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I always welcome more articles that shed light on Miles, and I loved reading his autobiography too, so thanks for writing this article.
But holy sh** what is this psycho-babble about Miles secretly wanting to be white and then aligning being white with hanging out with Jean-Paul Sartre and dating starlets? Can't a black man do that without wanting to be white?
Miles was proud of who he was, that's why he didn't take any shit off of white people, and he was proud of any black man who stood up to the racist nonsense that he did his whole life. Hence the album and soundtrack to "Jack Johnson" - a black man that Miles admired. Later he released "Tutu" for another black man that he admired.
In the middle of all of this, and in his admittedly sometimes very angry statements toward white people in general, he always showed no preference for black people in choosing his musicians. Cases in point - Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Mike Stern, John Scofield, Keith Jarrett...all people who had major roles & voices in Miles bands and recordings. He simply didn't have a racist bone when it came to the thing he loved the most - music - and made famous quotes to that effect about hiring people with green breath if they played well.
What he railed against were the racist white people. We just have to study the politics of today, nearly 20 years after Miles passed, to know that he wasn't wide (white) off the mark....
And then the final conclusion that states that Miles wasn't a great trumpeter!! By whose definition? I defy anybody to put on the Live At The Isle of Wight DVD, or the 1985 Live in Montreal DVD for that matter (as well as his recordings of course) and state that Miles wasn't a great trumpeter. It's like saying that Monk wasn't a great pianist, but yet nobody ever sounded like him, he was totally able to convey his musical ideas in an inimitable fashion that couldn't possibly be copied, and he continues to be a major influence on almost all modern jazz pianists...even those that, supposedly, have more fluent technique than he did himself.
The same is obviously at least as true of Miles Davis. Plus who has ever said more when he WASN'T playing than Miles? Whether in the spaces he left between his notes, or in the way he seemingly affected his sidemen to play the best they ever had and ever would when they were playing wit him.
No one has ever been more zen-like in music than Miles that I know of, and anybody who ever witnessed Miles live in person can attest to the incredible charisma that he had and how it affected you to be in his presence.
A man with many flaws, perhaps, but artistically a perfect, shining diamond if ever there was one!
I wholeheartedly agree with Anders Chan-Tidemann comment and disagree with some major points of the article. The article starts off reading well on the first page and then suddenly the words just turn into a contradiction of them-self. By the last paragraph of the second page I became a bit confused as to what is trying to be said. I in fact actually refute quite a bit of it as well. So I will make it a point of mine to try to defend Miles in my reply because it’s not as if he can do it himself.
"In my opinion, Davis' anger at whites and authority figures is a reflection of his difficulties establishing his own masculinity... He studies prize fighting...” Whatever happened to it just being someone who is in love with boxing? I think either a man is already masculine or he isn’t masculine at all, why can’t he take up fighting if he’s interested in it? I’m a guy in a skinny frame and maybe it isn’t the sport for me to be in, but I will admit I thought about wanting to get into boxing numerous times myself. I like the sport and many aspects about it. With trying to prove to myself I am capable of doing it. There’s also money and fame to be made doing it too. Miles perhaps was getting into it for possibly the exact same reasons the pros got into for themselves. I don’t see nothing wrong with that.
"he beats up cops and women...” As I can recall most all the times he gets into it with a policeman they always start up with him first. Why does he just have to sit there and take their shit and their beatings for? He should have the right to defend himself and so he does. About beating up women, if you are referring to him slapping his wife, I think incidents such as those are much more about being territorial and possessive than about "trying to be masculine". It’s about being protective about what is his.
"he fires players sometimes impulsively..." If he’s the bandleader why can’t he fire musicians? I’m pretty sure he isn’t firing them over one time isolated incidents that could just be talked over very quickly and forgotten about. A lot of musicians have left his band on their own accord as well.
“changes his groups around too often...” Either he wants a different sound in the music or unavailability could be a reason as well.
“and cavorts with the rich and famous.” He was never tommin’ (uncle Tom) with these people. Miles Davis was never the type of person to put on an act for anyone, sitting up in white people’s faces grinning and smiling. His character was much different than that of a Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie character and that much is obvious. Yeah maybe he met with some stars from time to time, and if they are cool they are cool. It’s not like he was becoming great buddy buddy friends with these people. Stars who he would establish long lasting relationships with or tried to start friendships with were mostly black. You know he liked Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Prince. When Miles wife Cicely Tyson would bring him to those white aristocrat type parties Miles was sickened to his stomach being around what he calls “WASPs” and couldn’t stand them. These people although having a lot of money and seemingly intelligent know nothing outside of white culture and especially nothing about black music. Most of the time these people wouldn’t even know who he was although he was in fact the most successful jazz musician living at the time (and probably even still now).
"he ends up trying to be like one of them. It is not particularly African American to drive expensive sports cars, go on holidays in the French Riviera, go to coffee houses with Jean Paul Sartre, and make out with movie starlets. It's possible that Davis unconsciously envied white people and tried to be like them.” That’s a terrible generalization for you to have, to think and say that black people with money isn’t suppose to do those things. What are we as a people only meant and destined to do? Shoot drugs, hang out with people in the projects all day, and drive around in old beat up cars or have no car? That is preposterous! Listen, Miles Davis was a self made man and was a millionaire. What else is he going to do with the money, you tell me? He drove everything from a Mercedes-Benz to a Lamborghini to multiple Ferrari’s and he lived in very big and comfortable places. Of course if he has a lot of money he’s going to live it up. Why should he just be sleeping on the money? When he dies he can’t take it with him. Anybody with money is going to live a wealthy lifestyle, it don’t matter if they are white, black, or green.
Anyways, as good as an article as it started out to be. Just by that one paragraph alone I was taken aback quite a bit and can’t believe that a successful black man has to be perceived as being the way you mentioned it.
Jane Ira Bloom
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