- 28 Sep 20
29 years ago today, jazz icon Miles Davis died, aged 65. To mark his anniversary, we're revisiting Jackie Hayden's reflections on one of the true giants of music – originally published in Hot Press in 2006.
While lots of musicians, often of questionable calibre, have major tomes written about them, few have books dedicated to just one album.
But that’s precisely what happened with Illinois-born Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, regarded by many as the quintessential jazz record of all time and voted into position 57 in the recent Hot Press poll of Irish musicians asked to choose their favourite all-time albums.
But Miles Davis is more than just a one-trick pony. Much like Bob Dylan, and often in the face of the same kind of prejudiced opposition bordering on ridicule, he repeatedly reinvented himself and his music in search of his musical holy grail. Never unwilling to upset the jazz police, he defied and despised all attempts to categorise or restrict his music. Under the influence of Jimi Hendrix he pioneered the development of jazz-rock, while the developments of such sub-genres as cool jazz, hard-bop and fusion, among other musical movements, were all influenced, if not directly fuelled, by Davis’ adventurous explorations.
Apart from the modalisms of 1959’s Kind of Blue, the other Miles album with most appeal to rock fans is likely to be the double-CD Bitches Brew. It was comprised primarily of non-directed improvised interactions between some of the best musicians in either the rock or jazz worlds at the time, including Davis, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul, all serious contenders in their own right, never mind their ability to brew up the magic when together in the same room. That album opened up the rock market for Miles and his mates, resulting in sell-out tours of the USA, Europe and Japan.
Many of those who played with the master in those days went on to set up their own key fusion units, the afore-mentioned McLaughlin forming the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Zawinul and Shorter linking up for Weather Report, and sidemen like Airto Moreira, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham cropping up on an endless series of stunning albums recorded under a variety of names, but all bearing the unmistakeable influence of Miles Davis.
Of course a considerable number of mainstream jazz fans look with disdain at much of the latter half of Davis’ multi-facetted output. Some instead turn back to his collaborations with saxist John Coltrane for their personal jazz fixes, with vintage '50s albums such as Green Haze and Workin’ and Steamin’, or his Gil Evans collaborations Sketches Of Spain and Porgy And Bess, or the seminal hard bop of Birth Of The Cool, or the quietist masterpiece In A Silent Way often cited as evidence of Davis at his most authentic.
Miles Davis possibly enjoyed more musical peaks that any other musician in history. Determining which was the most essential of his recordings will depend on each person’s own musical leanings and creates endless possibilities for argument and re-evaluation. There’s more than enough for everybody in his long and prolific career.