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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Studio engineer Peter Doell has worked with an impressive roster of artists, from Frank Sinatra to the Grateful Dead and from George Benson to Babyface. Peter also worked on the album Tutu and was involved in the recording of the initial tracks brought in by Marcus Miller - "Tutu," "Portia" and "Splatch." These recordings took place at Capitol Studio B in Los Angeles. He also worked on the overdub sessions for George Duke's "Backyard Ritual" and the Prince tune "Can I Play With U?"

In an exclusive interview with Peter, got to hear more about the background to how the album was put together and how Miles and Marcus Miller worked together in the studio.

Tutu album cover Peter, could you tell us a little about your background and how you got involved in the music business?

Peter Doell: I grew up in Rochester, New York in 1950. It was one of those places which only had three seasons - June, July and Winter, and so it's a good place to stay in doors and practice! It was a really good creative place to grow up in - there was a lot of great music there. One thing I remember was the Eastman School of Music was there. The Eastman used to have a summer concert series, called the "The Arrangers Holiday" and they gave these concerts and you'd hear all these great pieces of music. The guy who was doing the recording of all these show was called Phil Ramone [for those who don't know, Phil is a legendary recording engineer and producer who has worked with many artists including, Burt Bacharach, Tony Bennett, Bono, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Elton John, Quincy Jones, BB King, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Andre Previn, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, Sting, The Rolling Stones and Barbra Streisand]. I remember being fascinated by seeing Phil Ramone run around.

It was year or two after The Beatles came on the scene and I was already a fan of radio and somewhere in the pre-pubescent moment there was the Gestalt that if you knew what you were recording, you could have a less than great song and less than great band and still have a hit on your hands!

Peter Doell
Peter Doell © copyright and courtesy Peter Doell

[Later on, Peter played bass and guitar and put together bands in high school and at college, where he started out studying biology with the view of having a career in medicine. But he changed courses and studied music].

TLM: How did you get from biology to music?!

PD: When I was in college I had a drummer in the band who was in the music department. One day, I was in the music building and this door opened and I saw all these multi-track Scully tape recorders and I said: "Excuse me, what class do you have to be in to get into this room?" It was an electronic music composition department and had the biggest Moog synthesiser. I shifted gears and became an electronic music composer. I worked with a lot of great, whacky people like John Cage and Lejaren Hiller, people who were big names in that style of music, so that was a lot of fun in that period of my life. Of course you graduate with a degree in electronic music composition, so where do you go from that?"

TLM: So what happened next?

PD: I moved to Boston in 1974 ostensibly to hang around with a lot of musician friends of mine and play music. As luck would have it, I stumbled into a recording studio that no longer exists called Dimension Sound and I cut my teeth doing sessions there. I had some background in recording from my college days and kinda fell into a job where I could work in a studio by day and play music at night. I did that until about 1980 and moved out to Los Angeles and did the same thing. I was uncertain whether I was going to be a bass player or an engineer. Bass playing sounded like more fun, but there was so much crap to wade through. But in my first year, I met a guy who managed to get me a job at Wally Heider Recording, where I did a lot of great stuff - the first record I worked on was an Eddie Money record with Tom Dowd [another great engineer/producer, whose artist resume included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Cream]. It was a fantastic experience to work with him. [Peter worked at Wally Heider for about a year and went to another studio, Sunset Sound, where he worked for around 18 months.]

TLM: Any interesting sessions there?

PD: Lots! One of the guys I worked with was insanely talented - he was called Prince. When he first showed up, he was in all-purple and no one could figure out what the heck he was up to. A guy called David Leonard and his wife Peggy used to do his sessions and I got to work on a couple. The guy was so incredibly creative. I remember days when Prince would come into the studio at like 9am, kick you out of the room for about twenty minutes, then he'd write a song - "1999" was a day like that. Then he'd come back into the [recording] room and you'd better have the drums tuned up and ready because he's going to play the daylights out of the drums - he was an incredible drummer. Then he'd go on and do the bass, keyboards and by one o'clock you're mixing it and by four o'clock you run off and have it mastered. So from nine-to-five, you went from not having even written the song to having it mastered. He was an unbelievable cottage industry. [From here, Peter went to Capitol Studios in 1983]

Miles' sketches for Peter
Two sketches by Miles for Peter. Photo © copyright and courtesy Peter Doell

TLM: How did you get to work on Tutu?

PD: I was doing a movie with [film composer] James Newton Howard and he was kind enough to recommend me to Tommy LiPuma, when Tommy needed an engineer. I think Tommy's regular engineer Al Schmitt had had an accident and couldn't work. Anyway, I'm working with Tommy on a George Benson record and Tommy says 'Next week, we got a date with Miles.' And I'm thinking 'Who? He can't be talking about Miles Davis!' but Tommy said 'yes.' I was just aghast at the opportunity to work with the guy. I was very trepidatious about because I'd heard he didn't like white people - and I'm pretty white. Tommy had only worked with him at his home when he was trying to figure out what material to record. So neither of us really knew what it was going to be like, so it was very interesting getting into the sessions.

TLM: What was it like the first time you met Miles?

PD: The first day he shows up and takes off his coat and he looks around and says: 'Usually I get a round of applause when I do this.' Tommy and I look at each other kinda nervously 'okay, here we go. Is this what it's going to be like working with this cat?' And he was just trying to bust our balls, which he did with great relish. He was so much fun to work with. I also remember from those sessions how like the godfather he was. He'd come in and hand me his horn and say 'Keep it warm for me when I'm not playing.' It was so fantastic. He was always drawing on these big Capitol recording pads and he was constantly doodling when he was on the phone or listening to a playback. I got a couple of these. One is of me and he wrote 'Peter' on it and it's of a person running around, which was kinda what I was doing, because I didn't even have an assistant. Miles never came to the studio with an entourage. The first day, he came in with Tommy LiPuma and every other day he came in by himself, except one day when his wife at time Cicely Tyson came down.

