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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Steve Khan was voted one of the 22 greatest guitarists in a Japanese jazz magazine and in addition to recording a string of solo albums, he has worked with artists such as Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, James Brown, Gil Evans - and Miles. Steve plays on the title track of Amandla, but unfortunately, a mistake made whilst the album artwork was being produced, meant that his name was left off the album credits - it now appears in second run CDs out in the US.

Steve kindly took the time to explain his role in Amandla and share his views on Miles' music in general. And in case you're wondering, Steve is the son of the legendary songwriter Sammy Cahn, best known for his long association with Frank Sinatra, although Miles also performed some of his songs (including "I Fall In Love Too Easily.")

Steve Kahn
© Paul Aresu and courtesy Steve Khan

TheLastMiles.com: How did you get the Amandla gig?

Steve Khan: Through Marcus [Miller]. We'd known each other a long time.

TLM: How did the session take place?

SK: My role on the track was easy. Marcus had an idea of what he wanted to do and I made a few suggestions, and we did it. Most of it is still there. There are couple of things I did that are under-mixed - they're there, but they're not prominent. There are power chords, some color effects, and some melodies that I played. It's a very thick texture of stuff with all the synthesizers and keyboards, but it's in there. Miles wasn't even there. When I did that stuff Miles was on the phone listening. I'd be sitting in the studio with [percussionist] Bashiri Johnson - we were overdubbing - and I could see Marcus holding the phone up to the speakers and Marcus was talking to Miles, and Marcus would say: "Miles says, 'tell Steve he's a motherfucker!'" It was funny. But it was still a thrill to be a part.

TLM: But you had mixed feelings on this particular track because Joe Sample was involved?

SK: It was tempered with my bitterness over the Joe Sample thing. I had worked on an album of Joe's [Spellbound] with Marcus and Tommy [LiPuma] and [drummer] Omar [Hakim - who also plays on the track "Amandla"] and I basically got fired. So I wasn't sure if I wanted to play on the track! It's funny, but you can be doing something that you've always wanted to do, and then find that it's not quite what you wanted it to be. In this case because Miles was not even there.

TLM: Some people have complained that Miles shouldn't have been making albums like Amandla, which used a lot of electronics and overdubbing.

SK: When it's somebody like Miles, well, he doesn't owe anybody anything. He doesn't have to do anything the way somebody thinks he should do it. He's a great artist - Miles, Trane [John Coltrane] and Ornette [Coleman] are probably the three most important artists of that era of our music, so he doesn't owe anybody a damn thing. If that's how he wanted to do it, who's to say no? Even the great recordings that guys of my generation just worship, the things of the mid-1960s with Ron [Carter] and Tony [Williams] and Wayne [Shorter] and Herbie [Hancock]. A lot of those recordings aren't even like you conjure them up to be, because the more you learn about music, then much of that stuff sounds like recorded rehearsals to me - there are mistakes. Wayne's music is very orderly and structured and not random at all. What he was doing then with Amandla was some form of very sophisticated pop, R&B jazz. It wasn't about stretching out for twenty minutes - he'd already done all that stuff. You can see why Miles dropped out for while because he had done everything - there was nothing left to do.

TLM: Your name is missing off the credits. [The reason for the credit error was that during the production of the album artwork, Marcus Miller was called by somebody in the art department and asked about the musician credits. Several tracks were mentioned and Miller explained that Steve was not on any of them, except "Amandla". But a misunderstanding meant that Steve's name was inadvertently omitted from the credits for the title track.]

SK: You never forget something like that and it's really heartbreaking when something like that happens. When you have been a musician of my generation and you moved to New York, there used to be a joke with all the musicians. Everyone would leave messages on each other's answer machines doing impressions of Miles' voice. Everyone would joke with one another: 'Miles is gonna call, I can't go out to dinner tonight'. Of course he never called, but it was dream for everybody, so that when the opportunity comes... to have something like this to happen, it is pretty unbelievable. But there was a second run of the CD in the U.S., and my name's in there!


Photo © Paul Aresu - Digital art © Tanya Prellwitz

TLM: What's your take on Amandla as an album?

