The festival-within-a-festival, “Femmes Femmes Femmes: Imagination of Women in French Cinema,” has a specific focus on the legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, who will be making a personal appearance at the gala opening on June 3. Many of Ms. Moreau’s classics, like François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” will be shown — but the absolutely must-see film is the dreamy and melancholy French noir “Elevator to the Gallows.” Directed by a young Louis Malle, it boasts a justly famous film score by Miles Davis. (Georgia Fu)
*Absolutely worth a read this holiday weekend. Hope everyone is doing well!
Richard Williams recently wrote a book called “The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music.” I haven’t yet read Mr. Williams’ study of the great jazz trumpeter’s best-known album, and to be perfectly honest, I doubt I’m going to do so. Why? Because this is, amazingly enough, the third book about “Kind of Blue” to be published in the past decade. It comes in the wake of Ashley Kahn’s “Kind of Blue:” The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece” and Eric Nisenson’s “The Making of “Kind of Blue:” Miles Davis and His Masterpiece,” whose titles are so similar as to make me wonder what their publishers could possibly have been thinking.
Like most of us, I adore the biggest-selling and most influential album in the history of jazz. “Kind of Blue” is a masterpiece if ever there was one, and as such it surely deserves to be the subject of three different books, assuming that they’re worth reading. But it has also become culturally ubiquitous to a degree that borders on the comical. You can hear “Kind of Blue” in restaurants, in waiting rooms and on elevators. It’s the record that Clint Eastwood (who knows a lot about jazz) puts on when he comes home from a hard day of assassin-hunting in “In the Line of Fire.” People who don’t know anything else about jazz own a copy, and some of them even play it from time to time. It is, in short, too much with us, and I suspect that its ubiquity has made it harder than it ought to be for most of us to appreciate how good “Kind of Blue” really is. — Text by Terry Teachout
Though he helped provide a new direction for rock in the mid-60s, singer and songwriter Roger McGuinn has always considered himself first and foremost a folk musician. His brilliant 12-string Rickenbacker guitar style — a mix of rippling chordal flurries and the innovative atonality normally associated with avant-garde jazz musicians — coupled with soaring leads and extensive vocal range, proved key ingredients in The Byrds’ revolutionary sound.
McGuinn credits Miles Davis with helping elevate his band’s fortunes.
“I never met Miles, but one of the people in his management group knew our producer,” McGuinn says. “His daughter had heard about us, and then Miles encouraged the people at Columbia to take a chance on us. He told them that was the music young people were listening to, rather than what was on their label. They signed us and gave us a one-song deal. Then they sat on the single for months.”
The tune McGuinn and comrades David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke cut was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” rearranged from 2/4 to 4/4 time, with McGuinn’s upfront vocal propelled by teeming harmonies and the unusual blend of 12-string guitars and ace support from the studio group known as The Wrecking Crew. Of course, in spite of Columbia’s dilatory tactics, the song eventually became a massive hit. — by Ron Wynn
It’s practically becoming a cultural rite in Chicago: the annual Memorial Day celebration of Miles Davis’ birthday, led by the brilliant Chicago pianist Robert Irving III.
Irving, who worked closely with Davis from 1979 to 1988, will preside over the third annual event at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Velvet Lounge. (Davis would have turned 84 last Wednesday; he died in 1991, at age 65.)
For Irving, the event represents much more than just an excuse to play classic tunes written by Davis or associated with him. It’s a chance to thank an iconic musician who made an indelible impression on Irving’s career — and many others.
“Miles was just a huge influence on my life at a formative and impressionable period,” says Irving, who was 26 years old when he began collaborating with the groundbreaking trumpeter-bandleader.
“I would always hear him tell stories about his early years with Billy Eckstine’s band and how he felt that he wasn’t really ready but that he was thrust out there. He got a push.
