The Last Miles - the Music Of Miles Davis 1980 - 1991
the last miles
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
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In late 1986, Miles was asked to compose the music for a dark and mysterious film, Siesta. Part psychological thriller, part surrealistic fantasy, Siesta had a fine cast of actors that included Ellen Barkin (Claire), Gabriel Byrne (Augustine), Julian Sands (Kit Goodenough), Jodie Foster (Nancy), Alexei Sayle ( the cabbie from hell), Martin Sheen (Del), Isabella Rossellini (Maria) and Grace Jones (Conchita). Siesta was set mainly in Spain and directed by Mary Lambert; it was her first movie. At the time, Lambert was one of the hottest video directors around, working with artists such as Madonna (including "Borderline", "Like a Virgin", "Material Girl", "La Isla Bonita", and "Like a Prayer"), Annie Lennox, Sting and Mick Jagger. She also worked for a time with Prince on his movie "Under The Cherry Moon."

As soon as Miles agreed to compose the music, he called Marcus Miller, who would virtually single-handedly compose, arrange and perform the music soundtrack. Miller not only produced some truly evocative music, but he inspired some of Miles's best performances from this period, with Miles playing lots of open horn. Sadly, Siesta was not a success at the box office and so many people have missed out on hearing a gem of a soundtrack.

Mary Lambert kindly agreed to talk with The Last about the film, the music and the art of film making.

Mary Lambert
Mary Lambert © and courtesy Mary Lambert How did you get to direct Siesta?

Mary Lambert: I picked up the script in Annie Lennox's [singer in Eurythmics] dressing room. Patricia [Louisianna Knop, who also wrote the screenplay for 9 1/2 Weeks] was the writer and had sent it to Annie. At the time, I was doing a lot of music videos and hanging out a lot and having a great time in my life! I picked it up and started reading it and fell in love with it. The script is very unusual. The narrative is very emotional and very non-linear and that was what always appealed to me about music video work: the ability to fracture a narrative and leave it open for different interpretations.

Because I was sort of a hot young director at the time, my agent was pushing me to find a movie project and of course she was completely appalled when I chose Siesta! It was not a commercial project as it could have been! But I became obsessed with doing the movie. I contacted Patricia and we formed a friendship and she wanted me to direct it. I was in England and Gary Kurfirst - one of the producers - wanted me to meet with the people from Palace [Pictures]. They came on and I think we had about seven producers by the end of the project. It was a difficult project to birth but we did [it]. A lot of creative people were really drawn of the project because of the nature of the story.

TLM: You shot most of it in Spain. How long did it take?

ML: There was a little pick-up shooting in America. We shot it in '86 in August in Spain and it took around 27- 30 days. It was unbelievably hot but I kinda dug that: that sense of heat and the hard light would really translate [on the screen] . The cinematographer was horrified by the hard light but I really loved it and it really adds to the movie. And Ellen [Barkin] was so young and beautiful and perfect at the time that she could really take the hard light. Good on her!

Julian Sands and Grace Jones

TLM: Let's talk about the music. You had a temporary track of Miles's Sketches of Spain?

ML: I was using it as a temp track. By the time we got to post-production, it was very difficult and money was so tight. We were all over the place: it started out in London, then we moved to Spain and then we edited back in the United States. At that point, I was just exhausted and it never occurred to me that we could get Miles Davis to do the soundtrack. I just kept on cutting. We brought in a song by the Tom Tom Club and then a cool song by Wendy and Lisa, but neither one of them was right for the actual score and I kept going back to Sketches of Spain, which is one of my most favourite albums. Finally Gary Kurfirst, said: "Why don't we get Miles Davis to do the score?" I'm like: "Okay! Go get him!"

TLM: Did you approach Miles's management?

ML: Tommy Lipuma [who at the time was head of jazz at Warner Bros and also Miles's executive producer] was very helpful. Gary Kurfirst was a very powerful manager [he has managed The Ramones and Talking Heads and others] and was the main producer on the movie. He approached Lipuma, who just loved the idea immediately and went right to Miles with it. Then they set up a meeting with Miles.

TLM: Tell us about that!

ML: Everyone had told me to expect him to be hostile, surly, difficult. I'd been directing video movies for about five or six years by then, so it wasn't like I wasn't used to the drama of the rock star; the diva. So I knew there was quite a good possibility that it might be difficult creative thing and I was nervous about it. Miles wanted to see the movie and we gave him the directions to the soundstage in LA where we doing a bunch of mixes. He showed up driving himself. He didn't show up in a limo with a big entourage, which I was kind of afraid of. He showed up in really big car -- just the biggest Ferrari you could have with the biggest engine and he roared in. He got out of the car and we just got along right away. Sometimes I get along with people, sometimes I don't. It was instant. He got out of the car and I said "Hi Miles," and he said: "Hi Mary" and he sat next to me in the screening. We watched the movie and he was really attentive. People told me to expect that I wouldn't really collaborate with him and that just wasn't the case. We watched the movie and at one point and there was a scene with Jodie Foster and Ellen Barkin and he said to me: "Those two should sleep together." I had to explain to him that the movie was already shot! The eroticism between them is hinted at in the movie and he definitely picked up on it! Miles really liked women!

Ellen Barkin and Jodie Foster

TLM: Miles worked with Marcus Miller.

ML: Marcus Miller was really instrumental in pulling it together. He was really able to corral Miles; focus Miles. I went to most of the recording sessions. It was such an opportunity. Miles was an amazing person and it was so cool to be around him that I made a big effort to go to all of them. I love being there when music is being played, sometimes for the first time. Or when someone is being creative - it's a big thrill for me. I went to at least three recording sessions. Marcus is a genius. He's an amazing musician and he really focused what Miles did and arranged it in a way that really worked for the movie.

