the music of Miles Davis 1980 - 1991
a book by George Cole
published by Equinox Publishing in the UK
and University of Michigan Press in the USA
Read reviews and praise for The Last Miles
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Miles's Associates: Jason Miles
Part two in an occasional series that looks at some of the people associated with Miles in the 1980s and who haven’t had the recognition they deserve.
Think of the classic album Tutu and you'll probably think of the captivating sound of Miles's horn or the superb playing and arrangements by Marcus Miller. But there was a third major element behind the sound of that album - Jason Miles. Jason Miles not only did the programming for the bulk of Tutu (keyboardist/programmer Adam Holzman also worked on several tracks), but he also worked on the follow-up albums, Siesta and Amandla. He became a friend of Miles's, visiting him at home and helping him get to grips with electronic instruments, as well as co-writing some tunes with Miles.
Jason Miles is a composer, arranger, producer, keyboardist and synthesiser programmer, who has worked with many artists including Chaka Khan, Sting, Michael Jackson and the late Luther Vandross. He's also released a string of solo albums, the latest, Miles to Miles, evoking the spirit of Miles Davis. In addition, he has produced a series of tribute albums covering artists such as Weather Report, Grover Washington, Ivan Lins and Marvin Gaye, all of which have been very well received (for more on this, check out Jason's website). But it's his association with Miles that stands out for many, not least because he and Marcus Miller took Miles's sound to a new plane. The result was a lush electronic soundscape over which Miles's haunting sound hovered like a bird. This was an album with a rich palette of aural textures, tones and colours, samples (like the famous Duke Ellington cry of "One Mo' Time" on "Don't Lose Your Mind") and it even spawned a funky 12" remix of "Full Nelson," with even more samples and effects.
Jason Miles first met Marcus Miller in 1979, when he booked the young bassist for a recording session. Miller was only twenty at the time, but already had a formidable reputation on the New York session scene. Around this time, MIDI and synthesiser technology was making their presence felt in the musical world and when Miller wanted to use some of this on a musical project, he called Jason Miles. The two men formed a close working relationship as a result. When Miles Davis moved from Columbia records to Warner Bros in 1985, he began looking for musical collaborators for his first album for the new label. Miller was one of those who got the opportunity to submit material for consideration by Miles and his producer, Tommy LiPuma. When Miller discovered that Miles was looking to move into the direction of electronic instruments and drum machines, he asked Jason Miles to work with him on some demos. "I called Jason and said 'listen man, I need you to bring your emulator to my house'," says Miller.
Jason Miles turned up at Miller's home with a bank of electronic equipment and the two men starting collaborating. "We'd start using different sounds," recalls Jason Miles, "He had sketches for the tunes and when he was putting it down, I would come up with some interesting sounds and then he'd adjust the music to the sound he wanted to use." The result were three new song demos: "Tutu," "Splatch," and "Portia." "We took the demos to a place where they were right in your face," remembers Jason Miles. Miller flew from New York to Los Angeles to meet Tommy Lipuma and play him the demos. LiPuma was so taken by what Miller and Jason Miles had done that he instructed Miller to start recording them immediately and what's more, to basically use the demos as the foundations for the new recordings. Jason Miles wasn't surprised by LiPuma's reaction: "It didn't surprise me because I knew the melodies were just amazing and I knew Marcus was on to something," he says.
Miller had wanted Jason Miles to join him in LA and work on the tracks, but Warner Bros weren't prepared to pay for this, so Miller worked Adam Holzman on some additional programming. Even so, Jason Miles and Miller were still in touch by phone and the programmer would offer advice and guidance down the line. That said, Jason Miles has always graciously acknowledged the contribution that programmer Adam Holzman made on the three tunes.
