The Electric Explorations
of Miles Davis

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By Paul Tingen

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 M I L E S     B E Y O N D

The Book — E x c e r p t s
D e s c r i p t i o n     E x c e r p t s     A c c l a i m     B u y

* Introduction  »
  Excerpt of the Introduction to Miles Beyond. Where were you when you first heard the music of Miles Davis? Plus a brief explanation of the reason for writing Miles Beyond.

* Chapter 1 - Listen   »
  Chapter 1 of Miles Beyond in its entirety! According to, "The chapter, 'Listen,' is captivating and charismatic. It’s like an elevator, taking the reader up to the 26h floor where the rest of the story will be told." (Read the entire review here...)

* From Chapter 2 - Changes
  Still to come: The orginal extended biography of Miles Davis's pre-1967 career that was written for Miles Beyond, but ended up being published in a severely abridged form, because of lack of space.

* From Chapter 4 - "New Directions"


Miles's visionary qualities are illustrated by an anecdote told by Herbie Hancock:

John McLaughlin himself does not appear to have recognized the brilliance of his own playing, or that of the other musicians, on the In A Silent Way session. His bewilderment was illustrated by an anecdote told by Herbie Hancock. "After we finished we walked out of the studio," Hancock remembered, "and while we were standing in the hallway John came over and whispered to me, 'Can I ask you a question? I answered, 'Sure'. He then said, 'Herbie, I can't tell... was that any good what we did? I mean, what did we do? I can't tell what's going on!' So I told him, 'John, welcome to a Miles Davis session. Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea, but somehow when the records come out, they end up sounding good.' Miles had a way of seeing straight through what happened and knowing that over time people would figure out what was really happening."

* From Chapter 5 - "Sorcerer's Brew"


On the many ingredients that went into the making of Bitches Brew:

Teo Macero added mid-20th century studio trickery, a 19th century classical music awareness of musical structure, and a way of looking at music as abstract blocks of sound, which he freely cut and moved around. In other words, the two most heavily edited tracks on Bitches Brew were hybrids of "figurative" and "abstract" art. They combined, respectively, the traditional musical line of something akin to a sonata form with the cut and paste ideas that had come out of musique concrète, serial music, and studio technology. Add to this the strongly chromatic improvising of the keyboard players, which has echoes of classical atonal music, and it is clear that an impressive amount of influences went into the making of Bitches Brew. This is no doubt one of the major reasons for the recording's immense success and influence. Virtually anyone willing to listen to it with an open mind is able to recognize something familiar in the music, despite the fact that it contains few easily identifiable melodies, hooks, or vamps.

* From Chapter 6 - "Kind of Blues"


On why Miles went into electric music:

In response to the question why Miles went into electric music, I'd like to offer two interpretations of Miles's approach to music that have only occasionally been touched upon. The first interpretation is founded on the scientific axiom that accepts the simplest explanation of the known facts as the most plausible hypothesis. The hypothesis proposed here is that Miles is best understood as primarily a blues player who moved into jazz and then into jazz-rock, rather than a jazz player who was influenced by the blues. This makes sense of many aspects of his career and trumpet style that have so far seemed inexplicable. The second interpretation follows from the observation that Miles built every new musical step on his previous steps, and asserts that the secret of his enormous success and influence is that he was a traditionalist and revolutionary at the same time.

* From Chapter 9 - "On-Off"


Percussionist James Mtume about the direction of Miles's mid-1970s music:

"Miles and I constantly talked about music and the direction it was going," Mtume recalled, "and one of the things we talked about was fusion. My view was that the fusion movement was the emphasis of form over feeling. It became about how complex you can write things. This is not writing from the heart, but writing from the head. Playing bars of 11/8 for complexity's sake is great for school, but not for music. Miles went way past that. We went straight for the feeling. We were exploring how long we could keep one chord interesting. That was infuriating to the critics, who were glorifying fusion. But we said, 'Fuck fusion.' We were into emotion."

"The other thing that we talked about," Mtume continued, "was that Miles felt that his music had moved away from the pulse of African-American music. He felt his shit had become too esoteric and that he had contributed to that. Miles wanted to find a way back into connecting with the black community. But the aesthetic question was, 'How do we do that?' We discussed this more than anything else. At the time Miles was listening to a lot of James Brown, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, and George Clinton, and that's what he wanted to put together. Miles's idea was to get back to the root of the music, to the funk, but to funk with a high degree of experimental edge. He wanted to take it much further."

* From Chapter 12 - "Star On Miles"


On "Jean-Pierre":

"Jean-Pierre" was to become Miles's signature tune and concert closer until the end of 1987. It was also the concluding theme of his retrospective Paris concert in July 1991. Miles became strongly associated with this melody during the '80s, and this has symbolic value. Because of his grounding in the blues, Miles always had a proclivity for alternating major and minor thirds, one of the hallmarks of the blues, and the melody of "Jean-Pierre" contains both major and minor thirds. Some have criticized the "simplistic," childlike nature of the song, and many musicians would be reluctant to perform it for this very reason. But Miles showed courage in making the tune such an important feature of his live sets. The childlike nature of the tune is illustrative of the childlike sense of wonder and open-mindedness with which he approached his art. They led him never to dismiss any music out of hand, and to be constantly in search for the new and for the magic.

* From Chapter 15 - "Alive Around The World"


Bassist Benny Rietveld on his time in Miles's band, April 1988-October 1989:

"There was never anything negative coming from Miles. He'd let me know if it wasn't happening, but always in a positive way, like 'Let's try this feel on this song.' You had to really pay attention, and be right in the moment all the time. He had an incredible presence, which was like a mystical part of him, drawing everyone in. His presence kept everybody on their toes, so that the music was still alive. When musicians play something they know already, the initial spark goes. He never liked that. So he would change things every night, not really radical changes, but things that kept the music fresh, as if you were playing it for the first time. It was like having a Zen mindset: everything is always now, there is no before or after, you should be totally immersed in what's happening in the moment. He didn't talk much. There is not a lot that needs to be said anyway, and he knows that people usually don't listen. So why talk? But he sometimes made these short cryptic comments, and they were like a nut you had to crack open, and find the meaning on your own."

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