“So, that was what (Davis) was doing with me and the other young guys. He felt he heard something in us that was deserving of that kind of push and development, and that’s what he gave me.” – text by Howard Reich
Nineteen years after his passing and a generation or two removed from when his songs were considered ‘popular music,’ Miles Davis’ place in our cultural and musical foundation remains secure. And in this wired age, the discovery and experience of Miles Davis, one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, is as immediate and exciting as ever.
There are only a handful of entertainers that transcend art, those titanic names whose mythology becomes more absorbing with each passing year. In time, the lies and truths may blur, but the artistry is forever genuine.
Think Sinatra. Elvis. Perhaps James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, or The Beatles, James Brown and Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis is definitely on the list of the most important pop culture figures of the 20th century; those timeless icons that mystify and delight.
Perhaps the best way to gauge the popularity of Miles Davis these days is by simply speaking with those not interested in jazz. They might not listen to Miles Davis’ music, but they know “Miles Davis.” Perhaps for most people nothing springs to mind quicker when hearing “Miles Davis” than the word ‘cool,’ a multi-functional expression almost exclusively associated with Miles Davis in popular culture.
There’s that funny line of dialogue in the comedy “Billy Madison” that ends with the oft-repeated phrase, “….consider me Miles Davis.” That, perhaps, cemented the ‘cool’ association to the general public, even though the relationship between musician and descriptor run back 60 years.
‘Cool’ as Miles Davis might be (or has always been), how does a music legend long since passed exist in the media landscape today when the zeitgeist seems to shift with each new episode of American Idol?
It’s hard out here for a jazz legend. Of course nostalgia never hurts. Great music, just like movies and literature, never tire and receive more heaping praise every year.
That’s fine for entertainment preference, but let’s give praise to how well ‘Miles Davis,’ the brand and the business, has converged with today’s frenetic digital culture; it’s a testament to everyone involved, from fans and writers to the musicians and businessmen, that Miles Davis continues to be a viable part of art, commerce and pop culture.
No denying the brand thrives – someone is buying all those CDs, books and posters. A new generation is discovering the music via the web, the great conduit for stumbling upon an MP3 of “If I Were A Bell.”
Miles Davis brings the mythology to the party, and we are compelled to take notice. People care and people are interested. Technology is our means to tap the source and engage Miles Davis from all directions.
His story and music are a click away. The web is packed with vintage images shot through the lens of famous photographers, and admirers can peruse thousands of random and creative photos on Flickr. Blogs track every reference and detail, and websites are dedicated portals of fandom, built on the ideas and opinions of like-minded admirers.
There’s also that long-awaited, much-discussed Miles Davis Movie in the pipeline.
Consuming Miles. It can be quite…consuming, but oh-so enjoyable.
Miles Davis would be celebrating his 84th birthday today. And while he is no longer with us, ‘Miles Davis’ is truly alive and well in 2010.
* I posted an eerily similar essay last year in honor of MD’s birthday here and at the always excellent St. Louis Jazz Notes. So I figured, why not re-live my thoughts about the jazz legend?!
(Artist Series, Volume 10)
* This is a re-post of an interview I did last year with the great Paul Slaughter.
I’m delighted to post this conversation I had recently with the talented photographer Paul Slaughter. A former disc jockey at a Los Angeles jazz station in the ‘60s, Paul went on to photograph beautiful locations around the world, dazzling architecture and some of the biggest names in film, the arts and jazz music. Especially jazz music.
I stumbled upon Paul’s work while researching for the Miles Davis Movie site. Once I discovered Paul’s shot of Miles Davis at the 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival I was hooked. Each of his portfolios is worth perusing to observe the different styles and interesting subjects, but a jazz fan will enjoy the incredible images in Paul’s Jazz Collection.
Legendary names like Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Brubeck are on exhibit. And of course, Miles Davis.
A cool side-note about Paul: in 1984 he was the Official Photographer for the Los Angeles Olympic Committee.
Today Paul is an internationally recognized and published photographer. He specializes in location assignments and fine art photography, having traveled to over seventy-five countries. He has lead workshops at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and his photographic collection can be viewed at his website.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Paul to discuss his craft and, of course, what it was like to share a creative relationship with Miles Davis.
