Dead, from New York!

Special One-Night Engagement!

Years ago, in an early season of Saturday Night Live, there was a phony ad for a concert featuring Elvis Presley’s coat.  ‘The King’ himself had recently passed away, but the announcer cheerfully invited folks out to see the coat that started it all.  Like a lot of early SNL, it was irreverent, tasteless, and wicked fun.

I guess this is a sign of the times in the waning days of America, as pop culture eats itself–it’s no longer a gag.  Thousands of people each week are paying good money for acts starring dead people.

Like the other day at the Erwin Center–a sign for the Michael Jackson Immortal Tour.  I don’t care how good a dancer you were, once you’re dead it’s time to lay down and take five.

Now we have an upcoming show called “The Miles Davis Experience” coming to Bass Hall next week.  OK, I have to admit that this sticks in my craw on a number of levels, the most obvious of which is false advertising.  Only one person on the planet can provide an audience with the Miles Davis experience, and last call was over twenty years ago.

But let’s be charitable for a moment and say that if you shell out your money, you will get some approximation of the music of Miles Davis performed live.  Taking a closer look at the event, we see it is being sponsored by Blue Note Records.  And the time period being presented?  1949 to 1959, culminating in the recording of the historic “Kind of Blue” LP–the best-selling record in jazz history.

Now Blue Note has a right to do whatever they want, even though the time period being presented here saw Miles recording mostly on Prestige and Columbia <cough>.  But to call something “The Miles Davis Experience” and then cut it off before the Second Great Quintet–you remember, the one that featured Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams–the one that spawned a new and adventurous way of collective improvisation that provided the seeds of Weather Report, the Headhunters, and countless other bands?  Well, my ‘experience’ just got seriously limited.

And limited further by the exclusion of electric Miles, the Miles of Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way and Tutu and…well, pretty much everything he recorded after 1968.  Merely the halfway point of his 47-year career, but again–not part of our designated ‘experience’.

And it’s obvious why, for two big reasons.

One, nobody can replicate electric Miles with any degree of authenticity.  Without the man himself stalking the stage, directing the band, sending his vibe through the room–without Miles, it’s hollow at the center.

And two, many of Miles’ purported ‘fans’ like to pretend that his electric period didn’t happen.  Or it wasn’t ‘real Miles’ somehow.  Like they know.

News Flash for those who missed the last 43 years somehow: it did happen.  And because it did happen, so did acid jazz, and hip hop, and a half-dozen other movements in American pop since that time.  The rest of the world noticed, even if you stopped listening because it didn’t fit your preferred ‘experience’.  I guess it still stings that Miles Davis was too big to be captured within one genre.  And the jazz purists, led by a cocky young trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis, never forgave him for leaving the fold.

You remember that young Wynton, the one whose early albums Think of One and especially Black Codes (From The Underground) owed such a large debt to Miles Davis?  Yeah, me neither.  That was so long ago.  Such promise…<sigh>…but I digress.

A parting thought on the Miles Davis ‘Experience’:  trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is no doubt a skilled performer with an affinity for the music of early Miles Davis, as any jazz trumpeter should have.  But he’s putting an awful lot of faith in the belief that there is no Afterlife.  For his sake, I hope he’s right.


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