In October 1955, Miles Davis had an operation on his larynx, and was given strict instructions by the surgeon not to even use his voice for ten days afterwards. According to legend, though, he got into an argument, raised it, and so begat the instantly recognizable rasp that he would be stuck with for the rest of his days.
It has always impressed me as quite the irony that Davis’ sobbing, pellucid trumpet tone and massacred speaking voice could emerge from the selfsame lips. Which is partly what makes the following so riveting. Kicking off at 3:36 (following a short 60 Minutes appearance from 1989, presumably included for the lurid contrast) here is a very rare recording of a 1953 Radio KXLW interview with Miles, who sounds a little hoarse, pretty out of his tree (a little horse?), characteristically diffident—but not a bit like a Dalek.
Due to the release of what is supposed to be the final final unheard cache of Jimi Hendrix recordings, People, Hell & Angels, worldwide interest has been stirred in a tantalizing bit of memorabilia currently residing in the collection of the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague: A 1969 telegram from Jimi Hendrix inviting Paul McCartney to record with him, Miles Davis and jazz drummer Tony Williams in New York.
The telegram, seen below, was sent to the Apple offices in London on October 21, 1969:
“We are recording and LP together this weekend in New York STOP How about coming in to play bass STOP call Alan Douglas 212-581 2212.
Peace Jimi Hendrix Miles Davis Tony Williams.”
Beatles aide Peter Brown replied on Macca’s behalf, informing Hendrix that McCartney was on vacation and would not return for another two weeks (This was around the height of the “Paul is dead” rumor and a pissed-off McCartney was holed up with his family on his farm in Scotland trying to escape that mess).
Below, The Jimi Hendrix Experience covers “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”(I think just two days after it was released and with more than one Beatle in attendance)—this is probably as close as we’ll ever get to knowing what this supergroup might’ve sounded like:
1 tablespoon bacon grease
2 pounds ground lean chuck
salt and pepper
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
3 large cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 can tomatoes
1 can beef broth
1/2 jar of mustard
1/2 shot glass of vinegar
pinto or kidney beans
Apparenlty there were no instructions in the book on how to prepare Miles’ Chili Mack. But I did find the method here, you know, if you’re curious or want to test it out for yourself.
Luckily we have BBC4’s 2009 documentary, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz to do just that. Produced by documentarian Paul Bernays and UK jazz DJ Jez Nelson, 1959 scrutinizes the impact of Brubeck’s classic Time Out album alongside three others from that year: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’s Ah Um and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
The main Brubeck segment starts 12 minutes in, and the doc explores both the racial politics inherent in the Brubeck phenomenon, and the influence of his band’s groundbreaking 1959 tour of the Soviet Bloc, Mideast and South Asia on Time Out. But the whole hour is worth watching, if only for the compelling close-readings of masterpieces like Davis’s iconic “So What,” Coleman’s intense “Lonely Woman,” Mingus’s firey “Fables of Faubus.” The doc’s juxtaposition of Brubeck’s ascendance to Mr. Cool-ness against Coleman’s Cold War-tinged urgency is also a nice touch.
With an interview roster that includes Hal Wilner, Lou Reed, Stanley Crouch, Charlie Haden, Sue Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Nat Hentoff, 1959 offers up some crucial background as to what made Brubeck and his contemporaries what they were.
Miles Davis was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He was at the forefront of various Jazz movements, including Be Bop, Cool, Modal and Fusion. He lived a life that was a complex mix of genius, superstar, pimp and street hustler. Duke Ellington nailed it when he described Davis as “the Picasso of Jazz”.
The Miles Davis Story is an Emmy-winning documentary that gives a fairly good overview of the man and his incredible career and controversial life, mixing interviews together with some amazing footage (including rare concerts from the 1960s and 1970s). There is a good selection of interviews, but occasionally I wanted to hear more from Davis and his music and less from the contributors. This small quibble aside, The Miles Davis Story is compelling viewing.
Impressions of John Coltrane is an excellent trio of television performances featuring John Coltrane, with his own quartet, the Miles Davis Quintet and alongside Eric Dolphy. Filmed between 1959 and 1963, each performance reveals the quality and range of the great man’s playing.
The first comes from the series The Jazz Casual, originally aired in 1963. Here you’ll find the perfect line-up of Coltrane (tenor sax/soprano sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums). This is said to be the only time Coltrane’s “classic” quartet was caught on camera. Together they give great versions of “Impressions” and “Afro Blue”.
The second is from 1959, and has Coltrane playing with the Miles David Quintet - Davis (flügelhorn/trumpet), Coltrane (tenor sax/alto sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). They are accompanied by Gil Evans and a 15-piece orchestra. And certainly get going on “So What”, “The Duke”, “Blues for Pablo” and “New Rumba”.
The third is from West German TV in 1961, which shows Coltrane playing with Eric Dolphy (alto sax/flute), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums), who hit the spot with “My Favorite Things” and “Impressions”.
03. “Afro Blue”
04. “So What” (with Miles Davis)
05. “The Duke” (with Miles Davis)
06. “Blues For Pablo” (with Miles Davis)
07. “New Rumba” (with Miles Davis)
08. “My Favorite Things” (with Eric Dolphy)
09. “Impressions” (with Eric Dolphy)
When Billy Eckstine came to St. Louis, with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Miles Davis went to see them play.