Miles Davis Online: How did you get involved with photographing jazz musicians?
Paul Slaughter: In the late nineteen sixties I was a disc jockey on KBCA-FM, a twenty-four jazz station in Los Angeles. For my on air program I interviewed jazz greats of the day. In the fall of 1969 I started taking photographs and, of course, images of jazz musicians were a favorite subject. Sometimes I would be on assignment and at others I would photograph jazz musicians just to be around the groovy atmosphere and hear the unique sounds. I did an album cover for Carmen McRae, The Great American Songbook, and an inside cover of Miles’, “Get Up With It.”
Since I had good contacts at the record companies I also photographed pop and rock musicians, like the Jackson Five, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.
MDO: Is there something inherently unique about jazz musicians that make them such a compelling subject to photograph?
Paul: The unique features of photographing jazz musicians is their total involvement with their music, their body movement and facial expressions, the moody lighting, plus the terrific ambiance.
MDO: Is there a story behind the photograph known as Miles Davis – Monterey Jazz Festival 1969?
Paul: In 1956 I was living in New York City studying acting. A peer of my older brother, Beverly Bentley, an actress, was living in New York as well.
One day Beverly called and said, “Come over tomorrow night. There is a special friend I want you to meet.” As I entered the apartment the next evening I saw a figure sitting in a lounge chair in the corner of the dimly lit room. A raspy voice spoke, “You must be Paul. I’m Miles.” That’s how I first met the famous jazz trumpet player, Miles Davis. I was into jazz and respected Miles’ talent greatly. I don’t recall what we talked about that evening but I remember Miles was charming and pleasant. Beverly dated Miles for a couple of years.
Years later I would photograph Miles at jazz clubs, concerts and festivals in California. Whenever I spoke with him, or ran into him at a restaurant in Los Angeles, he was always friendly. While photographing at the 12th Monterey Jazz Festival in 1969 I went backstage; there was Miles, across the stage, sitting on a winding rail of a circular steel staircase.
The cross lighting on Miles was utterly magical. Sometimes a photographer is given an unexpected gift, a fleeting point in time, when a subject is lit naturally and dramatically. I snapped two frames of film, knowing the special moment would pass all too quickly. As I lowered my camera Miles, with a smile, said to me, “Hey, Paul did you get what you wanted?” Miles, like his music, “Miles Ahead” was steps ahead – he was posing for me all that time.
MDO: Who was the most charismatic figure you photographed?
Paul: There are many charismatic figures I have photographed over the years. Ones that come immediately to mind are, of course, Miles, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Charles Lloyd, Robert Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
MDO: Are you working on anything special? What’s the latest?
Paul: I am presently contacting publishers, to interest them in doing a photo book of my extensive 40-year photographic collection of jazz musicians. I continue to sell fine art prints of this collection. This July I will once again photograph the Fourth New Mexico Jazz Festival in Santa Fe.
See Paul’s Jazz Musician portfolio at his website: www.slaughterphoto.com.
Writer Quincy Troupe and photographer Anthony Barboza will recount stories about Miles Davis starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in a salon appearance titled: “A Listening Party: Anthony Barboza & Quincy Troupe, Celebrating Miles Davis on His Birthday, Sharing Stories About a Legend.
The brainchild of Troupe’s wife, Margaret Porter Troupe, the salon will be held in the family’s apartment at 1925 Seventh Ave. between 116th and 117th Sts., Apt. 7L. Admission is $35 per person – $50 for two – and includes a soul food dinner with a menu of some of Davis’ favorite dishes.
“Miles could be very trying if he did not know you,” said Troupe, who had some contentious attempted interviews with Davis before they bonded during a 1985 interview Troupe conducted with him for a two-part Spin magazine article.
But if he liked you, the jazz great would cook for you. Davis, who lived on W. 78th St., made meals for Troupe and Barboza during their first meetings.
