He wore a Dashiki: Miles Davis at his best
moved to Chicago in the 1960s, as a single mother with two young children. It was a very exciting city with lots going on in art, music,
and theater. I first settled in an area called Saganash Park, then Evanston. But after
discovering that everything that was "happening" was either downtown or
in Old Town, I soon moved to a place where I could be closer to the
"arts" scene. I started taking improvisation classes at Second City on
Wells street, in Old Town and hanging out with friends where jazz was
going on closeby. I also spent time, with my kids, at the art
institute, the zoo, and the beach.
One of my fondest memories there was going to the funky little clubs on Wells Street. Although, there were a lot of jazz places downtown on Rush Street, Wells Street drew the "off-beat", avant-guard musicians, who were experimenting with some of the new jazz forms, such as cool, third stream and fusion. After the "big band" era, bebop had been the most popular jazz style with jazz musicians. But, when Miles Davis came upon the music scene, that all changed. Miles was one of those avant-guard musicians, who liked to take risks. He was often referred to as the Chameleon of Modern Music, restless, always moving ahead, despite what his audience, critics or sidemen preferred.
Some of his greatest masterpieces were put together and performed at a dark and smoky little jazz club on Wells Street called the Plugged Nickel. In the 1960s, Davis, who had by this time formed his second jazz quintet, was taking jazz in a new direction. Being impressed with his creativity and a music student at the time, I spent as much time as possible watching him and listening to his innovative music, whenever he was in town. The room was small with tables and chairs touched up against each other. We would sit within a few feet of the tiny stage. It was intimate and exciting, as though you knew each and every musician personally.. By the late 1960s, Miles was wearing Dashikis whenever he played on Wells street, a tribute to his African heritage. This made the experience even more exotic.
Throughout a professional career which lasted 50 years, Davis played the trumpet or flugelhorn. His style was lyrical, introspective, and melodic. He often used a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate. He didn't believe in notes for the sake of notes, so his style was very understated, with frequent short intervals of silence. He was in the center of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in music during mid 1940s to the early 1990s. And he often led the way in those changes, both with his own performances, recordings, and by choosing sidemen and collaborators who forged new directions. It can even be argued that jazz stopped evolving when Davis wasn't there to push it forward anymore.
Examples of the various periods in his musical life and two late-in-life interviews are below: