Growing up, I had Miles in my house as a youngster. My parents were not rabid jazz fans, but they had some eclectic tastes which included lots of Ray Charles, Beethoven, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Broadway tunes such as Porgy and Bess. These vinyl memories are the first records I could spin and play at my own remove. I was completely partial to Ray Charles, myself, and much of the Jazz had to wait for later for an impatient young rockin’ and rollin’ Rockabillyist like young Master Steve.
As I recall we owned “Birth of The Cool” on which John Coltrane played along with a record where Miles played with the immortal Charlie Parker. I sort of recall a complete Coltrane album as well.
For my generation, Miles was older – a virtual icon from my parent’s generation and – even then – rather Avant Garde for anyone but the rather hip, urban crowd. Listening now to those old tracks, one is stunned by how good the man was – how true and melodic and how utterly moody as his trumpet carved soft chucks of shared Time out of the patterns and disparate occasional dissonance of the Jazz of the 40’s and 50’s – when time and melody often got sacrificed to an atonality of urban expressionism.
Then Miles did a few remarkable things. As the culture underwent its tectonic changes, he grabbed the bull by the horns and tried yet newer innovations in his corner of the music sphere and began nearing a rock and roll type of melody and expression. First with “Bitches Brew”, then with this amazing soundtrack to the movie, “Jack Johnson”, Miles commissioned what he referred to as “the best Rock And Roll band ever made”.
In 1971, using John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Steve Grossman, Billy Cobham, and long time steady bassist Michale Henderson, Miles was able to cobble together musical geniuses to play alongside him, producing what I have always considered his greatest later work. It is long, but the latter parts of this tune, when Hancock absolutely rules with the Farfisa organ, it becomes greater than ever, bringing the entirety into a memorable listening experience.
This is my own tribute to Miles Davis, from his Tribute To Jack Johnson.