’s also available on Blue Note’s excellent The Best of Wayne Shorter) with the version done by Miles’ quintet on Miles Smiles, where the tune becomes a backdrop for the usual pseudo-Spanish tinkling around and theatrical flourishes that characterized that band’s sound, at the tune’s expense, for an example of this.

Miles had been moving in a simpler, more "modal" (a term that he helped to popularize during the 50’s) direction for a while. Miles In The Sky from 1968 started with a brilliant, 16-minutes plus track "Stuff" which cycled and floated in a gentle soulful manner and sounded unlike anything that anyone else was up to at the time. Filles de Killemanjaro from 1968 marked the end of the old quintet, with Chick Corea and Dave Holland coming into the band partway through the album - the music occasionally rumbled and exploded, but was also marked by long, rather lovely modal sections. To me it sounds like ambient jazz. The buzz on this album in retrospect is that Miles was "flirting with rock forms". (This is actually one heck of an album - well worth purchasing. In addition to its other charms, and great playing by all concerned, Chick Corea’s lovely, peaceful cycling through the lengthy "Mademoiselle Mabry" is more than worth the price of admission).

Miles continued to flirt with what were certainly different forms, perhaps related to rock, or to soul. His next LP, In A Silent Way, was hailed as a groundbreaking effort although I feel it’s a bit overrated. The music was somewhat hypnotic and repetitive. Joe Zawinul and John McLaughlin had been recruited to play on the album, and their presence together with the restraint shown by the other musicians (for once, Tony Williams does not run rampant on the drums - he plays simple "rock" rhythms primarily) yielded what was again a very "ambient" album.

Miles wanted his music to get more basic, more in touch with a blues feeling. In his autobiography he states "See, when I used to listen to Muddy Waters in Chicago down on 33rd and Michigan every Monday when he played there and I would be in town, I knew I had to get some of what he was doing up in my music. You know, the sound of the $1.50 drums and the harmonicas and the two-chord blues". At this point he started to focus in on the more modern and aggressive sounds that would inform the rest of his works. His girlfriend Betty Mabry introduced him to Jimi Hendrix, and the two of them hit it off immediately. Miles appreciated the power in what Jimi was doing, as well as appreciating its grounding in blues and other black forms. Sly Stone and James Brown were also by Miles’ account big influences on what was about to become his new sound. Things were about to get a lot more African. "My Funny Valentine" was about to go out the window.

In August of 1969 Miles assembled numerous massively talented musicians into a New York City studio for the Bitches Brew project. He brought in "musical sketches" moreso than tunes - as he had 10 years previously during the Kind Of Blue sessions. The musicians would jam on themes according to Miles’ direction (during three "all-day" sessions), and the jams would be edited into pieces. It was an abstract way of working, a bit different than anything done previously by an artist with commercial viability - the tape recorder would deliberately be used, in "artistic" fashion, to shape the pieces after the fact. Hence musicians could explore ideas at length, without a burden of knowing that everything that they played during a "take" would necessarily be presented to the public with their name on it.

What makes the album superb is the playing. The music swings gently, in multiple directions at once. It is a new kind of swing. Jack DeJohnette and the other drummers on this recording deserve a world of credit for their subtle, tugging playing. Multiple electric keyboards, usually two per track, swing and swagger across this musical landscape (Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and Larry Young are at the keys). John McLaughlin contributes electric guitar playing which is occasionally possessed of brilliance. Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet, Wayne Shorter’s sax, Airto’s percussion, and the basses of Dave Holland and Harvey Brooks also contribute towards the music’s tonal palette. On top of it all we have Miles. His playing had always been minimalistic, and he had always been comfortable playing blues-based forms. Here he found his most natural expression, and contributed forcefully to the music. He laid down the real stuff, the essence of music, on his trumpet and topped the whole thing off brilliantly.

