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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What was Miles Davis like as a person? What was it like to play with Miles on-stage? The best persons to answer these questions are the musicians who had the privilege of playing in Miles' bands. Drummer Ricky "Sugar Foot" Wellman was one of them. Ricky joined Miles' band in May 1987 and stayed with him, right up until Miles' final gig on 25 August 1991. Ricky has kindly put together his thoughts about Miles for TheLastMiles.com

Ricky Wellman

There are many things I could say of my friend, mentor, and employer Miles Davis, regarding the time I spent with him from 1987 to 1991, but these are the most memorable.

Miles after my first performance

I played my first concert with Miles in 1987. I was 32 years old and very excited to have the opportunity. We arrived a day before the concert and my excitement didn't afford me a restful night. Anyone who's every attended a Miles concert knows that Miles engenders passion from those who play with him. I didn't want to disappoint him or the rest for the band.

We set up and tested our instruments one hour before the first attendees were allowed in, and again 10 minutes before the show began. Most people don't know how much the temperature can change the sound of an instrument, but it was because of such details that Miles insisted that we did the second soundcheck, as he listened to the sound backstage. Miles would not begin a show until he was satisfied that that everything was right. We began the concert, and my excitement began to show. My timing would fluctuate from song to song. I could see this in Miles eyes, and I struggled to keep it together.

The concert ended two hours later and I was exhausted. Not so much from playing but from the fear that Miles would explode, as he was known to do. I was one of the last to leave the stage, just so that I could steady myself for what I knew would come. Once I was backstage, I knew I was in trouble. Other members were glaring at me, while others just looked away. Miles turned to me, reached into his pocket, pulled out a full pack of chewing gum, and tossed it to me. He said, "Here Ricky, chew this just before the next concert and calm down! This way you won't be so fuckin' nervous!" With that, it was over, and my career with Miles was saved.

Ricky and Miles

The generous Miles

I can't remember when I saw the 60 Minutes feature on Miles but I smiled when he was showing his collection of cars. It was one of Miles' passions, and like his music, he wanted the best in cars. I had visited him at his home some time prior to the interview and I had the same tour, but with one difference. Miles said in the raspy voice that we loved, "Ricky, do you want to drive any of these cars? Pick one! Just not the red one!" I knew that one was his favourite. Imagine having your choice for well over two million dollars in cars to choose from and drive anywhere you wanted to!

Ricky Wellman at the drums

Miles speaks

Miles spoke the deepest through his music. Just like no two moments in time are the same, Miles spoke one-on-one to his fans, each night we performed, through his music, and I've experienced this first hand.

We had been touring for some months, and it is true, that life on the road is not easy. Most times, we are only in a city for a night or two. Most of the time we were engaged in practice, sleep, or performing; there was little time for sight seeing. Then we would move on to the next city or country and do the same. With few breaks in between, we all become testy. Couple that with Miles' drive for perfection and that created an explosive mix.

This happened once when I didn't care if I played another day for Miles or not. He said something and I told him, "I'm out of here after tonight's performance and fuck you." I just wanted to be home with my family and have a normal life where I didn't lose up to five pounds of water weight a night under the spot lights. Miles knew this, but was never known to say that he was sorry about anything. We started that night's performance and I thought about leaving the band as I played. Midway through the evening Miles had all of us stop playing, as he performed a solo. There was nothing special about this, Miles performed solos all the time; the band performed the song "Time after Time" but this time he dedicated the solo to me.

He stood and played directly in front of me for the entire song. He played from his heart and soul in a way that eclipsed the loudest thunderstorm, and was as soft as leaf when it lands on the ground in the fall. Every note said, "I'm sorry, I love you man, and forgive me for being so hard on you." Miles played solidly as he walked around stage. Each note created just for that moment which had never been rehearsed or played since. As he walked towards me, I broke down in tears and bawled like a child. No acknowledgement has ever been so personal. Miles concluded, the crowd went wild, not knowing what had just been exchanged between two men dedicated to their entertainment, and we went on to perform for many more days to come.

 

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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, 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.

 

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