Miles Davis was a man of many passions, talents, and contradictions as well. Reading So What: The Life of Miles Davis by veteran biographer John Szwed, makes that very obvious. Miles once commented, “The public likes starts, confusion, and happy endings. But not everything is cut and dried like that. And neither is my music.”
I’ve been a fan of Miles’ music ever since my high school days. In fact, I used to buy most of his LPs in mono because my hi-fi wasn’t very high, plus it was a buck cheaper. I also am a Ferrarista–a Ferrari fan and aficionado–even though I don’t own one. My old man had many of the same Ferraris as Miles loved, and I had to wash and wax them and spiff them up for concours d’élégance: 250 GTs, 275 GTBs, among others.
I used to swim at Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus in the 1980s along with other lifeguard colleagues. Miles lived close by and would often swim there. He would roar into the parking lot in his yellow Testarossa V12 Ferrari, a sound I know and love. I wanted to meet him in the pool, talk about Juliette Greco, his first French flame, Ferraris, and of course music. I would’ve put my interview into my books. I’ve never be able to approach him any other way. Alas, it wasn’t to be. He never came when I was there. Click here to read a past RP post with pictures of the beautiful 50 meter pool there and of his yellow Testarossa Ferrari.
Recently, I sat down and talked with Miles’ youngest son, drummer Erin Davis, and his nephew,Vince Wilburn, Jr., also a drummer, in the KCRW studio. Together we talked about Miles, his music, his art. During the interview we featured selections from the new box set, Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings including the songs “My Ship”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, “Gone Gone Gone”, and “Milestones”, in that order.
This new 9-disc mono box set covers the years 1957-1964. Back in the day, record companies issued LPs in both mono and stereo. Columbia Records, which pioneered the LP (long play) in 1953, actually was experimenting with stereophonic sound in the mid-1950s. Many people didn’t have 2 channel home systems when these records originally came out. Some audio purists prefer mono; it’s a purer window into the recording studio, like you’re right there in the room with the musicians. The 9 discs come in small versions of the original LP jackets, with all the original artwork, which makes the set attractive. Included are Kind of Blue, Miles & Monk at Newport, Jazz Track, ‘Round About Midnight, Miles Ahead, Milestones, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain, and Someday My Prince Will Come.
One of the interesting things about the new mono box set is that you get the original album cover art. Miles Ahead, Davis’ first Columbia collaboration with Gil Evans, originally had a model on a yacht. Miles didn’t like it one bit, and the later lp came with a picture of Miles blowing on the cover. Likewise, the original cover art for the Jazz Track lp, which contained the soundtrack for Louis Malle’s first film, l’Ascenseur Pour l’Echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) had a modern abstract painting of a trumpet player; the later one had a cover photo of a young Jeanne Moreau, who starred in the film. Check it out above.
The companion volume, published by Insight Books, is Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork. Miles loved painters, in particular Kandinsky and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Miles was always interested in painting, but took it up after a mild stroke in the 1980s. He painted and drew in his New York City apartment, but became more prolific after moving to Malibu in the 1980s. His house was right on the beach on PCH just a little north of the LA-Ventura County line. The sun, the colors, the sea all inspired his many drawings and paintings. He called painting a form a therapy for him as he got his health back together, boxing, swimming at Pepperdine’s olympic-sized pool. His art is filled with color, bold strokes, movement, dancing, thin bodies and big butts, African masks and art. Miles may have been minimalist in his music, lots of space between notes, but he put a lot of paint on his canvases.
Listen to the discussion between Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn, Jr., and myself as we discuss Miles, his music, and artwork.