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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Part one 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.

Randy Hall

Randy Hall's orbit crossed Miles's a number of times during the 1980s, but his role in the music Miles made in the 1980s is often overlooked. Randy Hall is a singer/guitarist/producer, who grew up in Chicago. His first instrument was the piano, but at thirteen, he switched to guitar, taking guitar lessons from British jazz guitarist Peter Budd. Despite Budd's best efforts, Hall adopted a playing technique similar to Wes Montgomery, whereby the thumb is used as a pick. Even so, Hall can play fast and explosively (if you want evidence of this, check out the opening number "One Phone Call/Street Scenes" on the ESP 2 DVD "A Tribute to Miles.").

Hall had met Miles's nephew (and future drummer) Vince Wilburn Jr at kindergarten and the two became life-long friends. Wilburn's mother Dorothy, was Miles's sister. When Wilburn heard rumours that Hall was now playing guitar and sounding like Jimi Hendrix, he decided to check out his friend. "I went to see Randy and he just floored me," recalls Wilburn. The two friends started playing together and at the age of sixteen, joined a local band Time, Space and Distance.

The two young musicians' musical prowess soon gained them a reputation around Chicago and they did session work for local groups, including The Dells. When Hall and Wilburn were around seventeen, Pete Cosey, who had played in Miles's band from 1973-1975, began giving the youngsters lessons. "We were doing gigs with Pete, festivals and things like that. Pete would play bass and I would play guitar," recalls Hall. In 1975, Hall went off to study music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. When Hall returned to Chicago, he joined a new band called Data, which included Wilburn, bassist Richard Patterson, keyboardist Robert Irving III and saxophonist Glenn Burris. All of these musicians would later form Miles connections, with Patterson becoming the last bassist in a Miles Davis band and the others working on Miles's comeback album, The Man With The Horn. Irving and Wilburn would also join Miles's band in the 1980s.

The Man With The Horn

And there were even more remarkable Miles connections with this group of young Chicagoan musicians. Hall, Irving and Wilburn would jam with other local musicians, including bassist Darryl Jones (who joined Miles's band in 1983) and guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, who played on the Amandla album. In 1979, Data disbanded and a new band was formed, AL7, which included Hall, Wilburn, Irving, Burris, bassist Felton Crews (who also joined Miles's band) and Hall's sister Saundra, a vocalist.

Although AL7 performed some gigs, their main preoccupation was rehearsing and writing material. They also worked with arranger Tom Washington (known as Tom Tom 84), who had close connections with another local band, Earth, Wind & Fire. Tom Tom 84 recorded several demos with AL7, including a track called "Space," which had been written by Robert Irving III. Miles often called his sister Dorothy on the phone and took a close interest in his nephew's musical progress. It was during a call to Dorothy in early 1980 that Miles heard the track "Space" and was gripped by the music. It was this music that finally got Miles to return to the music scene after a five-year break (however, the break wasn't total - Miles had been involved in a number of aborted musical projects during 1976-80).

Robert Irving III
Robert Irving III Photo courtesy and © Robert Irving III

Miles's record label, Columbia Records, was so excited by the prospect of Miles playing again that they flew four of the AL7 band members - Hall, Wilburn Crews and Irving - from Chicago to New York, booked them in a top-flight hotel and arranged recording sessions. Hall says his reaction to the news that they would be working with Miles was: "Like a dream." Glenn Burris later joined the four and although he was at many of the sessions, he didn't play. Instead, the four Chicagoan musicians were joined by a young saxophonist Bill Evans, who had been recommended to Miles by ex-band member Dave Liebman.

The young musicians would work on the music at Miles's house most days and eventually, they went into the studio and recorded more than a dozen tracks, although Miles didn't play on any of them at this stage. One of them was "Shout," a disco-funk track written by Hall, Irving and Burris. Another was "The Man With The Horn," a tribute ballad to Miles written by Hall and Irving. The tune would not only become the title track for Miles's comeback album, but it would also become one of the most controversial recordings of Miles's career, not least because it featured the vocals of Randy Hall, who also played guitar, synthesiser and celeste on the track. "Miles really liked my voice, but I didn't think I would actually be singing on a Miles Davis record," recalls Hall. There were plans for Hall to join Miles on-stage and perform "The Man With The Horn," but this didn't happen, although Hall performs the song on the ESP 2 DVD.

ESP2 : A Tribute To Miles

The release of The Man With The Horn gave Hall a lot of exposure and as a result of his singing on the title track, he was invited to join the soul/funk band Pleasure. Even so, Hall kept in touch with Miles and every so often, he would be asked by Miles to compose some songs. One of them was written for The Rolling Stones, but was rejected by the band. But that didn't stop Miles using the song's title (but not the music) - for his 1984 album Decoy.

After leaving Pleasure, Hall carved out a successful career as an artist/producer and in 1984, he released a solo album, I Belong to You, produced by Ray Parker Jr (of Raydio and "Ghostbusters" fame). The album included contributions from Irving, Wilburn, Crews and Burris. In 1985, Hall was in Ray Parker Jr's studio, (Ameraycan) in Los Angeles, recording a follow-up solo album, Love You Like A Stranger. Once again, Crews and Irving were involved in the sessions. Meanwhile, Miles had left Columbia Records after almost thirty years and signed with Warner Bros records, with Warner's head of jazz Tommy LiPuma given the responsibility of handling Miles's musical development. During the initial stages, LiPuma was happy for Miles to choose his own musical direction. Miles decided that he wanted Hall to produce his first album for Warner Bros.

Hall decided to work with a number of people from the Love You Like A Stranger sessions on the new Miles album. One of these was Atalla Zane Giles, who had played guitar, keyboards, bass and sang on the album. Giles was asked to compose, arrange and produce the new album with Hall. Engineer Reggie Dozier was asked to join the project, as were keyboardist Adam Holzman (who later joined Miles's band), bassist Cornelius Mims, percussionist Steve Reid, Burris and Wilburn. More than a dozen tunes were recorded during the sessions, which took place between October 1985 and January 1986 and the plan was to release an album called Rubberband. "Miles wanted the street thing," recalls Hall, and so many of the tracks had a raw, funky edge to them (coincidentally, one of the tracks was called "Give It Up," the same name as a hit tune for Pleasure.).

But when LiPuma heard the Rubberband material, he was unimpressed and the album was left in the can - Miles went on to work with Marcus Miller and record Tutu. Later on, Miles's performances from a couple of the Rubberband sessions were used to create new tracks on the Doo-Bop album - much to the distress of Hall and Giles. Two tunes from the Rubberband sessions were due to appear on a retrospective set called The Last Word, but even this was abandoned. "I don't know what it was about Miles, but we always seemed to be jinxed," says Hall, "but it was a great experience to work with him. I only wish that the things we did together had come out."

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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, 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.

 

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