You are here

Log in or register to post comments
ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
What is it with Miles?

How is it that Miles Davis became the focus of so much adulation? Unlike the greats of jazz, he left no significant contributions as a composer. Instead of drawing his audience into the music, he turned his back on them almost defying them to follow the trip he was determined to take alone. Great players like Bill Evans blossomed after they broke their ties with him. Jazz for him wasn't celebrating a great melody by adding an individual contribution. His style was unique in the sense that he had but one speed - strung out, and personal exhibitionism was the only goal. If he left any legacy, it was the sad one of leading young players like Wynton Marsalis down a dead end road where their obvious talents were wasted.

Nevertheless he's a cult icon. It's the musical equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 6 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Re: What is it with Miles?

Clay,

Since I consider myself somewhat of an expert on two topics which have a quite a bit to do with your post, I feel I should respond.

The first topic where I'm somewhat of an expert is in posting messages on forums with the express intent of getting people all riled up. The second topic is that of Miles Davis.

Okay, so you post a message wondering what the big deal is about Miles. Now must of the time in discussions about Miles and jazz, the question would more likely be something like what's the big deal about electric Miles? Since up until that point just about everything Miles did was (as still is) considered first rate and essential listening for any serious modern jazz fan.

I don't understand your connecting Miles to Wynton Marsalis, since Wynton and Miles never played together nor would Wynton have had anything to do with the electric Miles of the 1970s and 1980s.

As for Miles' legacy, the list is reads like a who's who of jazz superstars of the past fifty years or so. Just about everyone who is anyone in jazz has past through Miles' band, like it or not. Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Ron Carter, Al Foster, Sam Rivers, John McLaughlin, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Zawinul and plenty of others.

As far as Miles not writing any jazz classics you have it all backwards: "he left no significant contributions as a composer...Jazz for him wasn't celebrating a great melody by adding an individual contribution." Not at all, the statement should read "Jazz for him was all about celebrating a great melody by adding an individual contribution." Why else are so many of Miles' greatest performances considered to be on some of the oldest and most tired songs as Miles' special magic breathes new life into these otherwise worn out tunes? Great jazz is also about improvising and adding one's personal stamp onto a tune.

But hey, if you've listened to Miles and you don't get it, all I can say is I feel sorry for you, since you're missing out on alot of wonderful and beautiful music.

Jeff Wong
Jeff Wong's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 8 months ago
Joined: Sep 6 2005 - 3:28am
Re: What is it with Miles?

I think you may need to look at the pivotal albums (i.e., Kind of Blue & Bitches Brew) in the context of what was being made at the time, and how those Miles albums affected records (and musicians) in the decades to follow to appreciate his significance.

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Gotta admit I thought you might react more violently. Oh well, better luck next time. At least we got away from JAPT.
Unlike most fans, I favor him playing the ballads. My Funny Valentine is probably my favorite Miles recording.

I referenced Marsalis because I think he, like most other players of the period, was influenced by Miles and tried to emulate some of that style in developing and presenting his own material. I began to get disappointed in Marsalis with Codes from the Black Underground and dropped him completely from my list with The Magic Hour.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: What is it with Miles?

I gotta put in a good word for Miles.

What I think he did was step in on more than one occasion and change the direction of his idiom.

Kind of Blue was the "Nevermind" of it's day in the jazz canon. It was epic, and opened the door to new ways of thinking and playing.

People had mentioned it before, but when Miles talked about the importance of "the space between the notes" or the impact of the "notes he didn't play", how people looked at 'control' of an instrument moved into a new light.

I'll give him full credit for Kind of Blue. It's jazz that is meant to be appreciated while sitting still and letting the music lead your brain instead of your feet.

On the other hand, I think Sketches of Spain and Bitches Brew get a little too much credit, especially Bitches Brew. Maybe his influence on that occasion lead music down a more mundane path.

___________________________________
___________________________________

Regarding his performances, I had once heard that he played with his back to the audience because he thought he sounded better that way. Here, maybe he was trying to give the audience a more "Bose-like" sound instead of a direct radiating sound.

__________________________________
__________________________________

Either way, no flames for not digging any certain person, it's all good. Heck, I don't get Ornette Coleman most of the time!

