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15 March 2006



Having watched several of the concert videos of the 1970s, one thing sticks in my mind regarding this discussion. Besides the increase in the size of MD's sunglasses, you see him directing on the stage more. He will point at players, hold his hand up and bring it down to bring certain players in or stop the music altogether. Stand next to players as they solo, get in their space. This continues through the 1980s.

In videos from say 1967, or even 1969, you see MD raise his horn at the start of a tune, glance over when he is about to start/finish a solo and then walk to the side of the stage after he plays. He wasn't going to stare down Wayne Shorter.

On one hand this adds to the Miles leading and caring about having a great band side of the discussion. The comparison might not be fair - the older bands may have rehearsed more or played more so this wasn't necessary. On the other side of the discussion, the music those 1970s bands were playing (I'm thinking of the Dark Magus - Agharta era) was pretty loose and long jam form, which wouldn't seem to require as much direction. So perhaps he -was- playing "rock star personality," though more accurate would be he was following the micro-managing James Brown did on stage.

Unrelated, I haven't seen as much Duke Ellington live footage. I wonder how much direction he gave from behind the piano during live gigs.


I'd been thinking something related to Wayne's comment about Miles directing the band, which is that he did so not only through visual cues and what not, but by playing his trumpet. I've heard comments by both Hancock and Scofield (the latter being a little surprising to be since the band of his era strikes me as pretty light on interplay, although I like them fine) that whenever the band started to lose focus, Miles could pull them by playing two or three notes - a unique talent, as far as I know. More than just a hip "music director" (the term puts me in mind of somebody like Hal Wilner), he was a true director (think, say, Ekka Pekka Salonen) of a truly unique sort, and, more than just a charismatic star (so much so that he famously felt it necessary to turn his back on audiences so as not do direct attention from his sidemen), he was a true charismatic leader, just like Charlie Manson. OK, bad example, but you know what I mean. But I think it was this ability to subtly mold performances that explains why his sidemen's best records tended to be a notch below the ones they made with him.

Not real familiar with On the Corner-era stuff, but wasn't this the period when Miles was getting back into the drugs that would take him off the scene for a few years?



In fact, Miles does sometimes cut Wayne or Herbie short in the '60s by interrupting them mid-solo and playing the head out, or a vamp out, or the beginning of another tune, or even (as godoggo mentions) just a couple of notes to get everyone centered again. This is a signature Milesism and would continue throughout the rest of his career, although you're right that he gets more explicit about controlling the band in the 1970's.

As far as rehearsal goes, Miles essentially didn't rehearse -- anything that needed to be worked out was worked out in real time on the bandstand or in the recording studio.

At any rate, all those long 70's vamps require a lot of shaping on-the-fly to keep them moving. Cueing people in and out of them isn't rockstarism, it's taking responsibility for the music, making sure it doesn't lose focus over those long 20-40 minute stretches based on a single groove. It's actually not that much different in concept from what Walter Thompson does (although obviously Walter's gestures are much more involved than just "play" and "stop"), or some of the stuff I do when conducting Secret Society.

RE: Duke, he and Strayhorn set the parameters for their music in advance by writing it down. Many of their charts have no improvised solos at all -- or include a solo that was originally improvised, but became so famous that the players had to re-create the recorded solo exactly the same way night after night. There are few open solo sections, and when there are, Duke is the one who decides when enough is enough. Gonsalves went 27 choruses at Newport because Duke essentially made him -- he knew he had to keep playing until Duke brought the band back in.


According to Chick Corea, from 1968-1970 Miles went off drugs entirely and started an intense exercise and practice regimen. As I mentioned in the post, by the time of the Cellar Door recordings (December 1970) his trumpet chops were better than they'd ever been at any time in his career. I don't know exactly when he went off the wagon again, but clearly by the end of 1975 he was in pretty rough shape.

Henry Holland

Hi, I was directed here via the blog Night after Night. Great stuff!

I haven't seen this mentioned, probably because it's out of the 1971-75 timeframe that DJA is writing about, but if you haven't seen the DVD of the Miles' 1970 Isle of Wight performance, it's a must see-and-hear. It's the entire 38-minute set (!!) and it's just jaw dropping. OK, I want to smack Airto when he uses that drum to make those squeaks that sound like he's rubbing a balloon, but overall, it's stunning stuff.

I recently downloaded a bunch of BitTorrents from the Lost Quintet (Miles, Corea, Shorter, Holland, DeJohnette) and the one from Berlin's Philharmonie is staggering. In a way, the 1969-1970 period feels a lot more connected to rock music than the 1971-75 stuff does, even though it's about a 1,000 times more dense and complex than most rock and Miles' later stuff. It has ferocious energy and the risk taking is just out of this world.

I finally *got* Pangaea and Agartha about a month ago and they've been in steady rotation ever since. I find that I have to drop all expectations and just let the music BE and when I do that, I enjoy those two records a lot.


Hey Henry,

Pat Donaher of visionsong also highly recommended the Isle of Wight DVD. I will definitely be picking that up soon.

There's definitely some good stuff on Pangaea, but it's the second of two marathon shows that day (the first being Agharta) and I think it's pretty clear that by the end of the concert, the band is running on empty.

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