A rough guide to the Bitches Brew album - Side 1, "Pharoah’s Dance", is an abstract keyboard-oriented piece. Due to its absence of a memorable central theme, it’s a strange choice to open the album with, but it is a nice slice of music and of subtle swing. Side 2, "Bitches Brew", is massive. The composition, a combination of ambient theme and deep groove, comes together perfectly. Side 3 features the deeply rhythmic, gently bouncing "Spanish Key" (built on an interesting drum figure) and the shorter, slightly chaotic "John McLaughlin" (McLaughlin claims to have been as surprised as anyone when the LP came out and he saw that Miles had named this tune after him). Side 4 features the gritty, juke-joint-ish, artfully extended funk of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" and the album’s closer "Sanctuary" which builds towards a frightening climax. The pieces provide landscape portraits more than they do traditional tunes or "featured player" improvisation. It was a new way of playing, based on cooperative effort which was centralized and focused on rhythm. In that regard the album reminds one of African cultures and of their music.

It was one heck of a record and was promoted as being such. Miles proceeded to put out a couple of live 2-LP sets during the next year. Black Beauty was the first (I’m not sure that it was released in the U.S. at the time). It’s a fairly honest and straightforward recording of his band in April of 1970 with Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Airto, and Steve Grossman. The sound is a bit cacaphonous; it’s the sound of jazz players raising flashy, energetic hell on electronic instruments. The band keeps things swinging along throughout the whole set. Chick Corea fans will especially want to hear this as his electronic keyboard is the most prominent voice in much of the music, and as always he plays extremely well. The recording gets a bit "psychedelic" in part through his use of effects. It reminds me a bit of the German rock scene from the early 70’s; it’s easy to imaging getting stoned to this record and digging it. I consider it a good but not great album.

At Fillmore came out next and drew some attention. It documents a 4-night stint opening for Laura Nyro at the Fillmore West; each 25-40 minute set is edited down to an approximately 20-minute album side. The intention was apparently to show that the band had an organic flow and that even when they played the same material night after night that it would be a "unique" experience. In retrospect the approach seems silly; who wants to hear the same basic set, chopped and diced different ways, four times in a row? The band sound is a bit difficult and cacaphonous and the editing only makes things more confusing. Of course there are some good moments; I always love it when that keyboard riff (sounds like a clavoline, usually) kicks in to start off the deep Bitches Brew groove. However, I believe that this album is basically a mess.

At this point in time Miles was opening for rock performers, dressing in his flashy manner of the time, and was generally thought to be courting a rock audience. The majority of critics, pundits, and listeners didn’t seem to understand what was going on with him. Miles was occasionally criticized from this point on for deserting jazz, and for "losing the beauty which had been present in his music".

The intended follow-up to Bitches Brew was Live-Evil. The majority of this 2 LP set consists of some lengthy jams done at the Cellar Door in Washington DC (these were augmented with a few new studio recordings). The live tracks are oriented around Jack DeJohnette’s aggressive and energetic funky drumming, Keith Jarrett’s pulsing, squealing, and frequently soulful keyboards (for a guy who has since gone on to decry the popularization of electronic instruments, Jarrett could really raise some hell when he was in the mood to), Michael Henderson’s repetitive basslines (Henderson had just joined the band - his playing here is not as dead-on as it later became), guest star John McLaughlin playing some fantastic electric guitar solos, and Airto putting some funky percussion on in places. Davis and sax player Gary Bartz play (and play well), but also lay out for huge periods of time while this band grooves. This, to me, really does sound like a "fusion" of rock (and soul) and jazz. The aggression and form of rock are present, but the players still have a tendency to meander and show off in the general style of jazz players. If you are in the mood for extended jam pieces (and it seems as if in the early 70’s, everybody was), these are pretty good for the most part. The opening track, "Sivad", might burn a hole through your stereo system with its relentless funk for a while before it moves into the soulful, minimalist piece later known as "Honky Tonk". "What I Say" is a nice 21-minute slice of frenetic modality, too. Sides 3 and 4 feature a band grooving at length in a manner that has its charms, but probably isn’t the kind of thing that you’d want to start your morning with every day.

