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 don’t know where the years have gone since TheLastMiles.com was updated. Sadly, in that time, a number of people I interviewed for my book or this website have died, and this is my tribute to them.
Paul Buckmaster (1946-2017)
Paul was one of the last people I interviewed before my Miles book went off to the publisher for production in early 2005. I was very lucky to include him, because he had so many interesting things to say about Miles. Quite often, when you interview someone, you soon lose contact afterwards, but Paul and I stayed in touch up until his death.
Paul was a remarkable man. A talented cellist, arranger and composer, the musicians he worked with – Miles, David Bowie and Elton John, to name but three – tells you all you need to know about how gifted he was. He was also probably the most intelligent man I have ever known – his intellect was astounding and I often marvelled at the width and breadth of his interests and knowledge – and sometimes struggled to keep up with his thought processes. But Paul was also a modest man and I was forever telling him that he ought to write his memoirs, as no one else had worked with Miles, Bowie and Elton.
We kept in touch by phone, email and Skype video, and Paul would often chat at what was the middle of the night in Los Angeles, where he lived. My biggest regret is that we never met face-to-face. Paul had many interests aside from music, including politics and the environment, and he would often send web links or news reports about an issue that was close to his heart. Paul worked with Miles on three occasions – in 1972 on the On The Corner album; in 1979 when Miles was considering a return to music, and in 1986, when Miles asked him to compose some music for his first Warner Bros album. Sadly, none of these collaborations turned out to be a fully satisfying experience for Paul musically – On The Corner didn’t turn out as Paul had anticipated, although many years later he was proud of the album and its subsequent influence on other musicians; Miles failed to turn up for the 1979 session, and Paul’s music was never used for what became the Tutu album.
But Paul had lots of warm thoughts about Miles and said that Bitches Brew was one of the greatest pieces of music ever released. He last saw Miles in 1989 in London, when he went backstage to meet him. Paul shared the same birthday as my wife and last year, he sent a music file of him playing a birthday tune for her, which we will treasure. It was a great shock to hear of Paul’s death and even now, I still can’t believe there won’t be an email or a call from him ever again.
Ndugu Chancler (1952-2018)
Leon “Ndugu” Chancler didn’t play with Miles in the 1980s, but I chatted to him about his time with Miles, when he joined the band as a nineteen year-old drummer for the 1971 European tour. The tour wasn’t a happy one for Ndugu, who left the band at the end of it. But Ndugu had good memories of Miles, “I don’t regret it because it changed my direction and it set me up to be who I am now,” he told me. “I learned so much and it did so much for me. Miles taught me how to grow up. Forget I lost the gig: I learned more than I could have possibly learned on the gig. In the long run I learned more about Miles. Things worked out in the long run in that I went to Miles Davis school. Funnily enough, Miles and I became better friends later.” Miles used to say to musicians if that if things didn’t turn out, it didn’t mean that you couldn’t play – it just meant that he was looking for something different. And indeed, Ndugu’s talents were recognised by artists such as George Duke, George Benson, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock and Frank Sinatra, although he’ll probably be remembered most of all for being the drummer on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Pete Cosey (1943-2012)
Pete Cosey was a phenomenal musician who never got the recognition he deserved. A superb guitarist who developed a unique tuning system, he also played keyboards and percussion. Pete joined Miles’s band in 1973 and stayed with him until 1979. Pete’s playing on albums such as 1975’s Agharta and Pangaea, sounds innovative, fresh and exciting today. When Miles dropped out of the music scene in mid-1975, Pete and the rest of the band played a number of sessions in 1976, but then the work dried up. Pete kept in close touch with Miles during this time, and was involved in a number of abandoned attempts to get Miles playing live or back in the studio.
I interviewed Pete several times – for my book, for this website and for a Jazzwise article I wrote about the On The Corner boxed set. The thing that stands out for me when I remember Pete is that he was a quietly spoken, modest man, with a ferocious memory – his power of recall was astounding. When I asked him about the time when he was recruited by Miles (an event that had occurred more than thirty years earlier), Pete not only recalled how he had been reluctant to join Miles’s band and had instead, recommended some guitar students he was teaching at the time, but he rattled off the students’ names as if it had happened yesterday!
After leaving Miles, Pete struggled to get work, partly because of music business politics, but also because as Pete admitted to me, he didn’t always make the right calls. He was also very difficult to contact, which didn’t help. But his talent and integrity were undiminished, and one of the last things Pete said to me still resonates today: “I wasn't living an easy life. I went through a lot of great struggles but I kept true to the music. I never lost sight of that. I never stopped experimenting, improving and crystallising and creating and I still do that and I never lost sight of that. I realised a long time ago what my mission is and I've stayed true to that.” He most certainly did.