“That first day, I was supposed to spend an hour with him, and ended up spending 12,” said Troupe, who would go on to write the 1989 American Book Award-winning “Miles: The Autobiography.” “He cooked for me. I gave him a ride to his girlfriend’s house downtown.”
Barboza, a professional photographer whose work is in the Museum of Modern Art and the National Portrait Gallery, shot several Davis album covers. He said Davis and his personal hairdresser, James Finney, cooked “some amazing fish soup that they were working on all day. He treated me really wonderfully.”
– text from Clem Richardson
(Artist Series, Volume 9)
As I had mentioned in the previous Artist Series post, I have a thing for tracking down Miles Davis-inspired artwork on Flickr. And once again I recently stumbled upon a great-looking oil painting of the jazz icon – this particular artwork courtesy of Jeff Bridges.
There’s a superb collection in the Flickr gallery of drawings, paintings and sculptures Bridges has created over the last 30 years; definitely work a look. Of course, the Miles Davis painting is what sparked my attention and led me to ask the Los Angeles-based artist a few questions about his work.
Miles Davis Online: Okay.. so why Miles Davis? Any special reason about why you chose to paint the jazz legend?
Jeff Bridges: I’ve always loved the music of Miles Davis and was listening to him as I was doing a painting of Louis Armstrong. I started thinking of doing a painting of Miles at that time and thought it would look kind of scary since I’d usually seen photos of him with a very serious or even angry expression.
That didn’t bother me since it was basically the exact opposite of most photos of Louis Armstrong and it would be a nice change. I opened the liner notes to one of my cd’s, Kind Of Blue, maybe, and found the photo I used for the painting. It struck me because he looks so relaxed and casual, so I took some liberty and made up the colors.
Miles Davis Online: Would you ever revisit Miles Davis for your art?
JB: I certainly would. However, I’m very slow and don’t sell anything, so sometimes things don’t get finished for a few years. I’d like to do a painting of him when he was old, sweaty, and balding and intense. I guess he was always intense, but when he was older it looked like he might explode.
Miles Davis Online: And because we always ask: favorite Miles Davis album?
JB: That’s a hard one. I’d probably say Sketches of Spain with Porgy & Bess a close second. However, ‘favorite’ could change from day to day depending on my mood.
You can find more artwork from Jeff Bridges on Flickr.
Artwork is © Jeff Bridges
Xavier Encinas, over at the always enjoyable Swiss Legacy blog, directs us to Paris-based design studio WA75′s excellent typeface called Miles Grotesk. The graphic design was created for the recent We Want Miles exhibition presented at the Cité de la Musique, which was open from October 2009 to January 2010. The exhibit has since moved on to Montreal.
The Miles Grotesk was developed as a character titling the exhibition “We Want Miles.” The idea was to start with an archetype (a condensed grostesk typical disc covers the label Blue Note) and to make a field experiment.”
The first step was a breakdown of the original characters by performing geometric modules (wooden and linoleum) and then recombine them to arrive at new forms. Of these forms have been produced character titling sections of the exhibition as well as forms that punctuate the route (signs, Point of listening). Upon completion of this character titling a wiser option was created for media schedules requiring a better readability (cartels, video screens, etc.).
The graphic design was done in collaboration with the set design agency projectiles. This project resulted in the creation of a typeface: the Miles Grotesk in two versions: for assays of sections of the exhibition and the rest of the media. The development of character assay also served as conductor lines for the rest of the graphic design, especially for terminals listening and drawing auditoriums.
* definitely worth a read
An Open Letter To Miles Davis
By Charles Mingus
November 30, 1955
Down Beat Magazine
Four editions of Down Beat come to my mind’s eye-Bird’s “Blindfold Test,” mine, Miles’ and Miles’ recent “comeback story”-as I sit down and attempt to honestly write my thoughts in an open letter to Miles Davis. (I discarded numerous “mental” letters before this writing, but one final letter formed last night as I looked through some pictures of Bird that Bob Parent had taken at a Village session.) If a picture needs to go with this story, it should be this picture of Bird, standing and looking down at Monk with more love than I think we’ll ever find in this jazz business!….