Monty
Monty's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 16 2005 - 6:55pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Maybe he was conducting the band as he played and needed to see them to do it...or needed them to see him. Who knows? Has he never said why he did this?

stereophillips
stereophillips's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 13 2005 - 10:55am
Re: What is it with Miles?

Wow, I'm impressed by the civility of this give and take -- like jazzfan, I was sure it was going to generate flames.

Of course, all of us have musicians where we just don't get what they do and that's our right. While it's true that Miles wasn't a composer, he did develop ways of repsonding to songs that transcended the mere parroting of the melodic line, which is not a small accomplishment.

And, as has been pointed out, he was a phenomenal judge of talent. However, to my mind, it wasn't simply that he recognized the talents of musicians like Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Coltrane, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, Anthony Williams, and hundreds (literally) more, it was that most of them began to sound most like themselves while in Miles' band or after having been in it. My gosh, compare Jarrett's early work with Charles Lloyd (which was already pretty impressive) with the explosive development of his individual voice after having been in Miles' band.

You can criticize Miles' limits as a technician, just as you can criticize Billie Holiday for having a limited vocal range. The charge may be accurate, but it's beside the point. Both artists managed to say what they set out to say within the confines of what would have been limits to smaller musical souls.

All of that said, I suspect Miles would have been the last person who would have felt that his iconic status meant that people couldn't question his merits as an artist and a jazz great. Afflicting the comfortable was a major part of his greatness and he would probably expect, if not demand, no less from the musicians and music lovers who came after him.

mmole
mmole's picture
Offline
Last seen: 6 months 6 days ago
Joined: Aug 31 2005 - 7:29pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

The marvelous, unique thing about Miles was watching the amazing stylistic changes he went through in the course of his career. The irritating thing about Marsalis is how he seized on a narrow slice of Miles (the second great quartet) and turned it into "jazz truth" with almost undisguised contempt for where Miles went afterward.

Oh, and special thanks to Jazzfan for the tiny picture which I finally realized was the cover of Dave Holland's great "Conference of the Birds" with Braxton and Sam Rivers. Hadn't played it in ages but I'm listening to it now.

jazzfan
jazzfan's picture
Offline
Last seen: 6 months 6 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 8:55am
Re: What is it with Miles?


Quote:
The marvelous, unique thing about Miles was watching the amazing stylistic changes he went through in the course of his career. The irritating thing about Marsalis is how he seized on a narrow slice of Miles (the second great quartet) and turned it into "jazz truth" with almost undisguised contempt for where Miles went afterward.

Oh, and special thanks to Jazzfan for the tiny picture which I finally realized was the cover of Dave Holland's great "Conference of the Birds" with Braxton and Sam Rivers. Hadn't played it in ages but I'm listening to it now.

I quite agree about Miles' "amazing stylistic changes" but I don't fully agree with the notion that Wynton holds the 1960s Miles quintet as "jazz truth", although he doesn't seem to like any electric Miles. Wynton is very tough to pin down. While it may appear that he prays only to the gods of Armstrong, Ellington, Basie and the like, he'll sometimes fool you by doing something like the recent Charles Mingus tribute or the "Love Supreme" recording or the Ornette Coleman tribute.

My theory as far as Marsalis is concerned is that first he get the money by waving the Armstrong/Ellington flag and then he opens things up (even if just a small crack) and slips in the some "wilder" stuff, like Ornette and Mingus. Therefore, I'm trying to keep an open mind. And who knows, maybe he'll even do an Art Ensemble of Chicago or Cecil Taylor tribute.

I'm glad you caught on to the "Conference of the Birds" cover. Check the older posts in this Jazz section. The one started by yours truly called "Any fellow free/avant-garde jazz fans out there?" begins with a reference to that classic free jazz recording.

nunhgrader
nunhgrader's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 9:25pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

I gotta hand it to Miles - he played with the best, lead some of the best players, and to me - is one of jazz's greatests. I think his contributions are far reaching because of his public popularity and help alot of newcomers get into jazz. He played almost every style of jazz and I loved his hard personality.

mediapro
mediapro's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jan 22 2006 - 6:01pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Well, there are many reasons. The main one is he is credited with playing 5 different Jazz styles where most musicians stick to one. He started his career playing bebop, helped invent the cool style, played Hard post bebop regression, went to controlled freedom and then electric/fusion. He also lead some of the best bands in the history of jazz. Finally, he played with just about every important musician from the 50s until his death, including people outside of jazz.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: What is it with Miles?

