Bill Kirchner: A Miles Davis Reader

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Kirchner, Bill. A Miles Davis Reader (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1997)

The essays in Bill Kirchner's A Miles Davis Reader cover the trumpeter's entire career, with the most attention given to his collaborations with composer/arranger Gil Evans. This was a plus for me, as I consider those albums--particularly Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, and Porgy & Bess --to be among his best works, right up there with the various pairings of Miles and Coltrane. Max Harrison agrees, calling those discs "three bodies of work that will receive attention for as long as anyone cares to listen to jazz." (p. 100, "Sheer Alchemy, for a While: Miles Davis and Gil Evans," Jazz Monthly, December 1958 and February 1960)

The book's standout chapter is Howard Brofsky's "Miles Davis and My Funny Valentine: The Evolution of a Solo" (pp. 140-63). Access to the selected recordings of "My Funny Valentine" (Cookin' from 1956, Jazz at the Plaza from 1958, and My Funny Valentine from 1964) is essential, and assuredly not a problem for Kirchner's target audience: Miles-philes such as myself. (Many of us have several other recordings of "MFV;" for example from Miles in Tokyo or the two versions from Live at the Plugged Nickel.)

Listening to his music is especially appropriate today, on the seventeenth anniversary of Miles' death. It is an occasion that may perhaps be best observed by listening to Miles' solo on "Mr. Pastorius," a lamentation for the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. (Studio and live recordings are on Miles' CDs Amandla and Live around the World, respectively.)

A former record-store employee suggests another piece, "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" from In a Silent Way in this touching anecdote:

One day, early in the afternoon, that call came. Miles had passed. It had just taken place. The media had not been notified yet. The store was empty. I was alone. Nothing was playing. I sat at the counter, sort of numb, trying to absorb the impact of hat had just been said to me on the phone.

I was staring out into space looking at nothing when the door opened and Quine walked in. No one else was in the store.

"Miles just passed," I blurted out.

He said nothing in reply and just walked over to the bins. He came back to me with a copy of In a Silent Way and said, "Here, play this."

I put on side two and the beautiful mourning dirge filled the room.

Nothing was said. No one came in. The phone never rang. We just sat and listened. I lifted the needle at the end.

"See ya," Quine said as he got up to leave.

"Yeah...I'll see ya," I replied.

Miles had been acknowledged in a simple and perfect and way.

(Robert Cohen, "In a Silent Way," JAZZIZ, February 2004, p. 66)

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on September 28, 2008 1:20 PM.

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