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
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Interview: Eleana (Steinberg) Tee Cobb
The word "polymath" could have been coined for Eleana (Steinberg) Tee Cobb. Over the years, she has been a musician, songwriter, producer, director, poet, dancer, medical hypnotist and more. Eleana hails from Greenwich, Connecticut and over the years she's written, recorded and travelled with many great bands including, The Ellis-Liebman Band ,Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Stuff, Art Blakey, Paul Simon and Tony Williams. Eleana was close to Miles for many years and used to call Miles her "mother", and Art Blakey her "father". She married the superb keyboardist Richard Tee, who had worked with artists such as Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Quincy Jones, Carly Simon and Barbara Streisand. Richard also helped found the band Stuff that included drummer Steve Gadd. Sadly, Richard died in 1993 aged just 49. Eleana has since re-married and her second husband - the drummer Jimmy Cobb - is the only surviving member of the band that recorded the classic album Kind of Blue.
Eleana played a key role in helping Miles return to the music scene after his prolonged absence from the music scene, when in the winter of 1977, she took a sick and broken Miles out of New York to her home in Westport, Connecticut. During his stay with Eleana, Miles's health improved and his interest in making music was re-kindled and on 2 March 1978 Eleana took Miles back in the studio and with the help of Teo Macero recorded a (as yet unreleased) a track with a band that included guitarist Larry Coryell and drummer Al Foster. Also in the band were bassist TM Stevens, plus keyboardists George Pavlis and Masabumi Kikuchi. George Pavlis and TM Stevens talk about the session on this website. Eleana adds new information and another perspective to the session. In this exclusive interview with TheLastMiles.com, Eleana talks about that period and gives a close, personal view of Miles the man and the musician.
TheLastMiles.com: Eleana, can you tell us a little about your background?
Eleana (Steinberg) Tee Cobb: I come from Connecticut. I come from a straight New England type background with a boarding school et cetera. My mother had a chauffeur (my father died in 1953) and I guess he got me into music. I was about ten. He'd take me to The Apollo [theatre in New York] as a kid. I thought of myself as an artist - I'd play a little piano. My mother died when I was twenty. The following winter, I met the saxophonist Dave Liebman in a club called Rapsons in Port Chester, NY and we were together for almost seven years. He introduced me to more music and musicians and he taught me mostly everything I know about music. One day, Miles called him - I remember David saying I don't want to talk to anyone who calls except Miles... David had just finished a three- year stint with the great [drummer] Elvin Jones and Miles happened to call the next morning and I picked up the phone.
TLM: What was your impression of Miles?
EST: Miles and I were like buddies - we were very good friends. He was a brilliant man. He was funny, kind, smart - he had a great sense of style. He was a teacher. He was one of the most creative men I'd ever met. I used to say he was like my mother. I was very close to Miles. We had a great relationship and he taught me a lot about music. He used to put me on the drums and give me a beat to play so he could write. So I'd be playing one lick over and over. We used to box in the morning....until he really started to sting! He was an amazing man. He had a great brain, he had a great wit; he was just a loving guy. He used to ask me to marry him and I'd say: "Get a grip." David and I broke up in 1976 and Miles stayed close during 1976 to 1979. Then we had a fight. It basically had to do with me producing him and Columbia having a nervous breakdown. This was after I had brought Miles in the studio.
TLM: You were around Miles when he dropped out of the music scene. Did Miles ever say why he stopped playing?
EST: Yes, he was tired. Remember he became a drug addict. You have no idea how the life of an American musician works. It's not a groovy life - it's a hard life, and Miles had been working since he was a kid. And he changed the face of American music every decade. But he was also living in America which was a racist place and he had to fight to keep his music going. He had to fight. If he was Leonard Bernstein he wouldn't have had to fight at all. It always amazes me the controversy of why Miles tuned around [from the audience], because he was conducting his band just like Leonard Bernstein. If anyone with half a brain would look at him as a conductor, instead of thinking he was being arrogant and mean spirited with his back to the audience - it was absurd.
Just the fact that people said that was insulting. Every great conductor in the world turns around and nobody says anything. Racism is a huge thing. Musically, he was a brilliant, wonderful, incredibly searching musician. He was searching for a sound - he would listen to Stravinsky. He was an unusual cat. He was a great musician and I don't think he ever got the respect he deserved until his death. He became sick and the world helped to make him that way, because it's not easy being a genius and have everything, and still be treated like you're an underclass citizen. Miles grew up with an educated and well defined family. He did not grow up poor. His mother was a great beauty and his father an educated man, a dentist, and Miles was a talented, handsome kid. Then he came to New York and met Charlie Parker, and the beat goes on from there.
TLM: In his autobiography, Miles paints a dark picture of this period, with him basically sitting in the dark all day and the house in disarray with dishes piled up. Author Eric Nisenson, who stayed around Miles for some of this period, says the same.
