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The Sound of Miles Davis

- Miles' obituary. (By Bob Belden) -

Miles Davis, trumpeter, bandleader and composer, was born in Alton, Illinois May 26, 1926, and died of pneumonia and a stroke in Santa Monica, California on September 29, 1991, aged 65.

Davis' work, over five decades, inspired generations of jazz musicians. One of these composer - arranger & bandleader Bob Belden has kindly allowed me to print his obituary of Miles.

If you want to know about Miles ask his close friends. Talk to Jim Rose. To Joe Zawinul, To Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dave Liebman. Talk to Tony Williams or Wallace Roney.

It is this process of sharing musical ideas with friends that has created so much interest in the music of Miles Davis. It is a music that will live far beyond our lifetime.

In my own quest for knowledge, I developed an appreciation for the music of Miles Davis well beyond my ability to "understand" it. Those sounds represented something extraordinary. Albums such as "Milestones", "Sorcerer", "ESP", "Big Fun" and "Kind of Blue" held untold musical challenges. "What is the tonal centre of "Vonetta""?. "What is the form of "Masqualero""?. Then there was that night that I realized that "Nefertiti" was really a drum concerto. The thrill of hearing that section of "Eight One" during Wayne's solo when Tony and Ron shift from even eights to 4/4.

Further exploration revealed a series of live recordings that captured the expressiveness of that sound. That thread of continuity from Newport '58 and the "Plaza" tapes to the "Blackhawk" and "Carnegie" albums climaxed with "Four and More" and "My Funny Valentine", only to begin a new with the "Berlin", "Tokyo" and "Plugged Nickel" recordings. Hearing the "Plugged Nickel" tracks was one of the most revealing experiences for me.

After a few years and 120 albums later, one still learns. Take "Filles De Kilimanjaro". Miles shifts his interest to the bass lines. The album in basically in F. "Miss Mabry" is a subtle tribute to Hendrix and the woman who got him into Hendrix things. The presence of Gil Evans hangs of this recording. You start thinking of "Miles Ahead". Then "Bitches Brew". Those bass lines. Then you suddenly hear the faint outlines of "I Fall In Love Too Easily" as the intro to "Sanctuary".

Then the wholeness of the music starts connecting. The logic of Philly Joe Jones to Tony Williams. To Al Foster to Ricky Wellman. Percy Heath to Doug Watkins to Paul Chambers to Ron Carter to Dave Holland to Michael Henderson to Marcus Miller to Darryl Jones to Benjamin Rietveld. The connection of sound.

I asked the late Mel Lewis if he had any contact with Miles during the l940's and 50's. He told me that Miles would catch the Kenton band and other "experimental" bands of the time. He generally described Miles as a curious musician, always looking out for new things.

Back to those connections "Blues For Pablo" to "Summertime" to "Milestones" to "So What" to "Flamenco Sketches" to "Solea" to "Neo" to "Devil May Care" to "Agitation" to "Masqualero" to "Paraphrenalia" to "Tout De Suite" to "Spanish Key" to "He Loved Him Madly" to "Aida" to "Tutu". Then back to "Blues For Pablo".

It is the unification of mood and taste with intellect. The sound of the drums. That sound over the bass and drums. This music that was created by Miles Davis and his friends is truly the best that any music can be. The music is a glimpse into his mind and the minds of his friends. So if you want to know about Miles, ask one of his friends."


Bob Belden
New York City. Oct. 28. 1991.
(A portrait of Bob Belden can be found in Down Beat magazine, October, 1991 and December, 1994)


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"The Sound of "Miles Davis"
Copyright © Jan Lohmann 1991 - 1998