Monday, February 7, 2011

FOR MILES

Trumpeter Miles Davis
At Orchestra Hall Friday evening, the lady seated next to me asked midway through the "Four Generations of Miles” concert how I felt about the performance. Drummer Jimmy Cobb not announcing the tunes bothered me. She told me she has attended one of your concerts years ago. To her surprise, you played with your back facing the audience. I explained you did that whenever you chastised your band-mates for messing up. I read that in your autobiography. 

Anyway, Miles, I said the first half of the concert was cool, but it petered near the end. It was impolite the band, which included trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist Buster Williams, alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune and pianist Larry Willis never acknowledged the audience or announced the tunes they played. The latter did not bother the audience. They knew every selection, so maybe they felt introducing every number was unnecessary.

The band performed songs you immortalized years before you crossed over. Or, as jazz critic, Stanley Crouch, characterized your playing pop music selling out. Labeling you a sell-out was unfair. You had every right to make any kind of music. However, I do agree with Crouch that making big bucks was your real motivation.

For many years, Roney copied your style. I wondered if he would ever find his own voice. Roney is a wonderful trumpeter, and Friday night his soloing was decisive. He can still channel your spirit at will, which he did on “So What”, and “Kind of Blue”. Williams soloing was noteworthy as well.

When jazz journalists and critics talk about great jazz bass players, Williams’ name is rarely mentioned. Williams has always been a superb bassist, and he has played with many jazz great of our time. Friday evening, the man was more than a timekeeper. He was the crowd favorite, handling the upright bass like a masseur a tense body. He carried Willis, who solos were basic at best, the entire night.

Miles, I wondered who assembled the band. Save for Cobb the others only had a passing relationship with you. Fortune played with you a year. I also wondered if the band would have been more exciting with musicians that spent more time with you.
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