George Duke (1946-2012)
I first spoke to George Duke in 1998. I emailed his website and he replied, giving me his studio number. When I called the number, his lovely wife Corine answered and then put George on the line. To say I found the situation overwhelming would be an understatement. George Duke was one of my musical heroes – in my late teens and twenties I had devoured his albums – Reach for It, Don’t Let Go, Follow The Rainbow, Master of the Game and A Brazilian Love Affair. When I listen back to the interview, I can hear how nervous I was, but what is also clear is how patient George was and how he quickly he put me at ease. I had hoped to write a feature about George for a jazz magazine, but the editor I approached turned it down, adding that George “Wasn’t really a jazz player.” That was the problem he faced: George could play anything – jazz, rock, pop, fusion, Latin. He even composed an opera. He was hard to pin down musically and had an open mind to music – this was a man who had played with both Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley. It is probably why he got on so well with Miles.
Five years after I first called George, I called him again, this time asking for an interview for my book. He readily agreed and was soon recalling a host of anecdotes about Miles, many of them hilarious. George was a fun person, with an infectious laugh. He was quite simply, one of the loveliest people I have ever known. You always felt better after speaking to George. I interviewed him several times and saw him play live a few times (including a memorable gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London). In 2012, Corine died and I didn’t know that George had leukaemia. A couple of months before George died, I emailed him with a query about Miles, which he helped me with. I ended my email by saying that I looked forward to seeing him again the next time he was in London, not knowing that this would never happen again.
Tommy LiPuma (1936-2017)
Tommy LiPuma was a multi Grammy-winning producer, a big name in the music industry, who had worked with many artists including, George Benson, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Earl Klugh - and Miles. He was the sort of person you never expected to interview unless you were a well-connected journalist. So, when I contacted his PA with an interview request, I wasn’t optimistic about my chances. So, you can imagine my surprise when she replied that he would talk to me about Miles and gave me Tommy LiPuma’s home number.
This gives you the measure of the man and also shows the high regard he held for Miles. Tommy LiPuma had a reputation for smooth, polished productions, but he also had the vision and foresight to encourage Miles to go down a new route that would lead to the ground-breaking Tutu album.
The interview went well, even though he had builders in the house and every so often, would break off our chat to give them instructions! It was kind, gracious act to grant me an interview and I felt very fortunate to include Tommy LiPuma in my book.
Jim Rose (died 2014)
I was really pleased when I finally got to interview Jim Rose for this website, because he had been a key part of Miles’s professional life for fifteen years. Jim was Miles’s road manager from 1972 to 1987, and in his autobiography, Miles said he was, “The best road manager I ever had.” When I spoke to Jim, he revealed some of the qualities that made him a superb road manager – a sharp mind; an air of unflappability, an excellent memory for detail and a dry sense of humour. Even though Jim’s time with Miles ended on a sour note, Jim retained much affection for him and they still saw a fair bit of each other. When I asked Jim about his memories of Miles, he said: “I get a warm pleasant feeling because I really loved the guy, even though I got four stitches to show for it from another time when he hit me. He was a real bastard at times, but when he was good he was just great. He was one of the funniest and smartest human beings I ever met in my life.”
Ricky Wellman (1955-2013)
Ricky “Sugarfoot” Wellman was one of three musicians who joined Miles’s band in 1987 and who stayed with him until his death in 1991 (the others were lead bassist Foley and saxophonist Kenny Garrett). The fact that Ricky remained with Miles for so long tells you how highly Miles thought of his playing. Ricky had been a member of Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers, based in Washington DC, and was one of the forces behind the Go-Go beat.
The story goes that Miles heard a tape of the band, fell in love with drumming and got hold of Ricky’s number. When Miles called Ricky’s home, Ricky was asleep and his wife answered the phone. She didn’t know who Miles was and told him that her husband was resting and that he should call back tomorrow! When Ricky heard what had happened, he couldn’t believe it! Fortunately, Miles’s management called the next day and Ricky was on his way. There was no audition – Ricky was sent a concert tape to learn.
Back in 2011, Ricky wrote a piece for this website in which he described the shaky start he had had with the band. But Ricky went onto become the rock of the group, who could lay down a groove, whip up a storm or play as delicately as a petal blowing in a light breeze. Miles would often give him long solos when playing “Carnival” in concerts.
Ricky’s career post-Miles was mixed: he recorded with Kenny Garrett; toured with Carlos Santana and played with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. He was also part of ESP2, a group that played tribute to the music of Miles Davis and included other Miles’ alumni, such as Randy Hall, Adam Holzman and Robert Irving III. But Ricky also for a time moved into the IT industry to better support his family. Miles’s youngest son Erin describes how close his father was to Ricky, “He and Ricky had a very special relationship for a long time. They really worked well together and they really enjoyed playing with each other. He really loved Ricky.”
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, Miles’s 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
the last miles mailing liststay informed of newadditions to this site: