A Celebration of Miles Davis
Better than...celebrating Garfield creator Jim Davis
Last night, under a vivid half moon, this year's Bowl jazz series kicked off with a tribute to Miles Davis. It was largely a hit and as eclectic as the great trumpeter's game-changing career. Even better: Dude now has his own postage stamp.
Before the show, there was the West Coast unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service's stamp in his honor at the Bowl's museum. Pianist Herbie Hancock mingled with featured bassist Marcus Miller, while Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo (in a snazzy Joker-esque suit) posed for photos with our man Henry Rollins. Rollins has long been a Davis fan and friend of the Davis family. "When they call, I come," Rollins said. The unveiling was a nice gesture that had many people asking: What would Miles think of this?
The show opened with drummer Jimmy Cobb's "So What" band. Cobb is the last surviving member of Davis' 1959 classic jazz session Kind of Blue. Dressed in suspenders and a NASA baseball hat, Cobb took the drum stool behind a sextet of talents both young and old.
Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt filled Davis' place with force, delivering a brighter sound on "So What" while tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson went the other way in interpreting the role of John Coltrane, offering confident solos but nothing approaching the barrage of notes Coltrane was capable of. Pianist Larry Willis offered some hard swinging piano, pounding through a rapid-fire "All Blues." Cobb still has the touch and was given his chance in the spotlight at the end with a popping solo turn.
The set was a pretty straight-forward reading of the classic session. It must be strange to be playing the same five tunes 53 years after they were first recorded. It's generous of Cobb to provide all of us that opportunity and the audience was respectful of his great legacy.
Despite the fact that Herbie Hancock, a key member of Davis' classic '60s band, took to the stage repeatedly, the evening completely bypassed that era in favor of Davis' electric period of the 1970s. The rotating stage revealed a band equipped with more percussion and electrical outlets than most music stores.
Nicholas Payton was the next trumpeter to take the Davis chair. His approach practically blew out the candles of the champagne-sipping box seats. It was an explosion of light and sound that was jarring for many people who had enough trouble accepting the same transition from Davis when he took over ten years to make it. Here the change happened within five minutes of Cobb's last cymbal splash.
After a low-key introduction from tablist Badal Roy, Payton echoed across the full band alongside saxophonist Antoine Roney. Guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight, in his Technicolor dreamshirt, shredded over the band, driven by two eager percussionists: Munyungo Jackson and Mino Cinelu. Keyboardist John Beasely set loose with help from a KAOS pad as the camera tried to find him in the back.
Marcus Miller led the third band, which was a tribute to Davis' mid-'80s era. Miller said more within the first minute than the other two bands combined. His polish as an entertainer, not just a musician, was one of the main reasons he closed the show. His impressive thump on the bass is probably the other reason.
Miller played a few tunes from Tutu, his 1986 collaboration with Davis. It was always kind of unclear to me who uses whammy bars on keyboards. Federico Pena is one of those guys. His wah-wahing synthesizers harkened to a time more specific than either of the first bands. We were transported to the sounds of Ronald Reagan's second term.
Trumpeter Sean Jones, who was only two when Reagan was first elected, filled the trumpet role for this set. His muted horn fit well amid the keyboard sounds and Miller's bellowing bass.
"We're playing the music of the past but we got to update it," announced Miller, midway through his set. "Otherwise, what would Miles think?" This led to Miller digging into his more current catalog, although it mostly resembled the earlier part of his set. His spin on the bass clarinet was a nice change and probably the funkiest that instrument has ever sounded.
In the end it was unclear what Davis would think of all this reverence. He probably wouldn't have showed anyway. He'd be too busy working on his Flying Lotus collaboration.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Personal Bias: I once played in a backing trio for Jones when I was 19. I barely survived.
The Crowd: People who remember buying Tutu on vinyl.
Random Notebook Dump: How long has that old man been singing with his dirty dog puppet outside of the Hollywood Bowl? I can remember back at least fifteen years.