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
Order your copy online
from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
I was born in Liverpool, England in 1957 and educated at Bingley College of Education in West Yorkshire (now sadly gone) and Homerton College, Cambridge. I was a teacher for 13 years and became a full-time freelance writer in 1991. I write about music and technology and have written for various publications including, The Financial Times, Jazzwise, The Guardian, Music Week, The Daily Telegraph, Empire, The Times, Times Educational Supplement, The Sunday Times, Newsweek, New Scientist and The Radio Times website. The Last Miles is my first book.
I grew up listening to funk, soul and rock in the 1970s and became hooked on Miles’s music in 1981, when I first heard The Man With The Horn. I was fortunate to see Miles in concert eight times during his final decade, from the 1983 band that featured Mike Stern and John Scofield to his final London concert in July 1991, just two months before he died.
author's q & a
Why did you write The Last Miles? Aren’t there enough books on Miles already?
There are three reasons. First, this is music I feel passionately about. Miles’s music of the 1980s really moves me. It was the music I saw him play live and out of all the wonderful music Miles played over nearly 50 years, it’s the period I enjoy the most. The second reason is that – with one or two honourable exceptions – this period is poorly chronicled. All too often, I’d buy a book purporting to be about Miles and his music and find that the last ten years were either ignored or skipped over. The third reason was that there were many gaps to be filled – how did Miles work with the young group of musicians from Chicago? How did he get into hip-hop? And I’ve always been intrigued by the Rubberband album Miles recorded when he moved to Warner Bros and which was rejected by the record company. I also wanted to know more about the many musicians who played with Miles and whom hardly ever get mentioned, let alone interviewed.
In answer to the second question. Miles was a musical giant and saying there are too many books about him is like saying there are too many books about Beethoven or The Beatles (though I suppose you could argue about the latter). Besides, a lot of information in my book is new.
How did you start writing the book?
Very slowly! I interviewed George Duke back in 1998 and was intrigued by his description of how he worked with Miles on Tutu – the first time I had heard about it. I thought it would be interesting to look at the music Miles made in his comeback years. However, for various reasons (including a hectic work schedule!) I had to put the project on hold until 2001. By then a few new books on Miles had been published, but still none of them filled in all the gaps. There’s more on this in the introduction to The Last Miles. I finished the book in autumn 2004.
Why did you want to interview so many people?
Because they’re the ones who know Miles and his music best!
Who did you interview first?
Although I spoke to George Duke first, the first person I interviewed when
Who did you interview last?
It was George Butler and Wallace Roney, and that was thanks to Paul Buckmaster, who put me in touch with both. I talked to them over a weekend and the following Wednesday, my book went off to the publisher. It was great to include them and my book is much better as a result.
Did you get to interview everyone you wanted?
No. I had hoped to interview all 36 members of Miles’s 1980s bands, but was five short. Four members declined and one I couldn’t trace. There were also a number of musical associates who declined to be interviewed. Even so, I was overwhelmed by the response to my interview requests and so many people were fantastically helpful and supportive, even when I was being a pain and repeatedly approaching them for further information. Incidentally, the one band member I couldn’t trace was Rudy Bird, so if you know what Rudy’s up to now, please let me know!
Why did you interview members of Miles’s former bands?
That was a great idea from my friend Jack Kenny. In fact, it was fascinating to hear what people who played with Miles in the 1970s – rightly seen as a fantastically creative period for Miles – thought about the music of the last decade. You’ll have to read the book to find out what they think, but it’s very interesting and very polarised!
Why do you like this music so much? Isn’t it lightweight compared with the stuff Miles did in the 1970s and where is the Kind of Blue of the 1980s?
My criterion for good music is simple: it’s music that moves you; that connects with you, that makes you feel something. Miles’s music of the 1980s does this for me. I also think it’s a rather fatuous exercise to try and compare different periods of Miles’s music: which is better – Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew? Miles Smiles or Agharta? As for the classic albums of the 1980s – I think it’s too soon to say yet, although I certainly feel that Tutu is a strong contender. It was 30 years before the music Miles made in the 1970s was more widely appreciated.
Why are so many people down on the music Miles made in the 1980s?
A combination of reasons. First, many jazz critics grew up to listening to Miles’s earlier music and that’s what connects with them. If you first heard Miles play with the second great quintet and it hit you, that’s most likely to be the music closest to your heart. Miles had a habit of leaving his fans and critics behind and I’ve no doubt that if Miles had lived another ten years, I would have been one of those complaining about the new music he was playing and how it wasn’t as good as the stuff he played in the 1980s! I think some people also felt it was too popular, too commercial, but Miles never saw anything wrong with trying to connect with as many people as possible. But I think the biggest problem is that Miles’s best music of this period was played live – if you simply use the studio albums as a barometer for Miles’s 1980s music, you get a distorted picture. Sadly, for a long time, little of his live music was officially released and there are still many great performances not out there.
Did you learn any surprising things about Miles?
Lots! I was surprised by the huge number of people who spoke warmly about Miles – even those who had left the band under less than ideal circumstances. A lot of people commented on his shyness and his wicked sense of humour. I also think he comes across as a more vulnerable and caring person.
Why did you go for an album-by-album, song-by-song approach?
As I spoke to people, I was accumulating all these amazing stories about how the music was put together. It just seemed natural to present it in this format. Besides, I’ve always liked reading books in this format, because you can read them cover-to-cover or dip into sections or chapters.
What do you hope your book achieves?
I hope it encourages more people to listen to Miles’s music from this period and for more people to write about it.
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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