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 1984, Annabel Jankel and her partner Rocky Morton directed Miles’s first music video, “Decoy.” The video, shot in black-and-white, combined film with computer graphics and animation, a technique pioneered by Jankel and Morton in the pre-MTV days and which subsequently influenced many music video directors.

You can watch the Decoy video on YouTube.

For the shoot, Miles was placed on a turntable with a Hot-Head camera (which can pan 360-degrees) whizzing around him. Jankel and Morton got Miles to mime and spin his arms around to create streams of coloured graphics (which were added in post-production). Guitarist John Scofield also appears, although you only see his hand on the guitar fingerboard. Today, more than 20 years after it was shot, the “Decoy” video still looks fresh. I interviewed Annabel for The Last Miles, but during a whistle-stop trip to London (Annabel now lives in LA), we met and I got to ask her a little more about the making of the “Decoy” video.

Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Decoy video
Screen grabs from the Decoy video © Columbia Records. Click for larger image.

GC: Were you a Miles fan before you got the video commission?

AJ: Rocky and I used to be punks, but like many people we had one or two of the important Miles Davis albums, things like Kind of Blue.

GC: Why did you and Rocky get the commission?

AJ: I’m not really certain, but I think they [Columbia Records] realised that they needed to drag Miles into a new audience and it seemed possibly the way to do it was by combining animation, graphics, whatever. So we got the call and of course, we were very excited about that. Our first reaction was ‘THE Miles Davis? This wasn’t some MiIes Davis from Neasden High Street [in London]?!’ We thought Miles was just way too iconic and we didn’t even know that he was still alive.

GC: Describe your first meeting with Miles

AJ: Obviously Miles had to sign us off [approve] and we went to a meeting with him at Columbia Records in this great big board room with a huge table. He came in and he was very, very angry, but I only came to realise later that it was really a front. He had this very elaborate walking stick and he proceeded to start strangling it and at the same time there was this terrible diatribe against everybody – whites, blacks, Jews, non-Jews. He was very bummed because he would drive his Ferrari around and being black, it wouldn’t go down too well with the white policemen and so he’d be pulled over. I remember him complaining about that.

GC: Your concept for the video and Miles’s concept were very different!

AJ: He was very enthusiastic about doing something that involved dancing girls! A sort of can-can in the desert. The piece of music was really a beautiful piece of music and I didn’t want to have something flash, like a whole bunch of Playboy Bunnies prancing around the desert. I would have been forever mortified if I’d had something to do with it. So we set about convincing him. “Miles, that’s a fabulous idea, but there’s a certain expectation, an iconic status that you have. There’s all the gravitas that comes with the name Miles Davis.’

GC: How did he take it?

AJ: It took a little bit of persuasion! I think he tried to hang on to his idea for quite a while, but eventually he became convinced that it wasn’t a good idea. I think he liked the idea of the experience of being in the desert with the dancing girls rather than the end result!

GC: Did you have a concept for the video when you met Miles?

AJ: I’ve got a feeling that we did – I can’t exactly recall. There wasn’t a second meeting, so I’m pretty sure we would have pitched it when we first met Miles. Obviously it went down well at the time, so it was news to me when I read the passage in your book that he didn’t really like the video. He never really commented on it to tell you the truth. We never had any further contact with him and there was no reason to. We shot, edited it, we did the animation, put it all together and the record company was very happy. And then we moved on to the next project.

GC: Where was it shot?

AJ: In New York. We hired a small stage and we had managed to work the budget to hire an expensive, brand-new piece of equipment, the Hot-Head. It gave us the latitude to allow Miles to play with his back to the camera, which was his signature thing. He didn’t really want the camera down his neck. We could explore him as if he was the instrument.

Annabel with Miles
Annabel Jankel directing Miles during the shooting of the “Decoy” video.
Photo courtesy of Peter Shelton and Annabel Jankel. © Peter Shelton

GC: You went to Miles’s place to look at his clothes and trumpet for the shoot?

