24 October 2006

Miles Davis

Who would have thought it! Miles Davis is composer of the week on Radio 3. It started yesterday. I feared the worst. But no - my apprehensions were misplaced. They bgan with All Blues - from the best-selling jazz albumn ever. They didn't evade the fact that he was from a wealthy middle-class family, and there was no attempt to hide the fact that his early years of creativity were conducted in a haze of narcotics dependency. I thought the BBC would be more cagey about this. Because he's only a jazz musician after all. They don't mention Igor Stravinsky's alcoholism - (though they have Malcolm Arnold's in the last week or so).

Fortunately for us, Miles kicked his habit and produced a series of recordings in the late 1950s and 1960s which represent some of the highpoints of modern jazz. Unfortunately for us (and him) he went back to substance abuse in a big way later in his career, and despite creative enterprises of a conceptual kind, his later efforts were more directed to locating drug dealers than composing.

What a loss. I've got most of his recordings, and I play them frequently. But the falling off, particularly in the later years, is tragic. I bought a triple collocation of Tutu, Amandla, and doo-bop only last weekend - and listening to the rapid descent during the 1980s was painful to endure.

Fortunately we have Kind of Blue, Milestones, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain, and even Bitche's Brew to remind us of what was - and what might have been.

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