I think people are making great points. Miles was such a big part of jazz, that he presents a large target for criticism.

With all that he managed to play, if one of his "styles" fails to appeal to someone, that person has a "reason" to discount him.

I'm not much of a fusion fan, either, but I don't hold the Miles that I don't like against him.

Lots of other notions float through my brain with this discussion, as well.

Pardon me, but I will be using some dumb quotes to describe what's up with Miles.

1) There's an old quote that I first heard in reference to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He was a prominent scientific thinker who predated Darwin, and came up with the notion that evolution took place via animals being able to pass on to their offspring characteristics that they had acquired in life. So, his theory of the giraffe and its long neck was due to giraffes wanting to eat from ever higher tree limbs and trying to stretch their necks. Each succeeding generation would receive a longer neck based on the stretching that their parents had done.

He's now regarded as being wrong, and his very name is now associated with holding an erroneous position in any scientific endeavor. His whole scientific reputation on many other levels is pretty much discounted because of this one spectacular failure.

Anyway, there is an apocryphal story that Darwin came to Lamarck's general defense by saying, "It takes a great mind in order to fail greatly," meaning Lamarck had to have a major league intellect to have even made it to the plate before whiffing.

So, I give Miles credit for having one of those great minds, even on the stuff he did that isn

musikman316
musikman316's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jan 21 2006 - 11:43pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

For me personally, Miles was my door into jazz. If Kind of Blue had not been on every top "xxx" list in every major magazine I probably never would have made the leap. Since then I have dove into jazz headfirst, I stopped playing in rock bands and made the switch to jazz guitar playing in several trios since then and emersing myself into the music.

I have also made it my passion to record great jazz (and classical) music and am hoping to start a label soon that releases records from new composers of both jazz and classical music (as well as musical theatre composers).

So without Miles, I may not be doing what I am doing today.

Josh

JoeE SP9
JoeE SP9's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: Oct 31 2005 - 6:02pm
Re: What is it with Miles?


Quote:
How is it hat Miles Davis became the focus of so much adulation? Unlike the greats of jazz, he left no significant contributions as a composer. Instead of drawing his audience into the music, he turned his back on them almost defying them to follow the trip he was determined to take alone. Great players like Bill Evans blossomed after they broke their ties with him. Jazz for him wasn't celebrating a great melody by adding an individual contribution. His style was unique in the sense that he had but one speed - strung out, and personal exhibitionism was the only goal. If he left any legacy, it was the sad one of leading young players like Wynton Marsalis down a dead end road where their obvious talents were wasted.

Nevertheless he's a cult icon. It's the musical equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.

Unlike the greats of Jazz? Just who do you think the greats of Jazz are? Jazz is and always has been about actually playing music. Composition has never been as important as "jammin". To really understand this one must attend live concerts and hear musicians creating something new from old standards. This is the reason so many definitive collections of a given artist usually include alternate takes of the same piece. In most cases there are substantial differences between those takes. So what, if Miles turned his back on the audience. You came to hear the music, not look at him. Didn't you? If Wynton Marsalis where capable of following Miles' leads in changing musical direction we would be hearing new and interesting directions in Jazz. What we get from him is a snobby attitude and overly intellectualized playing. I really would like to know just who you think the greats of Jazz are.

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

I will say that I think Kind of Blue is a remarkable achievement, maybe once in a lifetime recordings that deserves all the attention and adulation is has received. I have been listening to Sketches of Spain, which I find more problematic for ME and harder to appreciate and understand. Again this is my problem. It is art afterall. Birth of Cool I am beginning to enjoy more, but still it pales in comparison, for me, of KOB. KOB to me has raised the bar exceedingly high. Mile's discography is huge and I have no real interest in collecting more of his material. I may as I continue to frequent the used record stores in my area and find some bargains, which are plentiful. This "true?" style of jazz aways had a smaller audience and following and as the liner notes to one of his recordings stated it was remarkable many of his discs were made at all as few, if any, at the lable were fans of Miles or his new style of playing. So much great music and so little time. The John Marks piece was excellent and I am hoping that John will be able to make additional auditions for other artists just like he was able to do for KOB. You could tell this was a great opportunity for him, Bob, and JA.