AJ: We got invited to visit the great Miles Davis in his home environment and we felt very privileged. It was a huge apartment but strangely claustrophobic, because there was grey carpet, on the floor, up the wall and maybe even on the ceiling. Maybe it was some sort of sound-proofing. He was wonderful and Cicely Tyson answered the door and she was incredibly gracious and glamorous - diva-like. Miles was dressed casually. I remember him having loads of leather jackets and throwing them all over the bed for us to look at. We chose one and he was very happy with it.

GC: But getting the right trumpet wasn’t so easy!

AJ:We said “Okay Miles, which trumpet are you going to use?” And he pulls out this terrible bright, shocking pink, anodised trumpet! We hadn’t decided to shoot in black-and-white at this stage. So we say: ‘Miles, Miles Davis doesn’t play the pink trumpet, what else have you got? So he then pulls out a turquoise anodised trumpet and then he pulls out another one! It was like: “Miles where’s the trumpet that you play?’ and he said “This is what I play.” So we get to the shoot day and we ask him to bring a normal trumpet, but he doesn’t bring one. We were very confused, because we had Miles, but we didn’t have a trumpet. So we sent a PA [personal assistant] out to the local pawn shop and they managed to get a trumpet. But the trumpet was jammed up – it wouldn’t play at all, so all the time is ticking away and we’re thinking “We’re going to have to get another trumpet.”

“No, no, no,” says Miles, “I can fix this,” and so over the course of the two-day shoot, he made it his business to entirely take apart this clapped-out trumpet, clean it and fix it. He’d give various instructions to PAs to get this screwdriver and those cotton wool buds, this cleaning fluid and that. It was this huge surgical procedure and ultimately he restored the trumpet to working order during the downtime between takes. The end of the shoot came and it was like ‘what happens to the trumpet?’ The trumpet sort of demanded that it went back to the pawn shop. It had Miles’s magic infused into it and we loved the idea that we were going to put it back into the community and some unsuspecting soul was going to have the trumpet that Miles had personally put all his love and attention into. It seemed rather nice, that without knowing it, someone was going to get touched by the Miles magic.

GC: Tell us about the concept

AJ: It was one of those very naturalistic pieces of film making, even though it’s very stylised. It almost felt as if it pre-existed. Black-and-white Miles pre-existed, the way of shooting him pre-existed. I don’t recall there being a huge amount of agonising over the concept, although I know that Rocky and I story-boarded it out [GC note: sadly this has long since gone]. It became very clear to us that it had to be in black-and-white because we felt that was the world that Miles lived in. We had a full-time editor, Andy Gilman. We said to Andy that we wanted to deconstruct everything that we had shot and to treat the editing like Miles would treat his trumpet playing – to sort of free-form. Not to feel bound by any narrative or chronology but just edit from the gut and he did a wonderful job. He pieced it together and then we did the animation, which took two or three months.

Annabel Jankel
Annabel Jankel in 2005

GC: Tell us about the shoot itself.

AJ: We didn’t have long involved takes. He wasn’t exactly delicate, but everyone knew he needed to be well looked after, so to exhaust him wasn’t tenable. I remember him drinking endless bottles of Perrier water – little bottles. So he certainly wasn’t on the booze or anything alternative. He was being really good and extremely cooperative after the initial resistance. He really didn’t get the miming, but it didn’t matter because he didn’t know what it was going to look like, though he knew he was going to be creating colours and effects. He was fantastic and wanted to do it until he got it right – he was a consummate professional.

GC: You also shot John Scofield playing the guitar, but we don’t see his face.

AJ: You couldn’t really, because it might have slightly taken away the sense of isolation. We wanted Miles to exist in his own world, a world where he was creating music and colour.

GC: We see Miles sitting at the beginning of the video and at the end, there’s a kind of symmetry.

AJ: It was also like a book with two covers and between them was the experience.

GC: You say there were two versions of it?

AJ: There was one which went through what at the time was a very modern pixellator processor. You used to turn a dial and it all suddenly went blocky, but in fact, I think the purer version with the animation not being fiddled around worked better.

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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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