Tributes to Miles Davis at 85

Today would have been Miles Davis’ 85th birthday. (Photo Credit: William Ellis, taken at the Apollo in Manchester in 1989) We have a few tributes so far. Please join in with a comment.

Pete Cook

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I suppose my introduction was the same as many other people’s – Kind of Blue. I know he did so much else, and I really like his bebop playing on those sides he made with Charlie Parker. He was one of those guys who always seemed to be searching for something new right to the end of his career. One aspect of his playing I really admire on Kind of Blue and the things with Gil Evans is his ability to play a tune so simply yet with so much detail. A true pioneer.

Tony Dudley-Evans:

I first listened to Miles on the Charlie Parker 1940s recordings, but it was the Milestones album from 1958 that really made me realise what a key figure Miles is. I moved on to Kind of Blue and really loved that period. But I also got to like his later stuff from Bitches Brew through to Tutu. We were lucky to have one of Miles’ final ever concerts at Birmingham NEC; Miles was brilliant and even smiled and waved at the audience. Happy Birthday, Miles.

William Ellis:

Photographing Miles was something I thought could never happen but when I heard he was coming to Manchester I felt this was my only chance. Somehow I tracked down the promoter and basically begged for permission to shoot. I had bought 2 sets of tickets for the 2 nights already -maybe that was what clinched it – he agreed.

I always have a great feeling of exhilaration as a concert starts but this was like nothing else I’d done until that night.

To be there with a truly iconic figure was surreal.He embodied so much, I sensed the presence of the great musicians he had played with through all those years and what he represents to so many people as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

Photographs are my response to the music and what’s happening in front of me – whilst simultaneously detached from everything, composing the images appearing in the viewfinder as the first 15 minutes of the concert unfolded.

Photographing Miles Davis was a turning point for me in jazz and opened up many avenues, gaining me access to venues, festivals and commissions.But it was really so much much more than that.

Frank Griffith :

Miles’s sound and style and general musical aura did not change that greatly over his forty five year playing career. However, his approach and settings did greatly. That was his destiny and he could do little about it.

Pianist Keith Jarrett tells a story in a 1986 CBS (USA) documentary which illustrates this. Keith was on a gig in the early 1970s with Miles’ band which was a largely rock/soul outfit with the lone exception of Keith playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard. At one point in the middle of the concert Miles suddenly started playing Stella by Starlight from out of nowhere. Unsurprisingly, Keith was the only band member who knew the tune well enough to accompany him. They got through it somehow and later after the concert Miles said to Keith “do you know the reason why I don’t play ballads anymore, Keith?” Regardless of whether he knew the answer or not, Keith responded “no, Miles, why is that?” “Because I love them too much”

Miles was the ultimate artist, reckoned Keith, as he prevented himself from doing that he loved in favour of continually pursuing uncharted grounds of creativity even if they were not as successful as his ballad years.

Robbie Robson:

For me the most intriguing and exciting period in Miles’ career are the years from 69-70 where he played with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland – the Lost Quintet.It feels like a real turning point musically. The material had been becomming more and more free, but this was the moment when everything opened up and after which anything could happen.

The combination of Jack’s fieriness and soulful groove, with Chick’s angular textured Rhodes playing gets to me every time. The combination of players seemed to allow Wayne to play just freely and explore sounds . Miles seemed so completely unafraid of the massive potential for chaos- he sounds direct and succinct as always, but in a very free context which hadn’t happened in his music up to that point. Whilst those who take a real interest in Miles are aware of this period and this group, there are no studio albums, so it seems to remain largely under the radar.

It inspired me to start my band Dog Soup, in which we try to capture this spirit of freedom.

Adam Sieff :

Happy Birthday Miles! I’ve been a major fan ever since seeing you play at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and was lucky enough to work with your catalogue during my ten year stint running Sony Jazz.

What care we put into that work – we wanted everything to be as right as it possibly could be whether it was the SACD, 24-bit MasterSound, DualDisc, MiniDisc, 5 speaker surround sound DVD, cardboard gatefold mini sleeve, lavish box set series and, most importantly, the best possible mastering – nothing was too good for the prince of darkness, but there again, he was responsible for well over half of our jazz catalogue sales.

It’s heartbreaking to see all the public domain resissues coming out with cloned CDs or just plain substandard audio quality. Miles’ legacy deserves better, so please try and remember his music at its very best, as it was some of the very best jazz music ever. I’m sure he would have had a few choice words to say on the matter. He usually did.

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