Miles and LiPuma were so taken by the three Marcus Miller tunes that much to the bassist's surprise, he was asked to compose and record more tunes back in New York. It was on these sessions that the rest of Tutu was recorded - "Tomaas," "Perfect Way," "Don't Lose Your Mind," and "Full Nelson," and Jason Miles was present on all these sessions. Jason Miles recalls the first time he met Miles. Having being warned by Miller that he might be in the studio four minutes or four weeks depending on how Miles reacted to him, Jason Miles introduced himself to Miles. Miles's reaction was: "Good name." Later on, Miles gave Jason Miles a sketch (always a sure sign that Miles liked you) and signed it "Miles to Miles," quipping that it sounded like a law firm.
The release of Tutu, with its cool, contemporary sound, had an amazing effect on Miles's profile, and is seen by many as his final classic album. It was no surprise that following the success of Tutu, Miller and Jason Miles would work on a follow-up album. The result was the soundtrack album Siesta, which was recorded in New York and North Hollywood under intense pressure - the soundtrack was recorded in a couple of weeks. Jason Miles understates his role in this process: "The pressure was on Marcus; I spent a lot of time playing video games." But the resulting album contradicts this modest claim because much of the album's sound is electronic, with Jason Miles creating orchestral sounds (such as cellos and violins), sound effects (including howling winds, rain and ghost-like vocals) as well as other samples (such as guitars). Engineer Steven Strassman, who worked on most of Siesta, recalls watching Jason Miles in action: "As far as synthesiser prowess [went] he was the best I had seen. Marcus would say 'get me this sound and that sound,' and Jason would have it up in a second."
The final album project that saw Miller and Jason Miles working with Miles was Amandla. By now, synthesiser technology had moved on and machines like the Roland D-50 enabled gave Jason Miles even more scope to shape the sound. "I was able to create some really unique sounds and Miles loved it," he told writer Stuart Nicholson. Tracks such as "Hannibal," "Catembe," "Amandla" and "Mr Pastorius" certainly bear this out. Although the collaboration between Miles and Miller ended after Amandla, Jason Miles kept in touch with the trumpeter. Miles would get Jason Miles interested in new kinds of clothes and the two men worked together on music both at Miles's home and when Miles was in hospital. They even composed some music together including "Heavy Metal," a track that was played live and which appears on the Montreux boxed set and the DVD Live in Munich.
The 1980s proved (yet again) to be a controversial period for Miles and the release of Tutu split the jazz community. But then that's exactly what Miles wanted - people talking about his music and taking sides. Jason Miles has little time for those who believe that making albums like Tutu meant that Miles swapped artistic integrity for commerciality. "The people who said that are only living in the past, and wanted Miles to go back" he says, "but that was something Miles would never do."
Many thanks to Jason for the kind permission to use his photographs. Check out Jason's website at www.jasonmilesmusic.com
praise for The Last Miles
‘The best Miles Davis book ever.’ Randy Hall, singer/guitarist/producer, who worked with Miles in the 1980s
‘An important book.’ Brian Priestley, co-author of ‘The Rough Guide to Jazz’, jazz pianist, critic and reviewer
‘Very moving, emotional material.’ Gordon Meltzer, Miles’s last road manager and executive producer of the ‘Doo-Bop’ album
‘George Cole’s writing, his choice of references, his descriptions of many incidents – it is all so clear and respectful, and shows a deep understanding.’ Palle Mikkelborg, composer, arranger and producer of the ‘Aura’ album
"Wow! What a great book. Finally, something that really gets it right. Thank you for capturing what was going on, the mood, everything." Adam Holzman, Milesís keyboardist and musical director 1985-1989
"Wonderful job, congratulations! An immense amount of work must have gone into it, I can't even imagine. But it was very cool to see that era of Miles treated with the same respect as every other... someone gets it!" Benny Rietveld, Miles's bassist 1988-1990
"The book is wonderful. Congratulations for your very important contribution to the historical documentation of many [musicians] who would otherwise have been overlooked!!!!" Robert Irving III Miles’s musical director 1983-1988
