Au Revoir, Miles
The moment is finally here. In seven days, we put the AJW’s Miles Davis season to bed.
It didn’t feel like it would ever end, back in September of last year. Then, we were looking at an unbroken sea of 124 dates. Today, there are five left.
Over the last nine months, I learned a lot about the music of Miles Davis. This happens every year. I start out thinking I know a lot about our featured artist, and then I discover that I know a little about the same four Miles songs that everyone plays. But when you’re performing a book of thirty or so tunes…you have to dig deeper.
So of course we played Four, and All Blues, and Walkin’, and So What. But we also played Water Babies, Splatch, Serpent’s Tooth, Dig, Half Nelson, Fall, Speak, U ‘n’I, ESP, Tutu, Israel, Boplicity, and a slew of others. And since Miles is so far-reaching, we followed him through the thickets of Bebop, Cool, Free, and Fusion. A lot of ground to cover with a quintet, no matter how talented.
I dig it all, but my personal favorite Miles band is the Second Great Quintet–all those tremendous (and tremendously difficult) Wayne Shorter tunes. Shorter’s Pinocchio was in the book, and that was an adventure. Pinocchio is a tune from the great Free period of ‘time, no changes’. Which means that, after the head is played, the soloists pretty much go wherever they want to–unconstrained by petty concerns like form, or chords, or taste. When introducing this one, I always warned the kids that if the band was not back in four days, they should send in a search party. They weren’t sure whether to laugh or phone 911.
The Shorter tunes left a lot of teachers scratching their heads, but the kids took it all in stride. That’s the great thing about young ears–they haven’t heard enough yet to form biases. It’s all new to them.
To make Miles more accessible, we turned his So What into a singalong. We brought six kids up, gave them each a red wooden letter, and had them cue the audience to sing the magic words. And of course, being jazz musicians, we rearranged the letters on the out-chorus, so the kids might end up singing TO WASH–or MAS HOT–or TO MASH–or MAST HO. C’mon, we had to keep it interesting for ourselves too.
They liked that, but they liked the last number even more. As I would explain, “Miles Davis looked up one day and saw that jazz musicians were over in their little corner, playing jazz. And rock musicians were over in their corner, playing rock n roll. <I didn’t bother telling them that their corner was really the rest of the known musical universe.> So Miles put the two together and created–what?…”
“Jazz-Rock Fusion!” some of the savvy kids, who had been in the workshops, would yell.
“Right, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He knew–wait, what?”
“Oh yeah, right.” And we would give it to them, with all the electric bass and drums we could muster. Along the way, we performed a Public Service by teaching them to clap on 2 and 4. You’re welcome.
So we come to that bittersweet moment when it’s almost a wrap. Four more schools, then a free public performance at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Then the Miles book joins Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and others we have presented over the past eighteen years–into the AJW Archives, to be resurrected only occasionally.
Check out that last show here. With David Webb, Michael Stevens, Rob Kazenel, and Mike Sailors, it can’t do anything but cook. But don’t take my word for it–show up and Dig!
- Posted in: From the Trenches
- Tagged: Art in Schools, Jazz, Jazz Education, Miles Davis
It was a great choice to spotlight this season. My kids enjoyed every bit of it. Every year this is the performance we all eagerly await! Looking forward to next season!