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: Jeff Richman
Jeff Richman is one those highly talented guitarists/composers/producers who ought to be much better known than they are. Jeff has released around dozen albums and performed with many artists including, B.B King, John Scofield, Steve Lukather and Eartha Kitt. Just recently his profile has been raised by a string of guitar-based tribute albums, the latest being Fusion for Miles A Guitar Tribute (Tone Center TC-40412), which features cover versions of tunes from Miles's various eras, including several from the 1980s. The guest guitarists include Mike Stern, Bill Frissell, Bill Connors, Pat Martino and Jimmy Herring. Incidentally, if you can get hold of a copy of the November 1981 issue of Down Beat, you'll find a superb transcription by Jeff of Mike Stern's solo on "Fat Time."
TheLastMiles.com talked to Jeff about the album and his thoughts on the music and musicians Miles had in the 1980s.
TheLastMiles.com: Jeff can we start by asking you about the influence Miles had on you musically? What albums, tunes and periods in particular influenced you?
Jeff Richman: The first Miles album I bought was Bitches Brew when I was in high school. I had no idea what was going on in the music, but was very Intrigued. I knew that this music was innovative, mysterious, strange, beautiful and forward thinking. I knew that I wanted to know more and study music deeply. Later, when I was a student at Berklee [College of Music, Boston], I heard Miles play live in one of his classic bands in 1974, and then many times after that. I have been strongly influenced by his direction in music and distinct sound of his instrument.
TLM: In your acknowledgements, you list a number of qualities that made Miles special as a musician. For the benefit of those who've not read them, can you explain again what these were and perhaps expand on them?
JR: The fact that he was constantly changing, never settling for one style. He was able to put great bands together by letting his musicians feel free in the music.
TLM: What's your take on the music Miles made in the 1980s?
JR: I liked it when he first came out with "Man with The Horn," "We Want Miles," "Tutu," "Amandla," "Star People" and "Decoy" - after that, a few things were hit or miss for me. I loved his playing and his bands.
TLM: "Fusion for Miles" is the third in a series of guitar tribute albums you've been involved in (the others covering John Coltrane and The Mahavishnu Orchestra), can you tell us about the concept behind the series?
JR: Well since I have always been a big Miles fan, I suggested the concept to Mike Varney, the head of Tone Center Records and he decided to go for it!
TLM: There have been a number of tribute albums to Miles. Have any of them especially impressed you or influenced you?
JR: The one I loved, wasn't really a tribute album, but it was Panthalassa produced by Bill Laswell. It was a remix CD, but I loved how he arranged the music!
TLM: How did you approach "Fusion for Miles." With Miles's vast musical heritage, it must have been a challenge to select just ten tunes to represent it?
JR: I actually wanted to choose tunes from different eras. I chose songs that I like from various periods of Miles's career. I guess what holds it together as a unified projects are the arrangements played by the same band.
TLM: How long did it take to put together - and when and where was it recorded?
JR: It took about three months to arrange all the tunes, I worked really hard on making the arrangements work organically, so sometimes I had to be patient and rework things until I was satisfied. We recorded basic tracks in a few days with the rhythm section. Then I overdubbed each guitarist individually, that took a few months just to get everyone's schedule together. So I would say with mixing and mastering the whole project took at least six months for start to finish.
TLM: You put together an impressive core band - how did this decide who would form it?
JR: [Drummer] Vinnie Colaiuta is the most amazing drummer I know because he seems to understand everything instantly and then add something special and innovate so organically - and so quickly and effortlessly - it's just amazing. [Bassist] Alphonso Johnson is well versed in all styles and at the same time he has is own unique style and sound which always comes throughout the music.
TLM: Dave Liebman appears on some cuts - how did he get involved in the project?
JR: Well Miles almost always had a sax player to partner up with, so I thought it would be nice to add that voice and sound occasionally. The record is so guitar heavy that it is nice to take some breaks from it. Luckily Liebman was into it, played incredibly great and added validity to the project since he played with Miles!! I actually saw him play with Miles in the '70's in Boston!
TLM: You have a great mix of guitarists! How did you select them for the project and did they have any say over the songs they wanted to cover or did you assign them to each player?
JR: I think Mike Stern is the only one who asked for "So What", so I tried real hard to make that arrangement special for him. That one is fun to perform live, it has a great flow to it. All the others I thought about which tune would work best for each player. Nefertiti seemed right for Frisell, Serpents Tooth for Martino and so on.
TLM: The only guitarist on the album who played with Miles was Mike Stern (who plays on "So What"). Did he give you any insights into Miles's music that helped you with the project?
JR: He didn't give me any specific insights in regards to this project, but I have been close to Mike since we went to college together since 1976. So he has told me lots of things about playing with Miles over the years. I know that he a special fondness guitar , I would hope that he would have liked this CD. [See Mike's profile in The Last Miles's Guitarists section].
TLM: I'd like to focus on the three tunes you selected from the 1980s - "Splatch" (which you play on), "Jean-Pierre" and "Back Seat Betty." What qualities determined their selection?
JR: These were tunes that I really liked and that I thought I could stretch arrangement wise.
TLM: Where there any tunes left in the can from the project?
JR: None, we did ten total.
TLM: In the last four years, Miles's "guitarist" was Foley, who in fact played "lead bass" by tuning his bass up an octave, using pedal effects and developing new ways of phrasing. As a guitarist, what's your take on this concept?
JR: To be honest, I just couldn't get into him. He sounded like a bass player on a piccolo bass (which I guess that's what it was). He didn't have the guitar player's touch, sound or feel.....especially when you think of his three previous guitarists!!! Scofield, Stern and Ford - who all have that going on for them big time.
JR: They all have their place in the evolution of Miles Davis incredible careers and adventure in music. Some guitarists I relate to more than others, but they all have a piece in the puzzle of an astounding work of art!
TLM: Are you planning another guitar tribute album and if so, any clues as to whom the subject might be?!!
JR: Currently I am working on a Steely Dan tribute CD!!!!!!!!!
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
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