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
Interview: Chris Parker
Chris Parker: Actually, although my Dad played drums in the house along with so many great records, my choice of instrument was the trumpet based on the resonance I felt with the sound of Miles. I practiced with a Harmon mute and sat in a chair the way I saw Miles sitting on the back of an album. I played drums too of course, but initially, only in the dance band; in all the more formal orchestras, I played trumpet and later euphonium/baritone horn.
TLM: You grew up to listening to three mighty Ms of jazz - Mingus, Monk and Miles. What was special about the music of Miles, and were any tunes or albums highlights for you?
CP: The mighty 'Ms' indeed! Many of Miles' tunes really hit me, demanding repeated plays on the mono record player especially, "Milestones", "So What", "Bags' Groove'" and "Walkin.'" I was endlessly entertained and transported to a place where aspirations had no limit.
TLM: What drummers influenced you?
CP: All of Miles' drummers from the start; Kenny Clarke, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams. Philly Joe particularly impressed me because, you could hear a sense of humour, in addition to the propulsive time keeping, unorthodox fills and fours. He played the song form in his solos and drove the band relentlessly. And then Tony Williams; he was breathtaking; a whole new level of interaction with the soloists and timekeeping.
TLM: What skills do you need to become a good drummer?
CP: There are many skills needed to become a good drummer: good time, very importantly, then one's technical proficiency; the rudiments being the scales melodic players practice. Perhaps even more important, an awareness of lots of different styles of music and a mental sketchbook of the individual drummers who play those styles with a definitive tune representing a taking off point when one is asked to emulate someone in particular for a specific recording. That, plus a good deal of diplomacy and a desire to support the artist, their music, and/or the lyrics, rhythmically.
TLM: How do the disciplines of being a session drummer differ from playing live with a band?
CP: Being a 'session drummer' probably requires more of the previously mentioned 'diplomacy'. Also, learning how to come up with parts that can be detailed to include input from other players, the artist, producer and engineer. Playing live with a band is not that different except, once you've played it, it's out there. So, there is less opportunity to change the groove, the tempo, the fills leading to new sections or even the volume. There is often a disconnect between what worked well in the studio for a recording and what works well live. With technology today, those two differing approaches can be much more closely intertwined using loops, samples of the recorded sounds and tempo maps.
TLM: Studio or stage - do you have a preference, and if so, why?
CP: Today, I prefer playing live simply because so much of what's considered recording is one player at a time layering parts to an existing track. Live, one has the other players to interact with, and the audience to perform for and to act as a barometer of your communication skills. They should be dancing or nodding in tempo, hopefully.
TLM: I was intrigued in an interview you did, where you talked about finding the right attitude for a tune, can you explain what you mean?
CP: Finding the right attitude can be as simple as taking a cue from the artist verbally; something was said after the first rundown that highlighted a lyrical moment or punctuated the arc of the story being told harmonically, or christened a metaphor which illustrated the type of approach desired by the artist, producer, director or arranger. It's at these moments that I write down my interpretation as well as take a metronome marking of the rundown tempo. So many of the directions one hears in the studio can be misleading, inappropriate or counterproductive. That's where that diplomacy and patience often come. With my notes, rhythmic figures and tempo markings, I have some reference points with which to build my parts, my dynamics and the perspective view of the whole track.
TLM: Recording used to involve the artist (such as a singer) being in the studio with the band as the track was being laid down; then came overdubbing. Now, musicians are increasingly being sent a music file over the internet, recording their part in a home studio and emailing it back. Do you think increasing use of technology has taken something special from the creative process or has it expanded the possibilities?
CP: This is a huge question that will be debated for years to come, but I believe the technology is inevitable and has ultimately expanded the possibilities of the creative process. I personally will always prefer to be in a studio with the artist, the arranger, the engineer and all the other players to react to; to push and hold back, and drive to a musical destination. However, an artist who has worked alone or with a producer, co-writer or engineer, to develop the concept for his song brings a much more concerted effort and eliminates a lot of the questions that might have come up during the session. This can be good for the artists' vision and nondestructive mixing and editing can replace some of the spontaneity that happens in real time with individual players, even adding to the uniqueness of a composition.
TLM: Any sessions stick in your mind and if so, why?
CP: A session with [vibraphonist] Lionel Hampton produced by Teo Macero, with [bassist] Anthony Jackson, [guitarist] Joe Beck, [pianist] Bobby Scott and me, was one of the most tempestuous. There seems to have been a long standing feud -origin unknown to me- between Joe and Bobby, which Lionel, ever the gentleman, tried to intercede and mollify, with the result being Teo's involvement and even more fireworks all the while Lionel, Anthony and I jammed acoustically in the studio! The record came out, but every time I hear it, I recall the vicious arguments Joe, Teo and Bobby were having. Mostly Blues is the CD.
TLM: Tell us about that remarkable band Stuff. I understand you got drummer Steve Gadd the gig with the band?
CP: Stuff was remarkable and fierce. Originally called "The Encyclopedias of Soul," it was led by Gordon Edwards on bass, Cornell Dupree, guitar, Richard Tee, piano, and Charlie Brown, tenor. It sometimes featured the vocalist Esther Marrow too. I met Gordon on a session and he asked me to come and sit in at his gig at [the club] Mikell's on 97th and Columbus. When I arrived that night, he said: "You're on," and I sat in and never left. He told me: "Come in again the next night too." Mikell's was home to Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Roy Haynes, Freddie Waits, and Art Farmer, to name a few of [owners] Pat and Mike Mikells' regular jazz artists, but Gordon asked for the slowest nights of the week, Sunday and Monday. We gradually established a loyal audience and soon lost Esther and Charlie but gained [guitarist] Eric Gale, who had been on the studio scene for years.