Buddha
Buddha's picture
Offline
Last seen: 3 years 1 month ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 10:24am
Re: What is it with Miles?

Hi, Jim!

I have the same problem with Bitches Brew.

I suppose there are always going to be problematic performances for fans of any artist. Otherwise, all his discs would have to be KOB!

Also, with an artist who evinced so much change, it is also fair to have sections of his work that aren't to your liking. Feel free to pick and choose!

I disagree with JoeE on a few things, though.

Miles turning his back on the audience, I don't care, either. But if he "phoned in" as many performances as people have said, then as an audience member I might care a great deal about that. Just like you won't give Winton any slack for being "snobbish," I won't give Miles slack for showing up for a gig and not putting enough effort into a show. If he wanted to blow off an audience, then don't take their money, easy as that.

Winton has his take on what jazz is, I'm OK with that. If I want different, I'll pull out John Zorn or Ornette Coleman and not blame Winton for not being all things.

Miles was Picasso, Winton is a completely fine Keith Haring.

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Hi Buddha,

I might have a hard time with the snobbishness, but artists can be...well artists. I know I am not always easy to get along with and I have little musical talent. LOL You do want performers to be somewhat respectful of the patron's time and money. It is bad marketing on their part if their don't. If you learn how messed up Miles' life was it somewhat understandable. His bad behavior does not have to be forgiven, though. Much was written about the tremendous differences in personalities of Horowitz and Rubinstein (kinder). You could even throw in the volitile Glenn Gould. You just can't dismiss the talent. We just have to look around it more. It would be nice if all truly great people were class acts as well. It will always be a dream. And, you are right, there is always some other great artist to listen to. I still have WM early work ( I do enjoy) on cassette that I really should get around to transfer into my laptop. Regards.

WonkoTheSane
WonkoTheSane's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jan 15 2006 - 4:06pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Well, shucky darn, that was me. Sorry about forgetting to log in.

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

"Just who do you think the greats of Jazz are?", you say repeatedly. Well, JoeE, since you took the effort to dig out this old post, I'll take some time to respond to that question. First, however, a little perspective.

My post, from which you quote, was entered at a fairly early point in the life of this forum and the strength of the argument presented was intended to stir up some action. In that regard, I think it succeeded. Just as your digging it up did. In part, my post was also precipitated by an earlier one entered by a relative newcomer to jazz who wondered what else he should listen to after hearing Kind of Blue. Miles was his starting point. What a shame if he supposed Miles was the starting point for jazz (as some apparently do).

That said, you should understand that while the language I used was deliberately inflammatory, my opinion of Miles' contribution to jazz is that he was certainly notable, but short of great. We can't all love him as much as you do and certainly not as much as he loved himself. And that leads to another digression. "Jammin" , when it is good, is a mutually supportive group thing. Miles always had to be the star. Sorry about that, you didn't ask for reasons why I thought he wasn't so great, but who I think was. OK, here are some greats in no particular order. I don't consider them equals, but I rank them all higher than Miles.

Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, "Kid" Ory, Vic Dickenson, Art Hodes, Colemen Hawkins, Earl Hines, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Billy Butterfield, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Theloneus Monk, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, Henry "Red" Allen, Jack Teagarten, Freddie Hubbard, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris, Brad Meldau, Ray Brown.........

I could go on, but perhaps you get the picture. I believe that it don't mean a thing if it aint got that swing, that the essential foundation for great improvisation is a great melody, that the great jazz performances come from players who demonstrate respect for the melody and for the musicianship of the others in the group. Good grief, those criteria would also seem to apply to rock, chamber music,.........hmmm.

You are correct, JoeE, the ears do decide - one set at a time. My ears may tend to be stuck in the past, but who can blame them, the music was great there. I keep trying to get into "free jazz", but it still seems to me to be the musical equivalent of playing golf without keeping score. That may work for some. There are those, for instance, who actually believe that composition has never been as important as "jammin".

Hope that answers your question.

