Release of Miles Davis’ On the Corner box is imminent, as Howard Mandel notes at his new blog. Has a domestic label ever covered an artist’s career so exhaustively? Put together, the Davis Sony sets equal roughly double the amount of music in the Duke Ellington RCA Victor box. Street date: Sept. 25. In the meantime, you can tap our archives for programs about the Jack Johnson sessions and the Cellar Door performances.
The story goes that Miles was aiming for a black audience with this album; according to Jack Chambers’ Milestones, Davis told Melody Maker writer Michael Watts, “I don’t care who buys the records as long as they get to the black people so I will be remembered when I die. I’m not playing for any white people, man. I wanna hear a black guy say, ‘Yeah, I dig Miles Davis.’” When the record failed to sell well, Davis blamed Columbia for not distributing it more effectively in African-American neighborhoods. He didn’t live quite long enough to see it catch fire in the 1990s with the underground dance-club culture; for years On the Corner was the DJ pick from the Miles Davis catalogue. It also became an emblem of a modern generational divide that I regularly saw when I worked in record stores. Older jazz fans would speak warmly of Miles all the way up to either In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew; their expressions would then begin to curdle as they spoke in rather dismissive tones of said titles and what followed. Younger fans, who might be clutching a Phish CD or two as they talked, would say, “Yeah, I like Miles all right… man, I love that electric stuff, though!” Their eyes usually widened noticeably as they said this.
My sense is that that divide’s begun to subside, and perhaps Sony’s canonization-by-box-set has helped the process move along. In any event, glad that this one is seeing the light of day; strange things have been afoot at Sony since the merger with BMG, and rumor had it a year ago that this mega-On the Corner was not a done deal. After the near-debacle of the Cellar Door sessions there was additional cause for concern, but the Dark Prince’s legacy has apparently won out–or at least gotten a sign-off from the bean-counters.