Sure, he recorded the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. Yes, he was one of the first artists to combine elements of rock with jazz to create the groundbreaking fusion of Bitches Brew (which some claim is really the best-selling jazz album of all time.)
And sure, Miles had the rock star attitude, the pimped-out wardrobe, the badass sneer, the fast cars, the drugs, and the women. But did he ever play “rock and roll” music? Is his inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame an honor, or an insult?
Miles Davis’ “electric period” (from roughly 1967 until his death in 1991) has long divided and polarized jazz fans. Initially, fusion albums like Bitches Brew got Miles labeled as a “sell-out” by the jazz community at large. Lately, however, there’s been a resurgence of interest in this long neglected aspect of his career.
Most of Miles’s so-called “commercial sell-out music” is strange and intimidating, lacking “hooks,” melodies, and traditional harmonies. The “songs” are long and rambling explorations, sometimes lasting a half hour or more. The texture is dense, noisy, and often chaotic, with long and unstructured improvisations. There’s nothing else quite like it in all of popular music — not even by other “fusion” artists, past and present.
Needless to say, you’re not gonna hear this stuff on “Classic Rock” radio stations (or most jazz stations either, for that matter.) To include Miles Davis on a list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees such as ZZ Top, U2, and AC/DC is, frankly, absurd and ignorant. Have the voters even listened to this music? Or do they only wish to acknowledge their own “hipness” by including Miles among the enshrined counter-cultural elite?
If Miles were around today, what would he think about being welcomed into this dubious “Hall of Fame”? Would he stand up there with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Debbie Harry, and Ozzy Osbourne mugging for the cameras at the ceremony and expressing gratitude for the recognition?
I doubt it. Miles was never one to sit back and rest on his laurels and past accomplishments, Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew included. He never looked back, preferring to live in the present (and often the future.)
More than likely, along with Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols, he’d be telling the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to “Kiss this!”
On The Corner: Probably my favorite “electric” Miles album, sounding as strange and new today as it did in 1972. Propulsive, schizophrenic grooves bubbling with funky bass, mad hand claps, strange sitar riffs, and stabbing trumpet.
A Tribute to Jack Johnson: Like On The Corner, as much a Teo Macero album as a Miles Davis one, with several sessions expertly assembled in the studio to create this arresting final product. Two fierce side-long jams…
Dark Magus: A descent into the inferno… live at Carnegie Hall! Brooding, sinister, and downright scary. A cathartic listening experience.
Pangaea: Long, expansive, epic explorations with a huge band including a ton of percussion. After this marathon series of 1975 concerts (see also Agharta), Miles fell silent for six years. Unfortunately, he would never attain heights like this again…
A Different Kind of Blue — Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 [DVD]: Enjoy the visual element of the Miles electric band (which includes dueling keyboardists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea at this historic gig). And watch the audience’s confused reaction: “How are we supposed to dance to this stuff?”