September 28, 2011

Remembering Miles.

I’ll play it and tell you what it is later…*

A brief tribute to Miles Davis on the 20th anniversary of his passing.

Hard to believe it was twenty years ago, but, on September 28, 1991, I was living the post-college slacker life in in Boulder (yes, that Boulder) (and, yes, I’m aware that makes me a stereotype, if a largely accurate one), now and then doing a little bit of meditation at Naropa, where I audited the summer writing program at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, including a very strange class with Allen Ginsberg, but a decade away from trying yoga, and, generally, more interested in seeking higher consciousness by *ahem* other means, and remember vividly coming home, probably from some crappy delivery job, and hearing my roommate say that Miles Davis was dead. Most likely, I responded to the news by catching a buzz and putting on Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, or Bitches Brew, his best known albums, which were pretty much all I knew of his music at the time, thinking how fortunate I was to have gotten to see him live, at the Academy of Music in Philly the year before, and drifting away on the ethereal yet earthy sound of that deservedly legendary muted trumpet.

Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there…

Let me get this out of the way:  Miles Davis was the very definition of a badass motherfucker you probably wouldn’t want anything to do with on a personal level. I mean, the dude didn’t need to worry about anybody trashing him with some hatchet-job unauthorized biography, since it’d be nearly impossible to make him look any worse than he did, himself (with the help of poet Quincy Troupe), in Miles: The Autobiography (an intense, fascinating book,  but not for those easily shocked or disillusioned).

…you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself…

And yet, as an artist, he was uncommonly wise, responsible for four decades of visionary, passionate, groundbreaking music, revolutionizing jazz more times than any other artist (stretching its definition, his detractors might claim, to the breaking point), and nurturing generations of musicians who picked up where he left off, from John Coltrane and Bill Evans to Herbie Hancock and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin to John Scofield and Marcus Miller,while inspiring countless others, across all genres, from Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson to Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana to Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine.

When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit…

And, while the dark prince wasn’t a yogi, he also made In a Silent Way, which, in this author’s humble opinion (which, admittedly, diverges sharply from those of the vast majority of those who make playlists for yoga classes),  happens to be (with sincerest apologies to Snatam Kaur, Krishna Das, and whoever recorded all those whale songs and gentle sounds of rain falling on leaves) the best music for yoga ever (though Coltrane’s somewhat more overtly yogic A Love Supreme comes close).

But don’t believe me. Check out Miles. Below are some other favorites (if yours isn’t on the list, please feel free to mention it in a comment):


Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud

Kind of Blue

Sketches of Spain

My Funny Valentine

Filles De Kilimanjaro

Bitches Brew

Live Evil

Tribute to Jack Johnson


* all quotes: Miles Davis

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