"I have to say that you did a marvellous job! It brought back strong memories of that time period and answered a number of questions I had, especially the chapter on the Rubberband sessions. A brilliant job!" Patrick Murray, who worked on the road with Miles from 1986-1990 and was Miles’s concert sound mixer from 1988-1990
"It is truly an excellent body of work that literally takes a reader from hearing rumours to realising truths about the Chicago group and our collective take on the Miles Davis comeback." Glenn Burris, co-writer of "Shout"
"The most immediate impact that this book had on me was to make me listen again to Miles’ later recordings with a completely regenerated ear and this really is the reason why this book works so well and is an essential read for any true Miles Davis appreciator… you will be hard pressed to find a more inspirational read, written by a man who quite simply loves Miles Davis’ music." Mike Chadwick, Ejazz.fm
"There are large chunks of fresh material here…Fill[s] in quite a few gaps and dismisses blanket condemnations of [Miles’s] pop phase." Stephen Graham, Jazzwise
"Cole does for Miles’ late work what Ian Macdonald’s ‘Revolution In The Head’ does for The Beatles, examining each album in meticulous detail." John Lewis, Time Out
"Cole’s analysis has a meticulous, forensic character… [and] is able to bring a wealth of new information to light….This book should get people talking. It should be the first rather than the last word on an intriguing chapter of the life an extraordinarily complex artist. And Davis’s vanity would surely have loved that." Kevin Le Gendre, Independent on Sunday
"The book is beautiful. I think you did a great job on covering Miles’s life and legacy." Sid Reynolds, hip-hop producer
"GREATFUCKINJOBWITDABOOK" Foley, Miles’s lead bassist 1987-1991
"Cole’s certainly produced a fascinating book." Chris Ingham, Mojo
"As with any good musical biography, Cole had made me think again about those albums such as Siesta, You’re Under Arrest, The Man with the Horn, that are now stashed in my attic." John Bungey, The Times
"I thought it was wonderful. It’s a very detailed look at a certain part of the career and life of Miles Davis. A lot of people didn’t pay attention to this and I’m glad that George Cole took the time to focus on these final years of Miles’s life." Easy Mo Bee, co-producer of Doo-Bop
"Many people have come to me in the past about how the "last miles" bands had been overlooked and ignored by journalists. This book is a comprehensive answer to these omissions. From my discussions with musicians from the latter years with Miles it seems pretty clear they feel some vindication as a result of this book. I thank you sincerely for telling our story. Most everything I have read is as close to my memory of how things happened as any book could hope to be. I think you've done a wonderful job." Darryl Jones, bassist with Miles 1983-85, 1986-1988
"The title is likely to send most jazzbos running, with received wisdom having handed down the rule that in the 80's Miles was only good for playing live; and half of that was just the pleasure of seeing him in person. For a single man to take on the 400-page+ task of changing popular opinion is a very tall order indeed. For him to make you want to actively revisit the decade in question is a near-miracle. Detailing album histories and giving final verdicts, Cole has made every effort to lay the evidence out bare. The analysis could have been a chore were it not for the presence of first-hand interviews with all the major players, making this not just a scholarly study, but a tribute to the man himself, And for a book such as this, you learn more about Davis that could have been expected." Jason Draper, Record Collector
"There simply hasn’t been another book published on Miles Davis, in any period that has managed to obtain the wealth of interview material and cover his recorded work and various live tours in such a complete and comprehensive fashion... Engagingly written from start to finish, filled with more facts than you’ll be able to remember first time through, The Last Miles is an essential portrait of Miles’ last decade and a strong argument that his music was both valid and perfectly in keeping with a musical philosophy that would ultimately stretch over six decades." John Kelman, All About Jazz.com
"We veterans of Miles’ last bands are lucky to have such a thorough and insightful look into Miles last period...I really enjoyed the book!" John Scofield, Miles's guitarist 1982-1985
"Cole has spoken to practically everyone who worked with Miles in his final decade. He has traced the evolution of each of those final albums, cut by cut, splice by splice….[Miles] comes out of Cole’s account larger, warmer and if anything even more important than ever." Brian Morton (co-writer of The Penguin Guide to Jazz), The Wire