SK: I never paid attention to any of those recordings. If I listen to Miles I listen to Sorcerer and Miles Smiles and Nefertiti and E.S.P. I have some of the late stuff; most of it is on LP and I've never bought the CDs, because I don't care about those recordings. I think the last of the post-quintet records that I still have a great affection for is Big Fun [1972]. I love "Ife" and "Great Expectations" - that was fantastic to me. All the stuff after that, [well] even though he had some great players like Steve Grossman and Dave Liebman, I just never cared for the music. I know he was trying to create something, but I stopped caring for it. I know he was very sincere and always searching for something, but for me, as a fan of his, I stopped listening. The things that he had spawned, the guys he had been a father to in a sense, the fusion music in that period was more interesting. John McLaughlin was under Miles' tutelage, Herbie Hancock had been, Weather Report. He influenced everything, but I think that as he got older, while not totally relinquishing control, he was happy to have someone he trusted like Marcus taking care of things.

There was something really beautiful about In A Silent Way, but what's funny to me is that what one hears is really the product of Teo Macero's editing - that piece has a lot of magical editing. But as a concept, and the feeling they created in the studio, it was for that time, quite revolutionary. But after that and Bitches Brew and a couple of tracks on Big Fun, most of it started to become a big jumble for me. It starts to enter into the area where you say to yourself: 'this must have been an awful lot of fun to do, but I wouldn't want to listen to it'. There is a lot of music like that, where you think, 'wow, it must have been great to have been there, but I don't enjoy listening to it.'

TLM: Why was the 1964 -1972 period so special to you?

SK: The music that I have the greatest affection for is so caught up in a fantastic time in the 1960s. It was an amazing time for young people; it was a time for great hope; youthful, foolish hope that we could change the world. Some of it had to do with Kennedy. It shows in everything: the music, the art, the films. You sometimes forget that. I got the DVD A Different Kind Of Blue [which document's Miles's performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival]. The concert to me was less interesting than the interviews because of what many of the guys had to say and their perception of what was happening musically and sociologically. Look at Gary Bartz and on his vest you see the black power insignia. It's so easy to forget what was happening historically and that you can't separate the music from those things, especially the music of Miles Davis. That's what makes it so remarkable to me where sometimes in life the music comes to represent that something is so much bigger than just some guys playing. Jimi Hendrix represents something that transcends the moment, and Miles was like that too. After that music, it's hard for anything [for another twenty years] to live up to that, in my opinion. I feel lucky to have been alive during that time.

TLM: Did any of Miles's guitarists impress you from the 1980s?

SK: I think the most profound music maker was Sco' [John Scofield]. I also think in a curious way that Robben Ford might have been the best player for what Miles was trying to do at that time. Because what he really wanted was a guy who played the blues. One of the most profound things in the [Different Kind of Blue] DVD was that there always a sense that none of the musicians knew what was happening and, there was this sense of insecurity - "Am I playing good? Am I doing the right thing?" Miles's answer would be: "You're still here aren't you?" The great thing was what Dave Liebman said, when he was reflecting on his own journey with Miles. He said: "I get it. Coltrane's fast, Miles is slow. Wayne's fast, Miles is slow. I play fast, Miles is slow,' and the realization that by playing different, this is what makes Miles sound great, by him playing less. That quote captures what's great about any bandleader: how you pick the people around you. If you're the voice of the music, it's like putting the jewel on a beautiful red pillow, and that's what Miles was great at doing.

TLM: What is Miles's legacy today?

SK: That's a hard question to answer. For me, he's of that period where the important players were also bandleaders. He and 'Trane and Ornette are the branches of this huge tree, and each one gave birth to that which will be with those of us who continue to play and those of who listen for as long as there's music like this. I'll never forget the [second] great quintet; it's like the soundtrack of my adolescence. I would find it hard to live without knowing that particular music had been around. It depends where somebody walks in on the movie. If someone comes in listening to Bitches Brew or We Want Miles, that is what will be important to them.

Many thanks to Steve for his time. Check out Steve's site www.stevekhan.com

 

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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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