Saturday, February 03, 2018

Revolution Jazz: Miles Davis & Show # 707

Article Written by Adam Peltier

In recent years, jazz has unfortunately been regarded as an erudite musical form, something for academics and intellectuals to pursue in a curricular fashion. There is an unfortunate truth to this. The institutionalization of this genre has led jazz to be integrated in conservatories and theory, academizing (and by extension, neutering) this art form. When jazz is not relegated to the esoteric, it is tossed off as chintz, ersatz music meant for elevators and cocktail lounges. What is often forgotten about the genre is how dangerous and volatile it can be. Listen to the right album and you’ll hear it: the syncopation of the drums hammering harder and fiercer than any metal record, the horns lacerating as much as any cut by the Stooges or Velvets, the bass as bellowing and emotive as the most soulful of human voices. Jazz is dangerous, not only in its possibility to defy musical conventions (tonality, melody, and predictable chord changes have all been subverted within this genre, and sometimes simultaneously), but in the volatile performances of its creators. With this said, few jazz musicians have been as dangerous, or for that matter as influential, as Miles Davis.

Davis was a pioneer, not only of jazz music, but of 20th century music in general. Could UK Jungle have developed without the fearless polyrhythms of Dark Magus, ambient music without the sustained vamps of Bitches Brew, or hip-hop without the hypnotic beats of On the Corner? Yes, we may have eventually developed those genres, but it definitely would have taken a lot longer without the constant experimentation of Davis. The man has played a crucial role in almost every major development in jazz since the 1940’s. He treated the genre not as a set of parameters to follow, but a fluid forum to explore an infinity of possibilities.

To appraise the legacy of Miles Davis, it would be too restrictive to simply focus on one album or even a single era of his career. His exercises in “cool jazz” (see Birth of the Cool) from the 1950’s marked a major shift in post-bebop jazz, introducing a range of classical music techniques into both Davis’ sound and the genre itself. ‘Round About Midnight defined the hard bop subgenre, along with the works of fellow legends like Coltrane and Rollins. Kind of Blue not only changed the landscape of jazz again through its use of modality (using musical modes as opposed to standard chord progressions), but the record also remains the best selling jazz album of all time. His late 1960’s collaborations with producer Teo Macero (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and A Tribute to Jack Johnson) not only invented jazz fusion, but caused an uproar amongst fans equal to the controversy of Dylan’s “electric era”. Then there are his later era experiments in augmenting jazz and electronic music, resulting in groundbreaking and boundary defying records like On the Corner and Doo-Bop. To say the least, it’s hard to pin Davis down as simply a musician of one movement or style. His music was always in flux, never static, never the same. Like the compositions he poured so much energy into, he refused to travel the safe road or follow the path expected of him. Davis was a musical subversive, never resting on his laurels and never satisfied in repeating himself.

There is a great amount of passion in Davis’ music. His compositions contain a lot of sadness, humour, anger, and pride. This pride also acted as a type of armour he had to wear to defend against the arrows of bigotry and racism slung his way. There are numerous accounts of Davis facing discrimination during his career, often in the form violence. Perhaps part of what motivated Davis and his preternatural creativity was the desire to prove that a black American man could not only be a great musician, but THE great musician of the 20th century. Without question, representation of the African Diaspora was a huge element in Davis’ music, as evidenced in his song titles, musical movements, and album artwork. This is also what moved Davis to compose the titular tribute to Jack Johnson, the peerless black American boxing champion. Johnson was quoted for the record as stating “I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right! I’ll never let them forget it!” I don’t doubt for a second that Davis saw himself and the music he made in the same light.

Davis took pride in his who he was, and provoked conservative white America and the patriarchal-colonial ideas they stood for. This is part of what made Davis so dangerous: not only his defiance of musical conventions, but his defiance of the conventions of the world he lived in. He was unwavering, unafraid, and brazen. No peer was as bold as Davis was during his life, and no one has been since the artist’s passing in 1991. However, the ghost of the trumpeter lingers and continues to haunt the musical landscape of our 21st century. He can be heard in the harrowing hip-hop of Kendrick Lamar, in the fractured electronics of Jlin, the dreary atmospheres of King Krule, and the fuzzed out noise of Ty Segall. Even those who have never listened to Davis’ music are still indirectly influenced by what he forged. Anyone who found solace in the music of Bowie, James Brown, the Stooges, Prince, Eno, or Hendrix has Miles to thank for that.

Miles Davis truly does deserve to be regarded as a legend. For his groundbreaking work in musical experimentation, his profound influence in numerous musical genres, and his constant defiance of the world he lived in, Davis will always remain one of the greatest and most dangerous of musicians who ever lived.

Miles Davis Play List:

1. Miles Davis All Stars - Milestones (Milestones/Sippin' At Bells - Savoy Records - 1946)
2. Miles Davis - 'Round Midnight ('Round About Midnight - Columbia Records - 1957)
3. Miles Davis - Red China Blues (Get Up With It - Columbia Records - 1974)
4. Miles Davis - Water Babies (Water Babies - Columbia Records - 1976)
5. Miles Davis - Jeru (The Birth Of The Cool - Capitol records - 1957)
6. Miles Davis - Will O' The Wisp (Sketches of Spain - Columbia Records - 1960)
7. Miles Davis - Riot (Nefertiti - Columbia Records - 1968)
8. Miles Davis Quintet - Orbits (Miles Smiles - Columbia Records - 1967)
9. Miles Davis - Come Get It (Star People - Columbia Records - 1983)
10. Miles Davis - Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (Bitches Brew - Columbia Records - 1970)
11. Miles Davis - Moja (Dark Magus - CBS-Sony - 1977)
12. Miles Davis - Chocolate Chip (Doo-Bop - Warner Bros Records - 1992)
13. Miles Davis - Shhh (In A Silent Way - Columbia Records - 1969)
14. Miles Davis - Black Satin (On The Corner - Columbia Records - 1972)
15. Miles Davis - Right Off (Jack Johnson/A Tribute To Jack Johnson - Columbia Records - 1971)
16. Miles Davis - Blue In Green (Kind of Blue - Columbia Records - 1959)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for February 3.

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