Remembering trumpeter Miles Davis on the day of his death from pneumonia 20 years ago.
Davis was as full of contradictions as he was musical ideas: personally churlish, he was supportive and encouraging of the apprentices in his band; disdainful of critics, he was pained by their criticisms; reared on bebop, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His album, Kind of Blue, was saluted on its 50th anniversary by Congress by a 409-0 vote; we’re guessing there weren’t 409 members who were familiar with it.
The next time you need to be reminded that people are complicated, remember Miles. When he turned his back on audiences, we can only assume he meant it.
Trumpeter heir Wynton Marsalis told The Independent in 2003 Davis was “a genius who decided to go into rock, and was on the bandstand looking like, basically, a buffoon.” Davis had been dead 12 years, but his reaction probably wouldn’t have been any different than it was 17 years previously, according to the Telegraph, when Marsalis climbed on the stage as Davis performed at the Vancouver Jazz Festival: “That motherf—-r’s not sharing the stage with me.”
”There was a classic competition between an older man and a younger man who is more idealistic. By that stage he’d given up jazz and was playing pop and rock, trying to stay pertinent,” Marsalis told the Telegraph’s Peter Culshaw. “He had released a large portion of his integrity. He knew it. We both knew it.”
We’ll see if Marsalis feels any differently a quarter-century hence when he’s 65.
We know this: asking where Miles Davis’ place is in jazz is a little like asking where Ty Cobb, the baseball player Davis’ personality most closely resembles, ranks in the Hall of Fame. It’s not if he’s in the first class, but whether he’s at the head of it.
Because there aren’t many jazz musicians whose death will evoke an editorial reaction from The New York Times as Davis’ did.
From the Times, three days after Davis’ death: “Unless someone soon emerges from nowhere, the trumpeter Miles Davis will be remembered as the most influential jazz artist of the second half of the 20th century. Mr. Davis remained iconoclastic through four decades as instrumentalist, composer and band leader. He felt compelled to change (a “curse,” he called it) and when he did, the whole of jazz often changed with him . . . Miles Davis is dead at 65. One of his albums was called “Miles Ahead.” And he was: an American original, as cool as they come.”
Davis was 65 when he died.
The link below is to Davis’ composition All Blues from the 1959 release Kind of Blue; it’s a live 1964 version with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams (there is, unfortunately, a slight skip or two).
Sources: telegraph.co.uk, independent.co.uk, wikipedia.org