"Through lively analyses of all Miles’ recorded work from this period and much that went unreleased, including the ‘lost’ album Rubberband, [Cole] does enough to send readers back to the original albums." Simon Evans, Choice
"... Cole is a persuasive writer: he prompted me to go and dig out albums that I'd dismissed as inconsequential and listen again with fresh ears. ... A rewarding read" Charles Waring, Blues & Soul
"Cole takes us on an exhaustive journey deep into the heart of Miles’ late recordings…The Last Miles needs to be covered by working musicians, producers and Miles’ fans alike." Livingstone Marquis, Straight, No Chaser
" George Cole has written a book that should be required reading for anyone with a serious interest in Davis’ life and work irrespective of which period of his music you prefer. It offers a valuable insight into this most complex of personalities, and reveals a side to Miles that many may not have known existed…for this reader it has prompted a re-examination of this decade which has revealed a fascinating area of music that I had previously overlooked." Nick Lea, Jazzviews.co.uk
"In the flurry of books since [Miles Davis's] death, none has dealt in depth with the music of this period. Music writer George Cole fills this gap. . . It is so detailed and intimate that the reader feels he is virtually living with Davis as he seeks to reinvent himself… a rich and rewarding read." Irwin Block, The Montreal Gazette
"This is a must for every Miles fan." Neal Gardner, Blogcritics.org
“A fantastic book, an amazing insight into Miles. Guy Barker, jazz trumpeter
“For Miles fans, this book is a must.” Jez Nelson, presenter BBC Radio Jazz on 3
“I really do recommend The Last Miles…it is a fine work.” John Cavanagh, presenter Radio Scotland’s Bebop to Hip-Hop
"A great book that plays a great tribute to the last years of Miles’ life.” Erik Telford, presenter Miles Radio.com
"The fact of having personally interviewed all those characters...without much recall to interviews already noted and the usual anecdotes, renders "The Last Miles" as excellent...a book that certainly is seen as a work of reference."Maurizio Comandini, All About Jazz.com Italy
"[Cole] has written a comprehensive account of the comeback and the albums it produced...He takes the reader through each of the albums, cut by cut, examining the musical choices, the musicians and their successes...Cole's book is a valuable resource on the last 11 years of a true music legend's life."Chris Smith, Winnipeg Free Press
"I've been thoroughly enjoying your book. I'm sure it'll go a long way towards rectifying some of the negative historical appraisals of Miles' later works that have become prevalent." Kei Akagi, keyboardist in Miles's band 1989-1990.
"Cole gives an exhaustive account of every track recorded [and, it seems, every live show] in that decade and of every one of the dozens of musicians who played on them but what's most interesting is the portrait of Miles Davis that emerges from it all. Sometimes an asshole and a bully, yes, but also a very funny guy who was a good friend to many and a mentor to even more, a man with drug problems who was more often in great pain from other maladies. Through it all, Davis was obsessed with moving his music forward with anyone who could help him do it - from Prince to Public Enemy, from Scritti Politti to a violinist he saw on Johnny Carson and hired on the spot." Rock & Rap Confidential
"I thought your book was awesome and straight to the point. To tell stories the way it really happened is nothing but the truth! Congratulations and thanks!"Ricky Wellman, Miles's drummer 1987-1991
"George Cole has made a major contribution to jazz scholarship...written over a three-year period, the degree of detail is quite astonishing and the research so extensive that it becomes possible to contradict claims made by Miles himself in his autobiography. Every track on every 1981-1991 album is discussed in length …a very valuable book.” Chris Yates, The Jazz Rag
“This book is a model of how these types of books should be…If late period Miles is in the readers’ interest, the reader should rush out and purchase this volume. It is invaluable.” Robert Iannapollo, ARSC Journal
The Last Miles was voted one of the top ten music books of 2005 by Record Collector magazine.
The Last Miles was joint winner of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Best Jazz History Book 2006 award.
Contact George Cole at
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