Davis was playing trumpet with Eddie Randle’s Rhumboogie Orchestra, and one day, after rehearsal, he went round to the theater to see Gillespie and Parker perform.
Davis arrived with his trumpet slung over his shoulder, dreaming of how one day he might be up there playing along with the likes of his idols Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker. Just as he reached the theater, Gillespie appeared, noted Davis’ trumpet and rushed over to the young musician.
‘You play?’ Gillespie asked.
Davis told him he did.
‘We lost our trumpeter, and we need one fast. You got a card?’
Davis nodded ‘Yes’.
‘Then you’re in.’
Davis played with Gillespie and Parker for the next 2 weeks, and this was the start of Mile Davis’ incredible career.
In 1970, Miles Davis played to a 600,000 audience at the Isle of Wight Festival. It was the largest pop festival in history. At the time, many questioned why Davis had agreed to perform at it, as man of his success and talent was middle of the bill, sandwiched between Tiny Tim and Ten Years After.
Davis had just released his double album, Bitches Brew, which proved to be a game-changing moment in Modern Jazz. The album divided critics. Some reviled it, claiming Davis had sold out, and was no longer relevant. But the audience loved it. And Bitches Brew became Davis’ biggest success, going gold within weeks.
In August 1970, Davis decided to play Bitches Brew at the Isle of Wight Festival. It was a myth-making appearance, where Davis improvised much of his performance.
That festival, and Davis’ role in it, are revisited here in Murray Lerner’s documentary Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue, which inter-cuts Miles’ astounding performance together with members of his band and those who knew the great man.
[I’ve got the flu today, so I’m retooling an older post from 2010 with a different video while I go feel sorry for myself!]
In 2010, The Quietus blog ran a feature where they asked musical luminaries like Nick Cave, John Lydon, Iggy Pop, Mike Patton, Wayne Coyne and Ennio Morricone what their favorite Miles Davis album is. Unsurprisingly, asking these iconoclastic fellas, the majority of the nods go to Miles’ incredibly far out 70s album (from Bitches Brew to Dark Magus basically), the ones that most jazz fans, and even staunch Miles Davis fans used to absolutely hate, but that have been reconsidered critically in recent years as the public caught up to them
For me, I started to get into this “difficult” spot of the Miles Davis catalog about ten-twelve years ago. I already owned Bitches Brew and Get Up With It (which features a incredible sidelong elegy to Duke Ellington titled “He Loved Him Madly” improvised in the studio after Miles heard Ellington had died. The piece was cited by Brian Eno as the beginnings of ambient music) but it was A) getting a really good stereo system in 2002 and B) reading this amazing rant by Julian Cope about this period of Miles’ output that saw me really investigate the “horrible” racket Miles was making then. Wanting new music to listen to on my new toy, I bought Dark Magus first, Pangaea and Agharta in the space of three consecutive days. Once I started, I fell into a musical rabbit hole that I didn’t get out of for about a year or two later. I was not a very popular guy with the neighbors back then, I don’t think.
Not that I am saying anything here that hasn’t been expressed already in quarters like The Wire magazine, but if you ask me, the material that Miles Davis produced between 1970 and 1975 (when ill health and drug dependency forced him to retire for several years) is the absolute apex of his vast recorded output. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kind of Blue, In a Silent Way, Sketches of Spain, and many other earlier Miles Davis albums, but the ones I play loudest, most often and that I pay the most attention to, are the coke-out live albums, Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea. These albums are… fucking unique and that’s putting it mildly. There is nothing else to compare them to, even remotely, in the history of modern music (Maybe Can meets Fela Kuti?)
With up to three electric guitarists (Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey and Dominique Gaumont), Miles on organ and electrified trumpet (run through a wah-wah pedal) and a rhythm section consisting of the insane, propulsive drumming of Al Foster, Mtume on percussion and the most amazing Michael Henderson on bass holding the whole thing together, holy shit, these performances are AGGRESSIVE. Julian Cope wrote about notion of continental plates shifting to get across the power of the Pangaea set (recorded live in Osaka, Japan in 1975 on the evening of the day that Aghartha was recorded) and I’d say that’s about right. Every instrument which isn’t soloing is placed in service of THE GROOVE—even the guitars can be seen as adding a percussive element to the overall wall of noise-funk effect.
At the proper volume, it can plow you down like a Mack truck. Interestingly, from the midst of this dank, swirling sonic maelstrom, every time one of the musicians steps forward for a solo, it reminds me of the odd noises and “squiggly” sounds that seem to come out of nowhere in certain Stockhausen or Xenakis compositions, cutting through the soupy din (At one point on Dark Magus, a primitive drum machine is pulled out and used like a machine gun!).
This 1973 performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival is a pretty scorching example of what Miles and his band (Davis’ sidemen here are Dave Liebman, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume) was doing live at the time. It MUST be turned up loud for the proper effect:
The great Nile Rodgers has started uploading clips from his old TV show New Visions to his new YouTube account. This short clip gives a fascinating insight into the artwork made by Miles Davis, of which there is an example above, called “The Kiss”.
Here Miles talks candidly about the shapes and colours in his work and what they mean to him, in his wonderfully gravelly voice. It all seems very sexual. The only downside is that this video is agonisingly short - Nile, if you have the full length version of this episode then you HAVE to put it online for the whole world to see!
Another clip from New Visions, this time featuring guitarists John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Robert Fripp and more: