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Miles Davis was a jazz musician. He played trumpet. People say he's black, but that's because they're part of the predominantly white establishment who wanted to pigeonhole him into one category. Miles doesn't like categories, and he said himself: "I'm all races at once, baby. That's what fusion was all about, don't you know?" Throughout his long career, Miles also redefined jazz humour, by being the most humourless jazz personality to ever have existed. In effect, Miles taught his proteges that it was fine to ignore the audience while playing, not to announce tunes, and even turn your back to them (to be fair, a lot of audiences turned their backs to Miles when he started playing syrupy pop-jazz in the eighties). You might want to classify Miles' humour as "black comedy".
On the subject of Miles as a musician, was he really all that? Sure, he only played with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time (including himself, as Miles would tell you!), created some great records in multiple genres, and looked incredibly stylish whilst doing it. But so many trumpeters are miles beyond what Davis was capable of (and have nicer suits) and he'd get blown off the stand these days, or at least get ignored...and who listens to Miles for his playing alone? Case in point: I bet you're reading this article to find out more about Trane or Bird, and not just Miles himself! Gotcha!
Miles first started playing trumpet as a nice, simple boy, who was keen to learn the tuneful melodies that Charlie Parker was playing to confused audiences in New York. The mysogynistic, racist, and throwing-women-down-the-stairs Miles we all came to know and love was still latent at this time. He admired Dizzy Gillespie's style, though he didn't want to destroy his own trumpet by sitting on it like Dizzy did to get that sound. Actually, Miles did try sitting on his trumpet, but being as light as he was, he couldn't bend the horn at all. Miles recounted in his autobiography that in this period he was a "Too nice motherfucker".
A milestone in his career was recording some landmark sessions with "Bird", where Miles forged a new style of trumpet playing which involved missing high notes, splitting notes, and playing solos far simpler than Bird's. Nevertheless, this style caught on, 'cos all the damn white honkeys realised that Miles' style was easier to copy than Bird's. But still, Bird seemed to be getting more bitches than Miles, who was happily married at the time. It would be many years before he would invent the potion known as 'Bitches Brew', a very seductive weapon in the right hands (see below for a recipe). Miles summarized this period as one where he was a "Couldn't-play-trumpet-as-well-as-Dizzy motherfucker, but a motherfucker nonetheless."
Too cool for jazz
Miles got bored of being cool, and envied by white people, and so he decided to take heroin to relieve his boredom. Heroin nearly took Miles, so he decided to go cold turkey. It was from this process that there emerged a new, arrogant Miles, ready to slap all the jazz cats up, and insult the many women he attracted. He gave the cool jazz trumpeters some advice on music, which upset them, because it ended up being some sweet chin music. They took this on the chin, and formed the cool jazz movement, but Miles being Miles, was always one step ahead (the album Miles Ahead alludes to this). When he was finished making some masterpieces in funnily-named genres, he invented modal jazz. He even hired a white boy to play in his group, called Bill Evans, but that was just so Miles could beat-up on him, and get some of the credit for some of his compositions. He couldn't stand Coltrane falling asleep and turning up in suits that even Miles's butler (a white butler at that!) wouldn't wear, so he fired him. This actually did Coltrane some good, as he cleaned up his act, and decided to learn to play the tenor saxophone properly. He improved a little, and though he would never reach the dizzying heights of Bill Clinton's ability, Miles happily took him back, as he was the best thing at the time, or as Miles would put it, he was a "motherfucker".
That 'Blues' album
Miles and his jazz cats made a record which is respected by a few, namely Kind of Blue. It is thought that if you listen to Kind of Blue backwards, you can hear the voice of Miles saying: "If you don't like me, so what?". This increased album sales, but as many found, they could not get their turntables to play backwards. The theory was disproved by Miles' producer Teo Macero, who said the so-called message was a "Promotional trick". Miles was playing tricks on his audience again. Another one of Miles' tricks was to say to the studio engineer: “I'll play it first and tell you what it is later.” Miles would then end up wondering why his band hadn't joined in with him when he started playing, because he hadn't told them either. He only expected them to be telepathic. Or Miles would then forget what he played because he made so many mistakes. Then Miles would claim: “Do not fear mistakes. There are none." However, when record producers forgot to put the recording light on while he was playing, he soon forgot what he had said about mistakes.
Stamping on Eric Dolphy's foot
“I suppose I'm somehow responsible for Dolphy's weird playing - when I stamped on his foot at the Savoy he couldn't tap his foot along to the music anymore. So he lost his sense of rhythm.”
Meanwhile, a dangerous, deadly movement known as 'avant-garde' had been burgeoning without Miles recognising it. This was a new style in jazz, and it annoyed Miles that he was not at the forefront of it so he took to disdaining it, even firing Johnny Coltrane for having a non-alcoholic beverage with Eric Dolphy at Birdland one night. Miles challenged Dolphy, an up-and-coming saxophonist, to a foot-stomp at the Savoy nightclub. Eric Dolphy, having small feet, lost the battle, and this was a big defeat for the avant-garde. The "New Thing", having connections with black power movement, decided on some retaliation and sent out two bent white cops to jump Miles after a gig. They landed outside of Chicago (Just kiddin, mofo!). Miles was beat up real bad, and it made him hate the avant-garde even more.
Miles gets with it
It was during this time in the late sixties that Miles went through a bit of a period of uncertainty, appearing as a sorcerer at kid's parties (his favourite trick: cursing the kids who got out of hand); cross-dressing as Nefertiti along with Herbie Hancock, who played some kind of Egyptian slave-boy, Davis also started smiling a lot for no apparent reason, and in 1968 climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (though not in his Nefertiti drag), a little known fact. He also developed the "E.S.P" he'd been looking for all along, but he still found it non-existent in other musicians, so it wasn't very useful. Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams were frequent companions of Miles in this period, and they persuaded him to actually do what he was best at; annoying critics with his latest music and being a trickster. And that he would do with the latest album:
True to Miles' form, he released an album known as In a Silent Way, which was 35 minutes long! His fans and the jazz critics, thinking that he was taking on John Cage at his own game in releasing not only a song, but an album of silence, rushed out to buy the latest release. However, it actually contained audible music, quite sleepy music in fact, and this annoyed the critics greatly, who had expected an album of silence from Miles. Miles was accused of being a musical conservative. Nevertheless, like many of Davis's records it was massively influential: The concept of the album has greatly influenced many a pop artist, who frequently perform their songs 'in a silent way' to backing tracks and sell-out crowds who can't tell that they're getting the Miles treatment!
This was the original cover for In a Silent Way: . The cover photo was taken only moments before Miles bitchslapped the photographer.However, in a twist of fate, Miles found out that simply everyone (especially photographers that were bitchslapped by cranky African-americans with no sense of humo(u)r) has the power to cook up some revenge. In short, the photographer had substituted the original photo with this one:. Miles would have his revenge with his next album, a musical 'bitchslap' to not just photographers (who wouldn't get any money because the cover art was a painting), but the whole jazz community in every sense of the word.
Sensing the commercial potential in fusion, Blue Mitchell, a fellow jazz trumpeter tried a brand that had considerably less rock in it, and he called it "Mitches' Brew", however this simply did not catch on like Miles' did, as Blue did not have the dealers that Miles had. Several covens reacted hostilely to both products, given that they thought they were derivatives of their original "Witches' Brew". However, they were not, and Miles killed them all. He got away because he was eating healthy food, unlike the FatDonald's-addicted white cops who were after him.
- Some willing, ill-tempered bitches in the first place
- Psychedelic setting
- Crystal 'rock'
- Some avant-garde jazz records which have been pre-roasted for 20 minutes
- Your legs; (don't worry... They'll grow back... Eventually...)
- An Unfunny Valentine
Making the potion requires listening to avant-garde music (NOT jazz avant-garde though, as listening to this particular type of music will irreversibly react with the pre-roasted material) as very loudly in the background to get you pumped up. Pour everything into a pot, and stir to eavle rituals and chants until the atonal alkaloids in the fumes nearly kill you.
- Death of all jazz critics in a 10km radius;
- tendency to hook up strange electronic gadgets to perfectly fine trumpets;
- tendency to like a certain game involving certain immovable objects, certain white sheets, and certain cutting devices;
- Increased use of the word "motherfucker";
- Increased misuse of the word "motherfucker".
All that fusion
Miles didn't play along to backing tracks though; this was jazz after all! In a controversial move, Miles changed his name to "Kilometers Davis" because he thought the imperial system was invented by colonial oppressors. Miles had been a slave to musical fashion, and the seventies were no different. He invented a new style of trumpet playing which involved spitting down the opposite end of the trumpet and into the mouthpiece, thus firing spit-capsules on his adoring audiences. It is thought that some of these radical concerts were some of the best Miles ever played. This new method saved him having to actually to talk to other people, which he never liked doing anyway; if he didn't like someone, he just fired a spitball their way. Nevertheless, he had to stop playing like this however because his audiences were getting drowned in his saliva. He switched to playing organ and making weird hand gestures to his band members to cue in different sections of music. It was actually revealed in his autobiography that he was not making musical gestures, but was playing a 7-way game of rock, paper, scissors with the band, and sometimes the band would stop playing just to concentrate on the game in session. This can be heard when the band drops out behind the guitarist's solo on Pangaea, as the guitarist did not have a hand free to play the game. It was Miles' own brand of 'jazz-rock-paper-scissors', and as always, it infuriated the critics.
