Like Mwanji, I can't bring myself to care much about Miles being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and What It All Means. But Mwanji, more motivated than I am, has at least collected various responses from around the internet for your reading pleasure. And, like him, I am... puzzled by this post from Do The Math.
Their thesis is this: "The success of Miles Davis records and Davis’ resultant stardom is based on the strength of the musicians he played with, not his own trumpet playing or composing."
Well, okay. This true enough, on the surface, although I think it seriously understates the tremendous creative influence Miles exerted on his band. (I also think it sells Miles awfully short as a player, although they go on to praise selected solos.) Obvious points of comparison would be Wayne's recording of "Footprints," or Herbie's recording of "Riot," "Little One," "The Sorcerer," etc, versus the versions they cut with Miles. And as good as those '60s Shorter and Hancock Blue Notes are, do any of them have the unity and well, vibe of a record like Miles Smiles?
The Bad Plus go on to call Miles "the hippest music director in history," which is not a bad way of putting it -- except, I don't think that appellation diminishes his artistry in the slightest! (You could say much the same thing about James Brown, for instance.)
But these are all relatively minor quibbles. As Mwanji notes, the real fighting words are these:
During the ‘70’s, he seemed to lose interest in having the best bands and instead concentrated on becoming a rock star personality.
B'wha? TBP are willing to spot him up until Live-Evil. Of course, there are four different bands represented on that record, but the last one, chronologically, is the Cellar Door lineup -- Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, and Airto -- one of the greatest Miles bands ever, with a group dynamic remarkably similar to the classic 60's quintet (especially in terms of the role assigned to each instrument). But is the drop-off in the quality of his bands from 1971-1975 really as dire as they say? And if so, is it due to Miles's ego finally getting the better of his musicianship? Finally, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, less-than-genius sidemen and an increase in rockstar posturing, do the 1970's records stand up regardless?
Secret Society readers are invited to check the session index and judge for themselves, but here's a summarized version:
• Gigs with the Cellar Door lineup, but Leon "Ndugu" Chancler replaces DeJohnette, and Don Alias and Mtume replace Airto.
• Get Up With It sessions with Wally Chambers (harmonica), Cornell Dupree, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Bernard Purdie, Mtume.
• On The Corner sessions with Dave Liebman, Harold Williams, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Collin Walcott (sitar), John McLaughlin, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Badal Roy (tabla).
• Big Fun sessions with Bennie Maupin, Carlos Garnett, Sonny Fortune, Lonnie Liston Smith, Harold Williams, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Badal Roy, Mtume.
• Black Satin etc with Dave Liebman, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume.
• Get Up With It sessions with the above players plus John Stubblefield.
• Dark Magus gig at Carnegie Hall with Dave Liebman, Azar Lawrence, Pete Cosey, Dominique Gaumont, Reggie Lucas, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume.
• Get Up With It sessions - Sonny Fortune, Pete Cosey, Reggie Lucas, Dominique Gaumont, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume.
• Agharta and Pangaea with Sonny Fortune, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume.
Whatever you think of records like Get Up With It, On The Corner and the rest -- and these are among my favorite Miles recordings, period -- I just don't see how you can look at the core post-1971 personnel (Dave Liebman, Sonny Fortune, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey, Michael Henderson, Al Foster, Mtume) and say Miles wasn't interested in leading good bands anymore. Also, in terms of trumpet chops, in the early 1970's Miles was at the very top of his game, with a security and facility in the high register that had been missing from most of his earlier recordings (as evidenced by the Cellar Door recordings especially).
The 80's are another story, of course, but I don't think that decade is quite as dire ("records that ranged from OK to unlistenable") as TBP would have it, either. I'll step up for Live Around The World anytime -- windchimes and all.