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By Paul Tingen

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Last Word 1st of 4 CD-R's


During 2001-2 Warner Brothers was busy with the creation of a boxed set that was to include everything Miles Davis had recorded in the studio during his time with the company, 1985-1991, including many previously unreleased studio outtakes, plus some particularly noteworthy live material from the same era. The box was to be called The Last Word, and was initially earmarked for release on Rhino Records in September 2001, to commemmorate the 10th anniversary of Miles's death.

Yours truly was approached in the beginning of 2001 by Matt Pierson, head of jazz at Warners, who declared himself a huge fan of Miles Beyond, and asked me to write the liner notes for what initially was going to be a 6 CD set. So far, so good. Problem was, the Miles Davis Estate was after my skin. Vince Wilburn Jr., Miles's nephew, had been eminently helpful while I was writing my book, but on leafing through an early proof he'd been angered because I had offered his 'possible limitations as a drummer' as a reason for Miles sacking him from his band in 1987—an event that by all accounts had been, and remains, very painful for Wilburn. In addition, because of the personal and legal issues Miles's family and some of the Estate's legal representatives had at the time with Jo Gelbard, Miles's last romantic partner (1986-1991), they had demanded that I remove her wholly from the book. Given how informative and enlightning her contributes were I refused.

As a result, the Miles Davis Estate tried to prevent publication my book in the runup to its publication in May 2001, by sending several threatening legal letters to my publisher, in which I was repeatedly accused of being a "scandalous journalist" who made things up. When my publisher asked for a specific example of something I had made up, a letter arrived by courier stating that I had erroneously written that Miles had died in Jo Gelbard's arms. There was a small problem, though. The description doesn't appear in my book! In fact, it's a claim made by Quincy Troupe in his book Miles and Me: A Memoir of Miles Davis (2000). After this my publisher stopped taking the Estate letters serious. But the whole thing left a bad taste in the mouth, particularly as Miles Beyond is such a positive book and it was obvious that it contains so much information and so many insights on the electric music that were new in 2001. If the Estate had known how much I'd discretely left out of the book regarding details I'd been told about Miles' private life during 1975-79 and his last few years, they wouldn't have dared to make the "scandalous" claim.

Informed of the above, Pierson assured me that he'd be able to straighten things out, especially once the Estate had actually read the book proofs and realised that it was, in Pierson's words, "a great book." Some negotations between legal representatives for the Estate and myself followed—mediated by Pierson—during which I was again asked to take Gelbard out of my book. After my refusal there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, until I agreed to change a few of lines on the topic of Miles's death that according to the Estate representatives were incorrect, but mainly seemed to be concerned with assuaging Wilburn's hurt feelings. They now consented to me writing these liner notes and there was relieved laughter on the telephone from all sides. We had, it appeared, a deal.

Six weeks of hard work later I turned in what you can read on this site, only to receive a phone call from Pierson the next day, in which he declared that he was very happy with the notes, but that the Miles Davis Estate had changed its mind and had once more vetoed my participation in the project. No explanations were given, but my guess is that while the legal folk representing the Estate and most of the family had been quite happy with the deal, which seemed to benefit everyone, Wilburn, who holds a key position, was not. Sadly, the Estate has since blocked several other attempts by record companies to enlist me in the writing of Miles-related liner notes. It's a long time to hold a grudge against someone who is on your side.

Pierson was embarrassed and furious, but of course, his relationship with the Estate was more important than his relationship with me. So I got paid, and my liner notes were shelved. Some sections of them I used for articles in magazines like JazzTimes and Jazziz in the US and Keyboards in Germany, and naturally there's a lot of overlap with my book. You'll nevertheless find a lot of new stories, facts and insights, as well as new interviews with many of those involved in the making of this music, such as bassist and composer Marcus Miller, keyboardist and The Last Word co-producer Adam Holzman, producer Tommy LiPuma, keyboardist and composer George Duke, guitarist Robben Ford, saxophonist David Sanborn, and composer Michel Legrand.

The banning of my liner notes turned out to be only the beginning of what went wrong with an increasingly ill-fated and ultimately doomed project. Prince, perhaps still motivated by resentment towards Warners, refused to give permission for the release of the three tracks written by him for Miles that Pierson wanted to include in the 6-CD set, and similar legal issues held up the release of much of the material from the memorable all-star La Villette concert in Paris in 1991. Gradually the 6-CD set shrivelled to just 4 CDs, with very little previously unreleased material, which had been kind of the main point of the set. There must still have been a real belief in getting it out, because under huge time pressure Bill Milkowski completed new liner notes in just four days (!), and some CD-R review copies were sent out, without art work. Then some time in 2002 the release was quietly abandoned altogether. Officially no reasons were given. When I queried an insider at Rhino, he would only say: 'Estate problems.'

So while it is unlikely that you'll ever get to hear all of the music included in the original 6-CD set, here, at least, is the story of the music in more detail than ever before.

Paul Tingen, February 2005.

The liner notes are split up in three sections:

  • Main Text
  • Tributes (still to come) in honour of Miles by Bill Frisell, David Sanborn, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Michel Legrand, Robben Ford, Tommy LiPuma, John McLaughlin, and Quincy Jones.
  • Track Listing of the original 6-CD set and (still to come) the track listings of the final 4-CD set.

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