Miles cut what I regard as his next masterpiece in 1970, during five sessions which were fused into 2 sidelong pieces. A Tribute to Jack Johnson was done as a soundtrack for a film about the legendary heavyweight boxing champion. Side 1, "Right Off", is an extraordinary jam. In addition to some bouncing bass (Michael Henderson, I believe), rock-solid drums (Billy Cobham, I believe), and some rollicking organ (I won’t hazard a guess), John McLaughlin’s electric rhythm guitar playing is right on the mark. Imagine Keith Richards crossed with Jimi Hendrix crossed with a classically trained guitarist - he sounds something like that. The rhythm of the piece is deep and constant, and greatly hypnotic. Just try to shut the music off in the middle - see if it keeps playing in your head. Each member of the group displays a perfect, close-to-the-bone devotion to the groove and the whole things rocks massively. Side 2, "Yesternow", is spacier. It seems put together from a few different takes (it actually includes some of the "In A Silent Way" music towards the end). It generates some ghostly groove and eventually makes way for a memorable freak-out guitar solo by Sonny Sharrock (with Chick Corea working Sonny’s echoplex box, apparently).

Sharrock remained uncredited on this album, as did many other of the players present on the sessions. For some reason, only the players signed to Columbia received credit on the cover. I was told some of the participants by Sharrock once - I probably don’t remember everyone that he mentioned to me, but I do remember the names Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and himself as participants in addition to the musicians listed on the cover (Davis, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin, and Herbie Hancock).

Miles continued to play and continued to record. His music was starting to bewilder the buying public, who had been confronted with a stream of 2-LP sets that didn’t conform to their expectations of what Miles Davis should be doing (namely, playing lyrical trumpet over a jazz background). Some of his sessions, like the ones which eventually came out in 1974 on Big Fun, had to wait for years before being released. Big Fun has 4 side-long pieces : "Great Expectations/Mother Laranja" which is a 27 ½ minute slice of almost prototypical Miles, based on a repeating phrase over a flowing backdrop; "Ife", a long static piece with a repetitive bassline which is really a drag (it sounds more like an experiment in audience tolerance than it does music); "Go Ahead John" which is a small-band jam featuring John McLaughlin on guitar (playing choppy strokes with wah-wah, just like Reggie Lucas & Pete Cosey would go on to do), with some nice soloing over Jack DeJohnette’s busy drumming (which is heavily phased for the sake of funkiness); and "Lonely Fire" which is a bit aimless. The music throughout this album is not Miles’ best, but Teo Macero’s production here is quite creative, and the record ends up being a decent ambient-styled listening experience thanks to the strength of Sides 1 & 3.

Some other early 70’s sessions came out even later, in the early 1980’s, on a couple of 2-LP sets : Circle in the Round and Directions. Among the highlights to be found on those sets are the killer McLaughlin/Cobham-fueled funk of "Duran", the impressionistic, multiple keyboard-based floating of "Ascent", an alternate take of "Sanctuary", and an extended take on the David Crosby tune "Guenneviere" which flows wonderfully and sounds like the missing fifth side to Bitches Brew. Both are good collections with some important stuff on them (lined up alongside a lot of moderately interesting stuff).

Next up was another change of direction : 1972’s On The Corner. Now this is abrasive stuff. It grooves, and it grooves hard, and it makes no apology for doing so. Miles was getting deeply into funk and also more deeply into dissonance. The album plays like one continuous suite of chattering funky percussion and deep bass topped with sitar, trumpet, and whatever else was on hand as a vehicle for self-expression. It is a "black thing" for sure, and a deep dark one at that. I’ve always felt that this album was a primary influence on the Public Enemy sound which started in the late 80’s and has had a large effect on popular music ever since (even the most "popular" artists these days are prone to augmenting their songs’ chorus structures with screeching background noise, or at least with light abrasion. I hear it all over the place). Miles was simultaneously interested in deep funk ala Sly Stone and James Brown, and musical abstraction ala Stockhausen. The end result was a fairly startling album. The cover art, with a funky "street" illustration by Corky McCoy, and a complete absence of personnel listings, was also a notable departure from the norm.