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Miles may end up being one of the most misunderstood jazz improvisors of all time. It is perfectly OK for me not to get him in Sketches Of Spain. My lack of jzz sophistication will be showing, but I can't help it if I don't like it. Maybe it is the simplicity of KOB that hooked me, but on those days in '59 all the players had their "planets lined up". I am listening to a jazz combo led by Renee Rosnes (With A Little Help From My Friends) and it is great playing and engineering. The playing is more "complementary" in that the players are more in harmony with each other. Sketches of Spain, for me, has players reaching for the same finish line but running different races, they do get to the finish line together, but...the togetherness, harmonically is missing for me. I think it means more that I just don't get it rather than it being substandard by some measure. That's OK, I was never the sharpest knife in the drawer any way. LOL I am trying though. I do like Nicholas Payton, Fred Hirsch, Dave Brubek, Diana Krall (yes video does matter here), and Elaine Elias, to name a few, is next up in the CD player. So much music...so little time. Another one of my HS classmates passed away last Thursday. There is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass these days.

jackfish
jackfish's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: Dec 19 2005 - 2:42pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

OK, so what's up with T Monk?

WonkoTheSane
WonkoTheSane's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jan 15 2006 - 4:06pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Jim, Cheapskate,

You guys might want to check out JJ Johnson, Steve Turre, Charlie Haden, Al Grey, The Jeff Hamilton Trio, Wallace Roney, and The Jim Knapp Orchestra. All pretty trad players with some tasty, tasty licks. I am also a huge fan of Joe Henderson's "Lush Life" but I like I said, Mr Marsalis leaves me cold. Christian McBride on on the other hand, warms me right back up.

Jim,
I met Diana Krall when I was working for this and the video doesn't even begin to do her justice. She is just one of the many examples of my ability to turn into Ralph Wiggum when in the presence of a stunning, talented woman. That night when she did "Peel me a Grape" I thought the entire 10,000 person crowd was going to riot at the grocery store.

JoeE SP9
JoeE SP9's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: Oct 31 2005 - 6:02pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

Cheapskate, I guess we just disagree about Miles' greatness. I do agree with your other greats although you did leave some out. I however have never been stuck in the past. I listen to "Satchel Mouth" the latest John McLaughlin and the newest Wynton Marsalis along with all of the others you mentioned. You wouldn't be the guy I met in the service in 1967 who when exposed to Ramsey Lewis playing Spartacus (The Love Theme) from the In Crowd LP became upset at the audience clapping when Ramsey slid out of the intro into the song proper? He thought they were rude for clapping in the middle of the song. I'm just glad that I have been able to grow and change as the music has. I would have missed out on some good stuff if I hadn't

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

I was going to see her when she came to Atlanta, but by the time I found out about it the ticket prices were the price of a nice pair of Triangle or B & W Bookshelf speakers. When people can play and sing like that it makes video well worth while. I know there are alot of people who dismiss her becaues she is so gorgeous, but if I was blind, and I am so glad I am not, her talent is so obvious that even someone like me can instantly appreciate it. I was just litening to an old Chet Baker with Russ Freeman LP, and there is another jazz tragedy. He could play and sing as well. I also pulled out a Pablo record of Zoot Sims and the nine piece band on that disc was like a whos who, including Snooky Young. It is so hard for me to really complain about CD sound today with as many older recordings that I listen to. Many of the recording engineers in the day did a remarkable job capturing, but I am afraid something was lost in the matering or pressing, KOB kind of proves that point. It still stands tall engineering wise.

ohfourohnine
ohfourohnine's picture
Offline
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:41pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

No, JoeE, I wasn't that guy. Never cared for Ramsey Louis. Always skipped the London House when he was playing there. Would have skipped the session you refer to as well. I enjoyed our little exchange, though.

Cheers.

JoeE SP9
JoeE SP9's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: Oct 31 2005 - 6:02pm
Re: What is it with Miles?

I was kidding when I suggested that you might be him. He wasn't nearly as polite as you. Except for the Spartacus tune I have never cared much for Ramsey Lewis either. My sister gave me a CD of Ramsey and Nancy Wilson. I haven't played it yet. I always liked Nancy but I have put of playing it because of my attitude about Ramsey. I think I'll give it a spin now.
Bye, I can't listen and surf at the same time.

nunhgrader
nunhgrader's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 3 days ago
Joined: Sep 8 2005 - 9:25pm
Re: What is it with Miles?


Quote:
OK, so what's up with T Monk?

hehe.. I was gonna ask a similar question - so what do you guys & gals think of Gil Evans and his contributions/ influence etc.

  • X
    Enter your Stereophile.com username.
    Enter the password that accompanies your username.
    Loading