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Book Reviews

So What: Reconciling Miles the Man and his Music

By Published: October 16, 2003

Other Miles biographies cover his music and his day-to-day life in more minute detail, but Szwed plainly states that he is attempting a different kind of portrait, “one that looks at the variety of meanings that were (and continue to be) projected onto him.” Aside from an extended “Interlude” about Miles’ personality and a “Coda” that paints Miles as the Picasso of Jazz, Szwed does not analyze so much as he shows what Miles was like according to different people. He does create a new context for Miles’ music in the 70s, going beyond the rather shallow “cross-over” interpretation. In fact, by comparing the studio editing techniques employed by Davis and Macero to the film editing techniques of Eisenstein and the “musique intuitive” of Stockhausen, a rather more complex idea of albums such as “On the Corner” and “Dark Magus” emerges.

Szwed succeeds in his mission to elucidate new perspectives on both Miles the Artist and Miles the Man. He describes how Miles the Artist adapted to and fit in with popular musical and artistic developments of the Twentieth Century. And in his hands, Miles the Man is neither an ivory tower genius nor a publicity whore; he is a deeply flawed man who had great artistic powers, one who used those powers to express himself and his troubled relations with society. Szwed leaves us with our personal pictures of Davis intact, yet he has also given us new shades with which to color that picture.

After reading So What questions about Miles the Man indeed remain unanswered, yet rarely in life do we get such answers about others. We have only what we see and hear; from there we are on our own.

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