The album was not promoted heavily by Columbia and was not embraced heartily by the listening public or by critical reaction. Miles was not going to be "the next big thing" commercially, was not going to outsell the ranks of white boys playing electrified blues guitar which is what a lot of people were into at the time. Fortunately, he kept at his music anyway (rather than backtracking or waiting for the general populace to catch up with him), because the best was yet to come.

Miles’ staffed his next working band with musicians whose backgrounds were in the kind of funky music that Miles wanted to be working with, rather than in a jazz tradition. Michael Henderson was still on bass, and Al Foster came on to augment him with his fat, rock-steady drumming style. Mtume (who now lays down those funky soundtracks for the TV show "New York Undercover"), the son of Miles’ old pal saxophonist Jimmy Heath, came in on percussion (and managed to outdo his well-known predecessor, Airto). A band with these players, plus Reggie Lucas on guitar (it’s been said that he managed to play guitar "like a water drum" - his playing was perfect for this band - think choppy strokes and wah-wah pedal), Dominique Gaumont on guitar, Carlos Garnett (a sax player who seemed to understand what was going on and could fit into the music well), Cedric Lawson (a keyboard player), and a sitarist and tabla player augmenting things, toured in 1972 and had the live In Concert released subsequently. It showed a band which had dispensed with any perceived need for the bop-like chatter of jazz and would get down deeply into groove for extended periods of time. They jam on pieces which Miles had cut or would soon cut on "studio" albums, energetically and loosely. It’s like On The Corner come to life (the instrumentation is similar), but longer and with different themes. It’s not a perfect album; the music gets interesting and kicks out jams for a few minutes at a time, but tends to stay in one place for longer than might be preferable. It alternates between impressing the listener and annoying the listener. Fidelity is limited, too. Still, it’s an uncompromising furtherance of something that was new, and documents this period well. It’s just come back into general U.S. release.

1973 saw more touring, and the occasional bit of studio recording by Miles’ band. In 1974 a unit of Davis, Henderson, Foster, Mtume, Lucas, and Gaumont, plus new feedback-freakout-oriented guitarist Pete Cosey, with Dave Liebman and/or Sonny Fortune on sax and flute, cut the majority of tracks to be released on Get Up With It. (Some sessions from preceding years were used as well). This record could be seen as the culmination of Miles’ career; it’s some serious business. The key to the album is Henderson’s bass - his playing is perfect and huge. Foster’s drumming provides the perfect foil to him, and you’ve got a thoroughly grounded musical maze starting already. Then add Mtume’s shifting, inventive percussion to that, and stack two rhythmic guitar players on along with one feedback-oriented player (who does some nice soloing on this album) - now you’ve got some great shifting funk going on. Then put Miles on in a surly mood, playing some serious, no-frills trumpet and raising some hell on organ too. It’s quite a trip. I shouldn’t forget Dave Liebman’s contributions - there are some who say that he was partially responsible for "Mayishia", a thoroughly perfect musical act in two parts on here. And Sonny Fortune plays well, and some other names pop up on the recordings as well. Side 1 of this record is a bit strange, a tone-poem dedicated to Duke Ellington who had recently passed away. Side 2 contains "Mayishia" and the strong, deeply funky "Honky Tonk" (actually recorded years previously with a whole host of famous musicians), as well as the bizarre "Rated X". Side 3 is an out-of-control madhouse piece called "Calypso Frelimo" which shows this band at their most anarchic, but clears way for another killer bassline after a while. Side 4 features the dense, energetic "Mtume" (an amazing cut which typifies this band’s sound) and the funky "Billy Preston", along with a relatively traditional piece, "Red China Blues". Each side is about 30 minutes long. If I had to describe this record with one word, the word I would choose would be "massive". This is one that you’ll be taking the measure of for years and years..

That band (more or less - different sax players came through the band, and Gaumont left) cut a number of live albums. Dark Magus from early 1974 is a pretty good one. It’s only with the current wave of Miles reissues actually come into print in America. The sound is starting to center on Al Foster’s fat and flexible drumming, which is in a class of its own. Side 1 opens with a hot theme which turns up again on next year’s Pangaea as "Zimbabwe". There are large chunks on the album where the band starts improvising around some fairly flat figure, but through their now-patented "collective improvisation" method manage to build the sound up into something nice. It makes you aware, though, of how truly awesome they could be when they got themselves wrapped around memorable material. It’s amazing how contemporary this music sounds, all the more so as it comes from a live concert. It could be heard as a stream of sublime drum’n’bass music being DJ’d on stage by Miles Davis using real players instead of records.