Not a lot of Big Fun
“I was thinking of making rock-paper-scissors an Olympic sport, but with the amount of drugs we we're doing, we would have all been disqualified”
Miles had been taking cocaine as a performance-enhancing drug to keep up with the complex games of rock-paper-scissors. He had an unbeaten record, which came to an end one night in 1975 when Pete Cosey, who had played the last thirty minutes of the concert by himself, let out a sound so loud that Miles lost his concentration. Miles went mad after this defeat, insisting that players perform the physical impossibility of 'playing what's not there' and also got sick of being called KM, insisting: “I know what I've done for music, but don't call me a legend. Just call me Miles Davis”.
Feeling bettered, Miles decided to retire. Miles, remaining upbeat said in an interview: "I still got my Ferrari", but when he returned home to find it gone, only then did he remember that he lost it in a bet over a game of rock-paper-scissors with Jaco Pastorius. Miles went to ask for it back, but it turned out that Jaco had took the engine out of the car, and attached it to his own body so he could play faster (his bass, not rock-paper-scissors).
Back on it
After buying a new car to replace his Ferrari, Miles decided to get back to playing music again. Yet, he found the going tough, as all the years of rock-paper-scissors had replaced any knowledge of music he had. So, he refamiliarised himself by listening to the songs from the Top 40, and did slick, jazzy covers of them to get in with the jazz crowd he was once part of. Unfortunately, Miles had also lost his ability to trick people too, and the critics were having none of it, panning his pale attempts at playing jazz. He tried listening to some old Coltrane records, but he didn't understand them at the time, and certainly didn't now. He even surrounded himself with jazz musicians, and tried to look happy while playing them, but none of them were having it, especially since Miles had been away Wynton Marsalis was doing witty covers of tunes Miles once used to play so well! It is then quite ironic, that Miles should call Wynton "a nice man, only confused". Davis didn't even dress as well as he used to, wearing a wig and donning outlandish clothing that resembled his drag act he once did as Nefertiti.
He tried to reestablish himself as a trickster with the album Decoy; it is unknown what is supposed to be so deceptive about the album; perhaps Miles does not even play on it. Still, no one really cared, but he did manage to convince John Lydon in 1985 that he was a genuine punk musician, what with his middle-class upbringing, his blackness, his love of jazz, and his vast wardrobe of Armani and Gucci suits. As a result he recorded on Public Image Ltd's Album CD. Miles even suggested that title for the album. This is classed as Miles last great trick, as he was soon being surpassed by the likes of Jeremy Beadle in the late eighties. Miles looked back upon this period with sadness, simply remarking that he was "One bad Ferrariless motherfucker".
Miles died from a massive stroke. Much like the stroke that killed him, his legacy was massive, and this legacy he had created was very much influenced by his career as a trickster. Critics, in their overblown obituaries, had been deceived into thinking that Miles had invented bebop (Parker had already laid the foundations), cool jazz (While Miles was cooler, Mulligan and Evans were there first), modal jazz (the Ancient Greek used modes slightly earlier than Miles had), avant-garde free-bop (Ornette, anyone?) and fusion (Not only did his good buddy Tony Williams beat him to that, but some nerdy physicists - who also invented 'fission', a much neglected genre of music). And people are still deceived into thinking Miles was this kind of amazing genre-generator that churned out a whole new style of music once or twice every decade. Perhaps they were confusing him with Moondog. Maybe Miles can be credited with the invention of 'cooler jazz', and no-one yet has been able to step into the role of bullying trickster that Miles perfected. Wynton Marsalis has tried, but he wanted to be like his dad too much, perhaps to prove to people that he had no Oedipal complex (Case in point: Miles' dad was a dentist, who thought that Miles needed money for his Julliard studies, when in fact he was getting high on junk, playing bebop, and reprimanding his mother, which is a job Miles' dad should have been doing.)
Miles, not known for his singing abilities, but certainly for his ability to dupe people, was rumoured to have given Andy Kaufman lessons on how to sing badly, and be abusive to others. Miles' witnessed Andy's act at a comedy club (a rare place for Miles to be at) and told him that he was "Too nice!". Miles said he should develop his nasty side, and start abusing people more, and Davis offered free singing lessons so that Kaufman could be in tune with his true comic self. Miles even said that Andy should start physically challenging people more, like wrestling other people.