- Buy the book
Reviewed by Michael Fortes
ny book laying claim to “interviews and encounters with Miles Davis,” as “Miles on Miles” does, is most likely going to be one hell of a ride. And for the most part, Paul Maher Jr. and Michael K. Dorr’s collection of previously published Miles Davis interviews and newly uncovered nuggets, delivers.
Surprisingly, considering the great lengths to which Davis made himself accessible to the press only during the last decade of his life, after having earned a reputation for being hostile to the press, there are almost as many entries in the book from the 1970s as the 1980s. But number counts aside, what “Miles on Miles” reveals is simply the natural life arc, on into old age, of a serious music-making dude who happened to be a genius. In hindsight, yes, it’s expected that the man would be testy for only so long before, as he neared the end of his life, he became eager to talk about his past, as he did in Peter Watrous’ 1989 interview for Musician, while also waxing nostalgic over John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Gil Evans.
It also reveals, in particular, who was able to get a good interview out of Miles. The stars in this regard were Leonard Feather and Nat Hentoff, two of a rare breed of critic whom Miles respected and, accordingly, gave them the blessing of cooperation.
The best bits, however, are the lesser known pieces, such as Jimmy Saunders’ 1975 interview of Miles at Northern Illinois University, where Miles claimed that he could beat a post-coital Muhammad Ali in a fight, though in much more colorful language. Best of all is a transcription of a 1980 radio interview originally broadcast on Washington University’s KWMU-FM, where on top of breaking out the n-word and other politically incorrect language when discussing his thoughts on jazz, he tears into the interviewer, pointedly telling him, “Until you listen to the music, you shouldn’t discuss it.” This is a key example of Miles’ penchant for giving a hard time to those who were not prepared to speak with him on his own terms.
Most of the book is, quite simply, amazing for any fan of Miles, though not all of the editors’ choices for inclusion hold as much substance as the aforementioned pieces. It’s certainly interesting, for example, to read accounts by legendary rock journalist Al Aronowitz of Louis Armstrong’s 70th birthday celebration and Jimi Hendrix’s funeral – two hugely historical events, to be sure. But Miles is hardly the focus of either of these accounts, his quotes are unmemorable, and the inclusion of these pieces feels more like a gratuitous mark of prestige than anything.
Taken together, “Miles on Miles” offers a valuable collection of first- and second-hand accounts that, more often than not, capture the master at his prickly best – so much so, you just might forget for a minute that he’s been dead since ’91. He may not have liked the term “legend” applied to him when he was alive, but if nothing else, “Miles on Miles” cements his status as a legend now.