Miles and the boys played at Osaka Festival Hall in Japan on February 1, 1975, one set in the daytime and one at night. The daytime set was issued on 2 LPs as Agharta. I’ve never been totally crazy about Agharta as a whole; to me most of the second half sounds a bit flat and directionless. However, the opening 33 minutes or so of "Prelude" (thanks to compact disc technology, we can now hear this continuously without having to flip a record over partway through) is a great extended exploration of funk and soul, and I rank it with my favorite Miles live performances. I love the whole of the nighttime set, Pangaea, which remained unissued in the U.S. until some kind soul rectified this in 1991. It’s consists of two lengthy pieces, each of which is the length of an LP. The first, "Zimbabwe", lays down a thick groove and plays around that. The second, "Gondwana", is built around a peaceful, circular figure. It flows lazily and naturally for a great length of time, and contains some rather nice flute playing by Sonny Fortune. The CD liner notes accurately note that this piece is reminiscent of some of Sun Ra’s music.

To me, this music (especially Pangaea) has a real naturalistic flow to it. He and his band had found their niche. The same type of "collective improvisation" which had been used to create Bitches Brew was being used to create natural, straight-forward music (groove music, really). These guys put up a nice, thick wall of sound which could be easy to get into, and easy to stay with for a while.
After that, Miles retreated into his house and rarely came out of it for the next 5 Years, making no new music and no formal appearances. Miles was suffering from health problems, didn’t feel like making new music, and spent much of his time doing drugs.

Miles died in 1991 after making a comeback in the early '80s (most impressively on a live set from '82 We Want Miles, where the compositions contain brilliance and the playing is dead-on). He left behind him an amazing legacy of music, and an interesting autobiography (done with Quincy Troupe) entitled "Miles: The Autobiography" where he explains himself, his life, and his music in a straightforward manner (I recommend the book highly for anyone interested in any of Miles’ music, or in jazz history, or just in interesting stories). He was a funny guy and the book reflects this, while touching on his relationships with some of the most significant figures in 20th Century music. The key to understanding Miles is to realize that he was a reserved individual and a minimalist. He would just as soon not say anything unless he had something he really wanted to say, and when he did speak, he tended to tell the truth regardless of how anyone might react to it. And his music reflected this aspect of his personality totally.

In closing, why do I love Miles’ electric music so much? Why do I consider it the greatest music yet made on this planet? Well, of course one’s enjoyment of music is entirely subjective, but I present for your consideration the following virtues regarding Miles’ music :

You can dance to it. (Try "Black Satin" on On The Corner).

You can relax and unwind to it. (Try "Mayishia" on Get Up With It).

You can use it to get your adrenaline pumping. (Try "Fast Track" on We Want Miles).

You can sit and reflect on it. (Try "Gondwana" on Pangaea).

You can nod your head to it. (Try the bass break in "Calypso Frelimo", on Get Up With It. If even more head-nodding is desired, try Sides 2 & 4 of that album as well).

You can make love to it. (Try "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" on Bitches Brew. If your partner doesn’t dig it you can always masturbate to it. Or try "Ascent" from the Directions collection for something a bit more romantic, in its own strange way).

It reflects the black experience and consolidates previously disparate musics into a coherent whole. (Try Bitches Brew and On The Corner).

So many artists have been influenced by this music that you may as well cut out the middle-man and go straight to the source, for the real deal.

It’s timeless; you can still listen to it decades from now without shame. In fact, it may make more sense to most of us decades down the line.

It’s genuine art, created through an individual’s (considerable) experience, intellect, and desire for self-expression. Plus it’s lovely and it swings like a mother.

Also see this interview with Teo Macero about producing Miles and our article on Miles' Get Up With It