Night Lights Classic Jazz

Star on Miles: the Return of Miles Davis

At the dawn of the 1980s trumpeter Miles Davis emerged from a five-year retirement and made his way back into the limelight.

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Miles Davis We Want Miles

Photo: Album cover art.

Chromatic funk: Miles Davis in the early 1980s.

At the dawn of the 1980s trumpeter Miles Davis emerged from a five-year retirement and made his way back into the limelight. Dogged by health issues, by his own account Davis had spent much of his hiatus watching television, engaging in personal excess, and rarely picking up his trumpet. His chops were weak, and he also had his own legacy to contend with–a remarkable 30-year span of creativity from 1945 to 1975 that placed him in the middle or at the front of some of the most significant changes in jazz. The sound Davis pursued throughout the early 1980s has been described by one writer as “chromatic funk,” and it drew on blues, pop-rock, and electronic influences as well.

“Star on Miles: the Return of Miles Davis” features music from albums such as Star People, Aura, and We Want Miles—a period that shows Miles once again searching for different directions that provoked both praise and critical displeasure.

Check out George Cole’s book The Last Miles, as well as author Paul Tingen’s website about all of Miles Davis’ 1967-1991 electric jazz, including the music featured in this program.

Watch Miles Davis playing Michael Jackson’s pop hit “Human Nature” in 1985:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IinvMLSjW0c

Air date: September 27, 2008

Music Heard On This Episode

My Man's Gone Now (excerpt)
Miles Davis — We Want Miles (Sony/Columbia, 1981)
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album cover
My Man's Gone Now (excerpt)
Miles Davis — We Want Miles (Sony/Columbia, 1981)
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album cover
Jean Pierre
Miles Davis — We Want Miles (Sony/Columbia, 1981)
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album cover
Star People (excerpt)
Miles Davis — Star People (Sony/Columbia, 1983)
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album cover
Speak (excerpt)
Miles Davis — Star People (Sony/Columbia, 1983)
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album cover
Back Seat Betty
Miles Davis — We Want Miles (Sony/Columbia, 1981)
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album cover
Decoy (excerpt)
Miles Davis — Decoy (Sony/Columbia, 1984)
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It Gets Better
Miles Davis — Atmosphere

Notes: Midpoint music bed

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White
Miles Davis — Aura (Sony/Columbia, 1985)
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album cover
Time After Time
Miles Davis — (broadcast)

Notes: Another live version available on Miles Davis LIVE AROUND THE WORLD.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Bill Forbes

    Looking forward to this show, David. Last year I read john Swed’s “So What: The Life of Miles Davis” and realised I knew virtually nothing of the music of this period, so I’m ready to listen!

  • Keitho

    It wasn't that the playing was not up to par or that the musicianship was not at a high level. It's just that we had become used to Miles being at the forefront of a movement — leading the way, as it were — and here he was content to simply produce good, if not innovative, music. It could have simply been a sign of hte times. After all, neither Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, or JOe Henderson were able to further the musuc during this bleak time.

    http://worldofkeitho.com/

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