Bird’s love, so warmly obvious in this picture, was again demonstrated in his “Blindfold Test.” But dig Miles’ “Test”! As a matter of fact, dig my own “Blindfold Test”! See what I mean? And more recently, dig Miles’ comeback story. How is Miles going to act when he gets back and gets going again? Will it be like a gig in Brooklyn not too long ago with Max, Monk, and me when he kept telling Monk to “lay out” because his chords were all wrong? Or even at a more recent record date when he cursed, laid out, argued, and threatened Monk and asked Bob Weinstock why he hired such a nonmusician and would Monk lay out on his trumpet solos? What’s happening to us disciples of Bird? Or would Miles think I’m presuming too much to include myself as one?
Click to finish reading Mingus: Open Letter To Miles Davis.
(Artist Series, Volume 8)
I’m not much of a power user of Flickr. But I have been known to spend hours scrolling through the Miles Davis photographs. A lot of people have posted a lot of terrific Miles Davis content – and for that I’m grateful. And it’s via Flickr where I have discovered some very talented folks who have either painted, sketched, photographed, sculpted or illustrated the jazz legend.
One such artist is Ricardo Cavolo, a graphic designer and artist from Madrid who features some truly wonderful artwork on his official website. Cavolo covers a variety of striking themes and subjects in his illustrations, but I was most attracted to his superb music collection, where the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Miles Davis show up as featured subjects of Cavolo’s artistic endeavors.
I tracked down the artist recently to get some info on his artistic style and why he chose to illustrate Miles Davis.
Miles Davis Online: Let’s talk about your illustration of Miles Davis.
Ricardo Cavolo: I think he is a legend, and as a legend he is powerful enough for being illustrated… And the second reason is that I like his music, of course.
Miles Davis Online: You’ve tackled other music legends like The Who, Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Hendrix in your artwork. Is there something about musicians that you’re drawn to?
RC: When somebody is a legend, a music legend in this case, he or she has a lot of things that captivate us. And all of us know these legends, and it’s easier for me to connect with a lot of people when I draw some famous people that everyone loves. Most people will like at least a little bit, not because of my illustration; they will like it because it’s Elvis, or the Beatles or Miles Davis. It’s a kind of strategy. I like to draw in my own way and style, but I like when people like my work too.
Miles Davis Online: How long did it take to finish the Miles Davis illustration? Do you have to use certain types of pencils, pens, etc.. to create such beautiful colors?
RC: I need to finish my illustrations in a few hours. I like to work fast. If I spend more time that I think I need the work will go down. I work by instinct, and I need to finish my idea before the interior fire is gone.
I like to work with pencil and later with brushes – to get these colors it’s necessary to have good color inks and watercolors. Using good quality color inks creates work that is really alive and full of light. And of course it’s necessary to use a very good watercolor paper.
Miles Davis Online: How would you describe the ‘style’ of your illustrations? Your use of color and form is very exciting!
RC: I’ve been always obsessed with colors. I always want to get an alive character or composition with powerful colors. I think it’s a primitive instinct of us to enjoy the colors. So I try to connect first of all with people with the colors, and when this person is trapped, I can tell the story I want with my characters or compositions.
I try to create my own style, and not to be contaminated with the illustration style that are the hype in each moment of the life. I mean, if I follow the cool style in each age, ok, maybe my work can be more viewed and appreciated for most of people, but I think that I wouldn’t enjoy this work. And if I’m not sincere with my work, it’s like drawing smoke – sooner or later it will go to never come back. So, yes, I think I have my personal style, and I enjoy my work.
Miles Davis Online: Favorite Miles Davis album?
RC: I think I love the first album. I always prefer first albums of artists. I will say that my favorite series of albums by Miles Davis are from Prestige and the Miles Davis Quintet.
You can find more artwork from Ricardo Cavolo on Flickr.
Artwork is © Ricardo Cavolo