EST: This happened before I got to him. This was just a few months in his life, not years - he was not in the dark for five years. I introduced him to Eric Nisenson and I regret that I did, because he took advantage of Miles. It happened through coke, because both of them did coke.
TLM: The story goes that Julie Coryell (wife of guitarist Larry Coryell), persuaded Miles to leave New York and recuperate in Connecticut.
EST: That's not how it happened - Julie and Larry didn't know Miles from Adam before me. I was helping Julie write a book jazz rock fusion and obtained an interview for her with Miles. Miles didn't want Julie to have the interview for less than eight thousand dollars - I gave it to her for nothing. Miles was very annoyed at me. The truth is that Miles was reclusive and very sick and when I went over to his home one day, he was freezing - the heating was off. Miles was famous for having cheques all over the house and never cashing them. He was out of it; very sick and very weak. So I took him home and he stayed with me for the next three months; bringing him back to music, making him healthy and feel good. When he felt good enough we started writing together and that's when he'd put me on the drums. If I hadn't got him out of New York, he would never have made it to the 80s.
TLM: Can you describe a typical day living with Miles Davis?
EST: Miles started watching chipmunks because he was in the country - this was very different from an urban environment. . I would feed him, we would cook (he taught me how to make paella). We would sit on the lawn - he lived a normal life of somebody who wasn't playing music. But I had a big studio on the property. I had a Steinway Grand, drums, etcetera. So we would fool around. I remember the first time he sat down at the piano after he had come out of the city. He put his finger on - maybe a D - and let it resonate. One note - that's how he started to play. I'm sitting there thinking: "This is Miles Davis?" I wrote with [pianist] Bill Evans - I was a lyricist. Bill used to come to my house every day and play. - Miles was looking for the sound. He would start with one note and then he went like a half-step up. I learnt that from him - how to look for the music, because sometimes, you have to search and listen for the music. That's what I got from him. I was so lucky to be there.
TLM: Miles met guitarist Barry Finnerty whilst staying at your home.
EST: I introduced Barry Finnerty to him. We were both from Connecticut. Barry's a great guy, a great player and Miles loved him.
TLM: How did Miles start getting back into the music?
EST: What happened was that we did a tune together and I said: "let's go in the studio and record it."
TLM: How did Larry Coryell and the others get involved?
EST: Julie Coryell was my closest friend. I said: "Let's call Larry", so I introduced them. It's what I do - I put musicians together. Miles used to call Larry "Notes Anonymous [meaning he played too many notes]", so that meeting wouldn't have happened in a million years without my calling Larry in. Al Foster is my brother-in-law, and I called him. I called [keyboardist] George (Pavlis) basically for his equipment, (although I love the way George plays) because I knew Miles didn't want to play trumpet, and he was all excited with the new music and he wanted to use synthesisers. George brought over the keyboards and Miles started playing and started creating. Then we started rehearsing.
TLM: What were the rehearsals like?
EST: They were terrific. The studio was a basic square modern structure with a window wall - we were in the country. It had a huge room with a grand piano and Oriental rug and it was very lovely. We had a cassette [recorder] set up. Miles started with the drums and then Larry would start and they would play in the afternoon. Miles was starting to get excited but he didn't want to play any trumpet - he was tired. I called Don Elliot in Westport - he was a trumpet player who had a studio - but he wanted all the money for recording up front...very funny. So Miles called [his producer] Teo [Macero] and asked him to book CBS. That of course, happened instantly. Miles would record and Teo would do the mixes - he was like a musician. All those records - [In A ] Silent Way - that was Teo.
TLM: What do you recall about the 2 March 1978 sessions, when Miles went back into the studio?
EST: [Columbia executive vice president] George Butler was furious because Miles was supposed to come out of hiding and be produced by Columbia. That's when we had a horrible fight and so Miles and I split up after that.
TLM: George Pavlis says the tune Miles recorded was called "Amanaura."
EST: "Amanaura" was the working title - that was my idea. Miles changed it to "Miss Last Summer" - it was a play on words. That's what was copyrighted.
I remember Miles told Larry to take it, but Larry's company didn't want it, so it was never put out.
TLM: Weren't there plans to do more sessions?
EST: I remember I had to coax Miles to play - it took a while. He was happy but he was exhausted. It was like a beginning. He should have been in the studio for the next three months - that's I wanted to do. I tried to do that but then George Butler started getting funny with the money.
TLM: What did you think of the music Miles made in his comeback years?
EST: I loved that music. Miles Davis created the music and he wanted to get to where he was. "Time After Time", "Tutu" - I loved all of that stuff. Every time you put on a Miles Davis record you're always in some kind of great place. That's what he did with music; he was unforgettable.
Many thanks to Eleana for sharing her memories of Miles.
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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