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The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980-1991 by George Cole

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“Music does not depend on being right, on having good taste and education and all that.”
“Indeed, then what does it depend on?”
“On making music, Herr Haller, on making music as well and as much as possible and with all the intensity of which one is capable. That is the point, Monsieur.”

-Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf

I had the great privilege to see Miles Davis and his band back in the ’70s at New York’s Bottom Line and at the Schaefer Festival in Central Park. Soon after, Miles would retire from recording and playing live. He would not return to the commercial music world until 1980.

George Cole’s book The Last Miles covers the period from 1980 to 1991 in Miles’ career. It would mark a controversial one. Critics seemed to either love or hate his music from this period.

The Last Miles is a book for true lovers of the music and person of Miles Davis. The writing of this book had to be a labor of love as there is painstaking effort taken to interview musicians who played with Miles, and information regarding who played what, who played when, and sometimes who played why. It took three years of interviews with 31 of the thirty-six musicians who played with Miles during his final decade to provide the groundwork for this book. Such stellar talents as Pete Cosey, Joey DeFrancesco, George Duke, Robben Ford, Darryl Jones (current bass player with the Rolling Stones), Branford Marsalis, Marcus Miller (who figures prominently as producer, songwriter, all-around musician), John Scofield, David Sanborn, Mike Stern, etc. give their thoughts on the subject of recording with Miles and playing live with him.

I have heard practically none of CDs from this period. This put me at quite a disadvantage while reading the book because I had no concept of the music being written about. I have some stuff from the ’70s like Big Fun, On the Corner, He Loved Him Madly, and some tunes on cassette and the odd recording from radio. After reading the book I got a copy of Tutu from my local library. This 1986 release won critical acclaim and some commercial success. I found the music very emotional and once again realized the music of Miles Davis paints a very real portrait of modern life.

This is not a biography per se, but portions certainly read like one and paint a revealing portrait of the trumpet player. It also is a reference work covering each release from that period, chapter by chapter. Depending on your Miles collection, you could sit back and listen while reading the appropriate chapter in the book.

Included is a discography for the period 1980-1991. Every recording session is covered telling who played what, who the producer was, who wrote the songs, etc. Band lineups from Miles’ live performances are given along with his repertoire. A few pages of black and white photos also appear. A list of books and websites completes the package.

My one complaint about this book is one I have about all music critics/writers. It is practically impossible to describe a piece of music other than in the most general of terms. I believe Cole tries too hard to describe the specific details of a performance and the result is not really any clearer. A quote attributed to the late, great Frank Zappa is: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I am a musician, I’ve played music, I’ve composed music (or rather stolen it). I could not begin to describe a performance other than in terms such as; it’s a blues, it’s rock, jazz, there’s a guitar on it, it sounds like so-and-so. I realize Cole is trying to describe the music of Miles, and that a book about that music must contain some descriptions of it, but I think he could have saved himself a lot of typing. But other than that complaint, the rest of the book is fantastic.

To use the old cliche: This is a must for every Miles fan.

More information at: thelastmiles.com

Credit must go to author Robert Greenfield who used the quote at the top of the page at the beginning of his 1974 book S.T.P.-A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones.

REF: ME

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About Neal Gardner

  • beadtot

    ‘Miles Davis’ is a theme.

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