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How I Discovered Miles Davis (& what he means to me today)

A Blog Supreme (NPR) posted this topic earlier this week and the writer relates getting over a thousand responses. Miles Davis. The most popular jazz artist of all time? Inspired me to quickly note my response and post it here on my web site.

I was in my teens and loved to listen to Beatles, CSN&Y, The Who, Santana, all the bands who played at Woodstock. When I saw a triple LP documenting the Isle of Wight festival, with a whole side of new live Jimi Hendrix, I had to have it.

The album ended with a long track by someone named Miles Davis, titled “Call It Anything”. I started to listen but couldn’t make any sense of the music. I felt ripped off. What the hell was this?

A buddy of mine in high school (Renaldo Migaldi) said, “I knew you were hooked because you’d come to school day after day complaining about Miles Davis.”

I started to read about him. Ralph Gleason published a complimentary review of “On The Corner” with Santana’s “Caravanserai” and I respected his writing and his taste. Clearly there was something here I wasn’t getting. That summer I went several times to the library (what a geek, I know) and checked out jazz records and old editions of Downbeat magazine, trying to get a handle on this music.

Finally, freshman year of college, I checked out a Smithsonian collection of classic jazz that contained a track from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”. I’m pretty sure it was “So What”. It clicked. I got it. I fell in love.

I’m still in love today. I love each of Miles Davis’ periods, from his apprenticeship with Charlie Parker to his Birth of the Cool sessions; both of his great quintets from the 1950s & ’60s. The electric Miles, and even the last batch of recordings he made before his death. He was the Picasso of music in the last century.

When I went through a divorce a decade ago, part of my dealing with it was to put together a talk on Miles Davis, which I gave at the Creativity & Madness conference in Maui later that year. He has been a touchstone for my life story. My love of his music goes beyond my intellectual capacity to express. My year isn’t complete without working my way through listening to all of my Miles music, which is a mountain of listening. I just listened to Dark Magus yesterday.

And yes, today I can make sense of “Call It Anything”.

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