Tutu shot
One of the Tutu shots of Miles

TLM: What was it like when you first met Marcus?

PD: He was really quiet and introverted. He's an amazingly studious guy - he's a unique cat. I was a bass player and once I heard this guy play, it was like "Oh my God!" He's a phenomenal player and he had just tore it up in New York doing all these R&B records. I didn't recognise his name but when I heard him play it was like "Wait a moment. You must be the guy in this record and that record."

TLM: How did Marcus Miller work in the studio?

PD: Marcus had been a woodwind player, so to play these melodies and show Miles these things, he whipped out a soprano sax and Miles would say 'get over here and stand next to me' and suddenly the two of them are playing on the record. Marcus was really scared, because he hadn't played the instrument for years, but that guy is an insane talent. I remember the thing he loved to play the most was the bass clarinet and that's got to be one of the hardest things to play. He really inspired Miles on that record.

TLM: What was the studio set-up like?

PD: Marcus brought in his Linn [drum] machine where he had basically written the grooves for the tunes. I had never seen anyone go so radical in terms of programming the drum machine [Marcus worked with Jason Miles on the programming in New York. Jason Miles did not attend the LA sessions, so Peter did not meet him]. So we would lay down the rhythmic stuff and then he'd play the bass. Sometimes he'd play three basses - a fretless, some popping stuff and synth bass. It was so creative how he heard all these basses. There would be this incredible density and yet the impression of all this space. He had amazing insight into recording.

TLM: That would take the best part of a day to lay down?

PD: Oh no - it was really quick with him. In this era [1980s], drum samplers and alternative sources were just coming on-board. The ride cymbal sample we had on "Portia" was incredible. You could have two different samples for two different attacks, a loud one and soft one and you'd pitch them slightly differently. Then we would record with a real snare drum and Marcus would go out [into the studio] and do some drag strokes. So you'd have these two machine sounds and then he'd make it swing with these drag strokes that he'd go out and play - the cat was so clever.

TLM: Then Miles would come in and record on top?

PD: A lot of it was going on with Marcus standing next to him and play the melodies. The trust Miles and Marcus had - they really liked and respected each other. So Miles would do this amazing shit before he knew what the tune was about, but maybe it wasn't in the best place. But Marcus just saw it all as putty. He'd take it and we'd sample it and move it around. Miles was like: "No problem, do whatever you want."

TLM: So there was a lot of editing?

PD: Yes, but that's nothing new in jazz. I knew Tom Dowd had cut a lot of jazz records. He did a couple of John Coltrane records that are arguably the most important ones - he did "Giant Steps" and "A Love Supreme." And he was talking then how John would say "I like the way I play here but can you put it over there?" Tom said he edited a lot of those things and I said: "I know guys who would slit their throats when they hear this.' They had shredded [practised] these solos for years only to discover that Coltrane really didn't play it like that - they were edited together. I'm sure they were fantastic in their raw state, but they were enhanced compositionally with a razor blade. So some of that we did with sampling and moving it around on the 24-track tape - it was really marvellous to see.

TLM: What kind of hours did you work?

PD: It was pretty civilised, late morning, early afternoon. We certainly didn't do any marathon hours. I remember going out to eat a couple of times - Tommy LiPuma likes to eat and knows good wine and good restaurants - with Tommy and Miles and hearing stories about the Los Angeles Jazz scene from Miles, who was here in the 40s - there were some great stories.

Miles sketch of Peter rushing about. Photo © copyright and courtesy Peter Doell

TLM: What was Tommy's role?

PD: He was more of the conduit, a director. Since there was already a nice flow going on between Miles and Marcus, he was more about jogging things along or reinforcing a direction rather than having to steer anybody in any direction. These guys [Miles and Marcus Miller] were tremendously creative and really didn't need any prodding to come up with something interesting. Miles was very good at knowing what he wanted. It wasn't like some people who have to look at something for six months to know whether they like it or not.

TLM: Keyboardist and programmer Adam Holzman was also involved in the sessions, wasn't he?

PD: I'd never heard of this guy, but oh my God, what a creative spark this guy had - he was amazing. I do remember learning a very valuable lesson there. Marcus and Adam were working out some solo Marcus wanted, so they were just screwing around with something and Marcus says: 'Just roll this section, but don't record it,' and Adam played this incredible thing and Marcus said 'That was amazing! Let's hear that back!' and I said 'You told me not to record it!" Ever since then, whenever anybody tells you not to record, you gotta record it!

TLM: How easy was Miles to record? Some engineers say he liked to move around.

PD: I don't remember that being a problem. I know from recording some tenor guys they like to swing around and so you have to compress the sound to make it right, but I don't remember having to do that with Miles.

TLM: What was you reaction when Tutu came out and what was your feeling about the album now?

PD: I was a Miles Davis fan back in the 1960s, but I had to admit that the Jack Johnson was the last record that I felt was great. There were a lot of records after that I thought were kinda garbage. They just didn't appeal to me musically. I always admired Miles, bringing to the fore these unheard of young cats, but musically it didn't rev my motor. So this was the best record since Jack Johnson for me. When we were doing it, I was just thrilled as a Miles fan to hear him go this way and of course you have to take your hat off to Marcus. This record had such a backbone to it and such integrity. I also think I was fortunate to get involved in the first half, because compositionally, the stuff that we did was much better than the other stuff in New York.

TLM: You've worked on so many amazing projects and with so many monumental musicians, so where does Tutu stand?

PD: I have to say that bar none, this album was the greatest of them all. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be working with Miles. It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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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,

"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

"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,

"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,

“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

"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 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.


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