After two years, the band was a better draw than the jazz acts, and we would play every night of the week, gradually, shaping the book to include the current R&B hits, as well as our own interpretations of country, gospel, reggae and rock tunes. I happened to go to the Village Vanguard [jazz club] to see [saxophonist] Joe Farrell one night and met Steve Gadd. We became friends, and one of the things Steve talked about was him wanting to play R&B, as his background up until then was jazz. I told him I had the perfect band for him and asked him to sub for me when I was working with the Brecker Brothers band. We traded off for awhile before Gordon said: "I need you both."From then on, we had two kits on stage and played together, along with Eric and Cornell, Richard and Gordon. This became Stuff; a golden era of six way improvisation and a musical education I had always wanted.
TLM: Tell us about your time with The Brecker Brothers.
CP: When I moved back into the city after living in Woodstock, NY, the building had [bassist] Will Lee on the first floor, [the late keyboardist] Don Grolnick on the fourth floor, and [guitarist] Steve Khan lived a few blocks away. We formed the Carmine Street Band and rehearsed in Don's small apartment. Mike and Randy would come over and [saxophonist] Dave Sanborn too, to read through Randy's new arrangements. This became the Brecker Brothers Band, and we did three albums, and toured the US and Canada.
TLM: You've worked with Steely Dan's Becker and Fagan, although I understand the first time (a session for the Gaucho album) was a tough gig for you.
CP: The Gaucho sessions with Donald and Walter were tough for me because the bass player was about twelve hours late to the date. So, that left a lot of time for the engineer and producer to experiment with drum sounds, drum heads and approaches to the track. We finally got a take that they ostensibly, accepted; the parts were what they wanted. When the record came out, it was Rick Marotta on that track: "Time Out of Mind."
TLM: Becker and Fagan have a reputation for being highly demanding in terms of their musical expectations - what is it like trying to achieve those expectations?
CP: It is a very high-minded endeavour driven by their musical knowledge and meticulous sonic awareness. The groove, the parts, the attitude; all have to be in concert and have to be recorded perfectly, especially the drums. Donald's album, Kamakiriad, was nominated for Record of the Year and I successfully played on four tracks over five years of recording. The last session I did was "On the Dunes" at their studio in Maui [Hawaii] and was unique because it was just Donald and I in the studio; Walter played bass later.
TLM: What was it like working with Dylan?
CP: I loved working with Dylan. It was three and a half years of nonstop worldwide touring and because the band was small, arrangements stayed flexible, which kept things interesting. There were some truly amazing nights when various luminaries were sitting in - George [Harrison] and Ringo, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joe Walsh or Jerry Garcia - made for an updated set list and lots of fiery solos and vocal duets.
TLM: I understand you got the "Shout" remix gig through your association with Ashford and Simpson?
CP: I had been working on Ashford and Simpson's last few records at Sigma Sound [studios in New York) and knew Jimmy, knew the room and the drums, and was comfortable. There were several hits from that period, "Don't Cost You Nothing," "Found a Cure" and "Love Don't Make it Right," among others for Gladys Knight and Teddy Pendergrass, which Nick and Val produced. I was called and asked to just lay it down; a simple groove to ground the active bass and synthesizer parts.
TLM: Can you tell us about the process of recording your overdubs, and also what advice did Jimmy Simpson give you? Did executive producer George Butler have any input? Did you have any interaction with the engineer John Potoker?
CP: At the time, Miles' final solo had yet to be decided so each successive take, I would be playing to one of seven different recorded solos - each one fantastic- and the advice was, to just stay in the pocket and not react to Miles' ideas, which were all brilliant, exploratory, fully realised adventures. Any input that Dr. George had, I missed, except for some encouragement on my way to the drum booth: "Yes, one more like that please." I really do not recall any verbal interaction with John Potoker; he was familiar to me as an engineer though and we were cordial yet concentrated on the project at hand.
TLM: You finally heard the remix almost 30 years after it was recorded! What was your reaction to the music?
CP: I was pleased to hear the remix - liked it better than the album version - and thought it stood up well. Hearing it made me proud to have been on that session. Thanks for getting it to my ears!
TLM: Miles Davis's music went through so many changes. Is there a particular period you like?
CP: I loved "Walkin'" - I wore that record out on my mono turntable, Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, ESP and later Bitches Brew.
TLM: What did you think of the music Miles played in the last ten years of his life - from The Man With The Horn - to Decoy - to Tutu - to Doo-Bop?
CP: I was so involved in my own career that I did not have the luxury of the time to listen deeply to any of those records. I had been working with [bassist/producer] Marcus Miller on other projects and I was impressed by Tutu. I liked Al Foster's drumming on Decoy. There was a live recording I heard of a band that included Mino Cinelu on percussion, whom I later worked with in Japan; he is a wonderful player and very spontaneously musical.
TLM: What does it feel like, having a musical association with Miles?
CP: It feels great; an honour and a privilege; to have worked with Miles, one of my earliest heroes, and an inspiration to continue to study, play, and record music.
Many thanks to Chris. Check out Chris's website - www.chrisparkerdrums.com
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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