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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The second in a series of reports on Miles's live gigs from 1981-1991 that I attended or have seen on video.

Venue: Wembley Conference Centre, London

Date: 16th November 1986

This was the fourth time I saw Miles (the 1984 and 1985 gigs will be covered later) and it was unusual in a number of respects. First, Miles's last two gigs had been in July at the London Jazz Festival, held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in South London. But this one was at the Wembley Conference Centre; a place I didn't know existed before this concert, although I had been to the Wembley Arena a few times. Miles had also expanded his band, with a second keyboardist (Adam Holzman) joining Robert Irving III. The other band members were Bob Berg (sax), Vince Wilburn Jr (dr), Steve Thornton (per) and Darryl Jones (b). Jones had been in the band the last couple of times I'd seen Miles, but had actually left Miles's band for over a year in July 1985 to join Sting's band. His replacements had been Angus Thomas and Felton Crews, neither of which played in the UK with Miles. Jones rejoined Miles's band in October 1986. John Scofield, who had played guitar in all the previous Miles gigs I'd attended (the first one with Mike Stern) had gone and in his place was Garth Webber, who was completely unknown to me.

Miles Davis live with Garth Webber
Miles with Garth Webber

Webber had in fact followed Mike Stern and Robben Ford and by the time he played in London, had been with Miles a couple of months. Webber has been criticised in some quarters as not fitting in with the band, but I disagree. He played really well and in fact, played the most solos and often for long stretches - a sure sign that Miles liked your playing. As usual, the concert opened up with a loud and frenetic version of "One Phone Call/Street Scenes", which saw both Berg and Webber play long solos. Miles was in good form and he played long, powerful stretches of horn during the next tune, "New Blues." Once again, Webber played a long blues solo that brought cheers from the crowd. The next track was "Perfect Way" and Darryl Jones played a strong groove on this one. It was interesting to note how Jones's role had changed since his comeback. He still played strongly and powerfully, but whereas in 1984 and (to a lesser extent 1985) he played several solos (often using pedal effects) he was much more in the background on this gig. That said, there were lots of smiles between him and Miles. Berg has grown a lot in the two years he had been with Miles and was super-comfortable on-stage, occasionally playing keyboards.

One of my favourite tunes was "Human Nature" and this was the period when the coda consisted of a guitar solo. Webber really let rip, beginning with some "spacey" sound effects before finishing with off a powerful solo that ended with a trumpet blast from Miles. The tune then segued into "Wrinkle," where an animated Webber played some funky rhythm guitar and Wilburn some heavy backbeat. I recall Miles spending a lot of time staring at Wilburn and making hand gestures. As the Tutu album had just been released, it's no surprise that tunes from the album dominated the set ("Tutu," "Splatch," "Tomaas," "Perfect Way" "Full Nelson" and "Portia") and they were much looser than the album versions. Webber again shone on "Splatch" and on "Don't Stop Me Now." On "Carnival Time," Steve Thornton played a fast and furious conga solo. The heaviest number of the night was an old tune (it was recorded during The Man With The Horn sessions), "Burn" which had Berg blowing hard on tenor sax and Webber soloing again. Miles played two encores, "Maze" which was propelled by Darryl Jones's powerful bass riff before finishing with "Portia." I always loved the way Miles played this tune on-stage. The band would play and Miles would blow a little and then leave, with the rest of the band playing on the bandstand. Then some most members would play solos and in fact, this was the first time Holzman and Irving stood out. Jones played a solo too and eventually Irving was left on the stage. He hit a button on his keyboard and created a sound loop, which continued playing after he had left the stage.

This was a time of some upheaval for Miles and his band. By the end of the year, Webber and Thornton would leave, and by early 1987, Berg and Wilburn had left. By the time Miles returned to the UK in summer 1987, only Miles, Jones, Irving and Holzman would still be in the band and Miles had overhauled both the set and the song arrangements.

 

If you have any memories of Miles's gigs from 1981-1991, why don't you tell us about it?! All reports will be put online for other Miles fans to share. Email




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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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