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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As Miles Davis entered 1991 (and what would be the last year of his life) he was making big plans for his next album. Miles was excited by two forms of music: hip-hop and the songs of Prince. Prince had sent Miles around half a dozen tracks from an abandoned jazz album project called Madhouse 24, and Miles was planning to include four of the tracks on his next album, along with some hip-hop tunes.

In March 1991, Miles was touring Germany and Switzerland, and performing the Prince tracks live: a mid-tempo funk number “Penetration,” the 12-bar blues “Jailbait,” the ballad “A Girl And Her Puppy,” and the frantic “R U Legal Yet?” On 26 March 1991, Miles played a concert in Cologne, and a studio session was booked for the next day. On 27 March 1991 Miles and his band entered Bauer Studios, about eight miles north of Stuttgart, with the aim of recording the first three Prince tracks. As it turned out, this would be the last time Miles went into the studio with his working band. Engineering the session was Carlos Albrecht. In this interview (part of which was published in Jazzwise magazine in April 2016), Carlos describes the session.


Carlos Albrecht

The Last Miles: Carlos, can you give us some details about your background please?

Carlos Albrecht: I was born in Berlin in 1943, but brought up in Argentina. I studied mechanical engineering for three years. I also played piano and trumpet in a jazz band, and was a professional musician for two years. I was a big Louis Armstrong fan, but then, I heard Porgy and Bess, and for me Miles was number one – he was a genius. I moved to Dusseldorf and started working as a recording engineer. In November 1972, I started working at Bauer Studios. I later went freelance.

TLM: Bauer Studios has been very successful, particularly with attracting big name jazz artists. What is the secret of its success?

CA: The secret was that my colleague Martin Friedland and I were crazy about jazz and played jazz. We knew the German jazz scene and we made contact with a lot of American musicians at the festivals. We also had a very good grand piano in the studio – a Steinway Concert piano. I think Keith Jarrett did his first ten CDs on that piano.


Bauer Studios

TLM: You’ve worked on more than 1000 CDs. Can you tell us some of the artists you’ve recorded?

CA: Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Liebman, John McLaughlin, Chet Baker, Carla Bley, Paul Motion, Steve Coleman and many others.

TLM: Moving onto the Miles session. When did you hear that you were going to be recording him?

CA: It was on the day. I turned up for work in the morning and was told by my secretary that Miles Davis would be recording that afternoon. I said, “Wow! Miles!”

TLM: How did the day progress?

CA: The plan was that Miles’s road crew would turn up at 2pm with the equipment and instruments, followed by the band around 3pm, and then Miles, at around 6pm. The road crew and band arrived in the afternoon, followed by the band: Kenny Garrett (sax), Deron Johnson (keyboards), Foley (lead bass), Richard Patterson (bass) and Ricky Wellman (drums). The session was in Studio 1. I did a sound check with all the musicians. I started with the drums and got the musicians one by one to come into the recording booth and check the sound. They were very happy with it.


Studio 1 Control Room

TLM: Can you describe the studio set-up?

CA: Studio 1 is a very big room – it used to be a movie theatre. I like having the drums in a big room. The alto sax was in a booth, and the amplifiers for the guitar and bass were in booths. I don’t like using booths, but the amplifiers were too loud to have out in the studio. The musicians were close together – they had a very good connection. I think I used a Neumann U67 microphone for the saxophone. For the drums, I used a DPA 40111 cardioid microphone for the overheads; for the snare, I normally used an AKG 414; bass drum AKG D12, and tom-tom, most probably a Neumann U87. I believe we used a 48-track Studer digital console.

TLM: How did the afternoon progress?

CA: We started recording the backing tracks [for the three numbers]. They told me that Miles would like a short snare sound, like a Prince snare. It was a very nice atmosphere, with lots of laugher and joking. At 6pm there was no sign of Miles and so they made a call and the news was that Miles would now be arriving at 8pm. So we had a short break and had dinner. At 8pm, there was no sign of Miles and they said he would be coming at 10pm. He didn’t arrive at 10pm, but then at midnight, a white Rolls Royce came to the studios and Miles arrived.

[Miles had been driven from Cologne. Some studio employees watched Miles’s road manager Gordon Meltzer help Miles up the studio steps.]

TLM: What happened when Miles arrived in the studio?

CA: We had put a sofa in the studio for Miles, in front of the control room window. Miles came into the studio and sat on the sofa. They handed him his trumpet and a cup of tea. He moved very slowly – I think he was very sick. Miles asked to listen to the backing tracks and – as the band had predicted – told me that he wanted a ‘Prince drum sound’. I asked Ricky Wellman if there was any chance of adjusting his set-up but he said no. I worked with a very hard gate [a gate is a studio device that filters out sounds below a certain threshold and makes it possible to record a hard, punchy, drum sound] and played the sound back to Miles, and he was very happy with the sound.

[After about an hour, Miles and Albrecht met for the first time in the control room.]

TLM: What do you remember about meeting Miles?

CA: My heart was pounding! He was a very small man. His skin was so thin – almost transparent, and there were just a few strands of hair standing up on his head. His eyes were very impressive. We shook hands and his hand was very cold.

TLM: I understand that Miles surprised everybody by deciding to record live with the band, rather than overdub the backing tracks.

CA: He said he liked the playbacks but that he wanted to do them again with the musicians. He took his trumpet with the Harmon mute and his clip microphone and they started the three songs again. He stood very close to the drummer, about 50 centimetres, which caused problems, because of [sound] leakage from his trumpet. I explained this to Miles and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to record my tracks again in New York.’ Miles walked around the studio, pushing the musicians to play harder. The whole atmosphere changed immediately when Miles arrived. The musicians were almost paralysed – there was no joking. In the afternoon, the timing of the rhythm section was perfect, but when Miles was playing with them, it started shaking.


Studio 1

[Around 60 minutes of music was recorded – three takes of “Penetration”, (Garrett on alto sax), five takes of “Jailbait” (with Garrett on baritone sax) and two takes of “A Girl And Her Puppy,” (Garrett played soprano sax). At around 5am, Miles disappeared.]

TLM: You didn’t see Miles again?

CA: The musicians walked into the control room and I asked, ‘where’s Miles?’ and they said he had gone back to his hotel.

TLM: Looking back at the session, what are your thoughts?

CA: It was one of the greatest stories of my life.

[Miles returned to the studio in New York that summer, to record a handful of hip-hop tracks with Easy Mo Bee. Only Deron Johnson from the band would join him in the studio. Miles died almost exactly six months after the Bauer Studios session and never worked again on the Prince tracks. At least one take of “Jailbait” was remixed and planned for release, but Prince refused permission. Today, the music Miles and his band recorded in Germany remains in the vaults.]

Many thanks to Carlos for sharing his memories and for his portrait shot, and thanks to Bauer Studios for the studio photographs.

 

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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, 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.

 

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