978-1-56025-967-1 / 9781560259671

Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography


Publisher:Da Capo Press



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About the book:

Even allowing for publisher's hype, it takes a bit of nerve to call any book the "definitive biography". But in this case it is no more than the truth. I defy even the most committed Miles Davis fan to pick holes in this.

Miles Davis has become a byword for cool. You can be sneered at for liking all sorts of modern music, but no one will ever have a go at you for liking Miles Davis. Musically he has become almost beyond criticism. Even his most inaccessible works are reckoned to be streets ahead of anyone else's. What's more, he reinvented himself as a jazz trumpeter so many times in his 45 -year career that he is almost beyond categorisation. From his early bebop days with Charlie Parker, through a period with John Coltrane, from the minimalism of Kind of Blue to the orchestral Porgy and Bess, from jazz fusion of the 1970s to the virtual rap-jazz of the late 1980s, Davis was the master of eclecticism.

This might be a problem for a lesser biographer. Fortunately, Ian Carr is as in control of his material as Davis. Carr is both an accomplished jazz trumpeter and writer and is able to unpick the music without coming on like some muso-anorak. Moreover, he is not so in awe of his subject that he loses the ability to think objectively about it.

Davis is no straightforward character. He was born into a wealthy middle-class family and studied at the Juillard School of Music, before dropping out to play jazz. He had two lengthy periods of drug addiction, was notoriously reticent with the press and enjoyed a peculiarly ambivalent relationship with his fans; some times he would play inspired five-hour sets, at others he would stand with his back to the audience for the whole show. In short, he was a mass of contradictions and Carr never fudges the difficult issues.

This book was good when it was first published in 1982. Now that it has been revised and updated to take account of Davis's final decade it is even better. Miles Davis is the seminal jazz musician of the last 50 years; this is the seminal book. --John Crace

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