TLM: Marcus Miller recalls Miles asking him to work on some music for the movie. They recorded two tracks ["Siesta" and "Theme for Augustine"] and Miller assumed the job was done. But then you called him and he was surprised to learn that he was doing the music for the whole movie!

ML: As soon as I heard what Marcus could bring to the project, I wasn't about to let go of him! I immediately realised the contribution that Marcus was going to make to the soundtrack -- no disrespect to Miles. I wasn't going to let him off until it was over!

TLM: Where there any memorable moments in the recording sessions?

ML: I'm always very respectful when I go a recording session. I don't do any clowning around or try to insert my personality in any way. I'm just to listen and judge the direction of where things are going. The set is where I stand up and talk and give orders and make comments -- I have a forceful personality on the set. But in the recording session, Marcus ran the session and Miles was the star of the session. I was always an adoring audience! And I was there to make sure I had a clear grasp of the direction things were going, because I didn't want things to go too far in the wrong direction. I do remember one time when Miles came in and he had a pair of snakeskin pants. Marcus said: "Miles, you look like a lizard!" And he did. He had a sort of reptilian presence. His brain was kind of not exactly human -- his brain worked on a different level. He was like a different species. I'm not saying that to insult Miles -- I love reptiles -- [but] Miles reminded me of a very beautiful reptile from another era. He was really psychic too. A couple of times when we were mixing the movie he called me. Once when I was making a few music cuts, the phone rang and it was Miles.

Gabriel Byrne and Isabella Rossellini

TLM: Are there any particular pieces of music that stand out for you?

ML: I love the music in the love scene - that's one of my favourites. When she [Claire] comes to the little cabin and they [Claire and Augustine] make love -- that's really my favourite piece. That's just pictures and music and emotions.

TLM: Marcus Miller says that the final track ("Los Feliz") was hard to get right and that it took him several attempts.

ML: Because the narrative is fractured, the music was a big contributor to the emotional impact. The film was not shot in a traditional way and it's not a traditional script, so you really need the music to underscore the emotions. If I remember correctly, that one piece was a little bit busy; there was just a little too much going on. For what I wanted, it was a little over-produced. I just kept asking him to simplify it. That's what all I wanted; to just kind of pare it down to the bones of the melody. It maybe had just a little too much percussion. That's a very subjective thing to say and what I meant was that there was too much percussion for what I wanted for the scene. There wasn't anything done by Marcus that wasn't done well.

TLM: It must be very difficult for the director and composer to work together on music for a film. There not only has to be the talent, but the chemistry between the two of you must good. There must be times when you have to be critical and the composer has to take that criticism and not get upset or overly protective about their music. It sounds like that wasn't a problem here.

ML: I never felt that was a problem with Marcus or Miles. That was my biggest fear, because that can be a problem, especially when you're bringing people to collaborate with a film, [and] if they're too famous or too big of an artist in their own right. A single element doesn't make a film; it's made up of lots of elements and they all have to work together to produce a whole. You can have a beautiful frame, but there are 24 frames per second, so one beautiful frame is like nothing. The music has to work with the pictures. You can have fabulous music but if it works against the narrative or the emotions that you're trying to produce for the audience, then it doesn't work. That's always a fear if you bring in a big artist; a major artistic clash. Musicians are not film makers and so they don't understand and so they can get offended, but Marcus got it right away and Miles got it too -- I had a really cool relationship with him.

TLM: Going back to the movie. It was quite complex with flashbacks and even leaps into the future. There's a rape scene that is intercut with a lovemaking scene. Was all that in the script? How much does the director bring to a movie and how much the screenwriter?

Julian Sands and Ellen Barkin
Julian Sands and Ellen Barkin

ML: I think intercutting the rape scene was my idea. The script is the beginning of the film. As a director, I always try to work the script as hard as I can. To pre-visualise the film and to make sure that everything I need to tell the story is in the script. Once you've done that and you're on the set shooting it, sometimes the script doesn't work and then it becomes something else; what you're doing with the actors and what you're doing with the camera [changes]. The reality of how things look through the lens -- it changes when you shoot it. It always does. You think you're going to start the scene off with a hand picking up the gun, but you get to the set and the sun is coming up behind the trees and just it's so much more powerful than the hand - and so you shoot that. Sometimes you shoot the hand picking up the gun, but you know you're not going to use it. A simple scene between two actors becomes really funny, or really ironic or really powerful and so you let it play longer than you were going to and just let the actors improvise. And then you start editing it. When I'm editing a film, I kinda throw the script away -- don't tell any writers this! The script is a script. Sometimes scenes that work on a page don't work in a movie. Sometimes the sequencing you thought was going to work narratively just doesn't convey the story. Or it's a love story but the really powerful part was the relationship between two women. That wasn't the case with Siesta, but it can be. I like to be really open in the editing process to make the best film and not just be a slave to the script. There were many different cuts of Siesta.

TLM: Were you disappointed by the response to Siesta?

ML: I was hugely disappointed by the support we got from the studio --there was no support at all. It was released in New York in a theatre around Thanksgiving [late November] and it had to be out of the theatre by Christmas. There was no chance for it - it just didn't have support. There were also problems with the producers; lawsuits, legal problems. Eventually it got a cult audience. I also think it was a little bit ahead of its time, because subsequent movies very much in that vein are regaled as breakthrough movies.

TLM: They always said Miles's music was ahead of its time too.

ML: Exactly.

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‘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, Miles’s 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,

"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

"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,

"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,

“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

"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 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.


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the music of Miles Davis1980 to 1991 a book by George Cole
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