By Chris M. Junior
For many jazz fans, Miles Davis epitomizes cool and good taste.
Almost 20 years after his death, the trumpet legend remains cool and classy – and also in the public eye, thanks in large part to proactive family members who are behind a treasure chest of Davis-related projects scheduled for 2010 and beyond.
“We really, tastefully, want to keep his name and music [out there],” says drummer/producer Vince Wilburn Jr., a Davis nephew who oversees Miles Davis Properties with Erin and Cheryl Davis, the late jazz great’s son and daughter, respectively. “We turn down 95 percent of the things that come to us. We selectively try to put out great things.”
There is no shortage of great Davis reissues coming out this year. The slate includes two expanded 40th anniversary editions of “Bitches Brew,” an album that’s often cited as the birth of jazz-rock fusion.
Davis, though, wasn’t one for categorizing his work.
“He didn’t really like any labels on the music,” Erin Davis says. “He just wanted to be in the broad spectrum of music.”
Featuring lengthy songs and such fellow jazz legends as Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, among others, “Bitches Brew” not only was a notable and wide-ranging album in Miles Davis’ career but also one that has influenced musicians from various eras and genres.
The new reissues, due Aug. 31 from Columbia/Legacy, are packed with extras. “Bitches Brew: Legacy Edition” will include two CDs containing the original album’s songs in their original eight-track studio mixes, along with bonus tracks. Also included is a DVD of a previously unreleased concert performance by the Miles Davis Quintet from November 1969.
“Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” contains the aforementioned CDs and DVD, plus a CD of a previously unreleased Davis concert performance from August 1970.
Wilburn and Erin Davis are pleased with the quality of the footage on the DVD.
“It’s killer,” Wilburn says. “That was one of my favorite bands anyway. People should see this; it changed the course of music.”
Wilburn is not the only one with that opinion, but chances are his uncle didn’t express the same sentiment about its impact and importance. Not only did Miles Davis dislike labels to be placed on his music, he also didn’t like to rank one album over another or wax poetic about his past, according to Wilburn.
“When I was playing with him,” says Wilburn, referring to the mid-1980s, “all he wanted to do was talk about the next concert and what we could do to make the music better.”
Erin Davis concurs.
“I don’t think [my father] ever thought that anything was more special than what he was working on at the time,” says Erin Davis, who like Wilburn is a drummer. “Some guys, you ask them [about the past], and they’ll look back and say, ‘That was a real good time for me.’ For him, it was more about the guys he was around, the sound he was trying to get and then he’d move on to something else.”
Since Miles Davis’ death in 1991 at age 65, the Miles Davis Estate and Miles Davis Properties have been keeping his legacy alive in various ways. One pitch that piqued their interest right away was one for a Bitches Brew ale. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder and president Sam Calagione says his friend Adam Block, senior vice president and general manager of Legacy Recordings, came to him with the idea, which was then presented to the estate.
Calagione, who years ago listened to Davis’ “Bitches Brew” while writing up the Dogfish business plan, describes the commemorative ale as “rowdy, roasty, sweet, inky and complex – just like the album.”
Fans interested in the Bitches Brew ale, which will feature the album’s artwork on its label, should jump on it quick. Calagione says roughly 4,000 cases will be made, and they will hit shelves nationwide on the same day as the Columbia/Legacy reissues.
Available now are Davis-namesake headphones from Monster Cable Products. Retailing at $499.95, the Miles Davis Tribute in-ear headphones “are designed and precision-tuned to accurately reproduce the unique acoustic tones of jazz,” according to the official Monster site, but they are also suitable for other styles of music. Appropriately enough, these headphones, the first audio hardware product to bear Davis’ name and signature, are packed in a case that resembles his trumpet case.
There are more Davis-related materials coming later this year. They include “The Genius of Miles Davis,” a limited-edition boxed set that’s designed as an actual trumpet case, and it is due in September. This collection will include eight deluxe multi-CD sets, among them “The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions” and “The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions.” (“The Genius of Miles Davis” can be preordered now at www.milesdavis.com, which recently was redesigned by the Davis estate and Sony Music.)
Meanwhile, Davis fans visiting Canada this summer can check out the “We Want Miles: Miles Davis vs. Jazz” exhibit that’s on display through Aug. 29 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The eight-part exhibit covers his life and career and features rare and previously unscreened concert film footage as well as Davis’ stage costumes and trumpets, among other items.
Wilburn and Erin Davis say there has been strong interest in bringing the “We Want Miles” exhibit to New York, Brazil and Japan. As for the Miles Davis movie starring Don Cheadle, the cousins are excited to report that the project is moving forward. By the end of the summer, they expect to see a draft of the script, which will be co-written by Cheadle, who’s also going to direct the film.
And as if Cheadle doesn’t have enough on his plate already, he’s been taking trumpet lessons in preparation for the lead role.
“A couple of years ago, Cheadle had moved really fast to a fifth-grade level as a trumpet player,” Erin Davis says. “He’s probably well into the college level by now.”
Next year would have been Miles Davis’ 85th birthday, and Wilburn has already given serious thought about putting together a tour featuring various rhythm sections from Davis’ career.
“We always plan ahead,” Wilburn says.
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