In honor of Miles Davis, whose birthday recently past on May 26th, here are some thoughts, a poem, and the legend himself. Constructed freely out of inspiration from the art and the struggle.
My Gemini brother. The messenger delivering new mental landscapes in sounds. Music cosmic in its effects; revolutionary in its purpose. Miles Davis nourishes your soul. The moving’s of the people creating and then moving people, bits of consciousness bursting forth practically, materially in the changing of the times, spiritually in our hearts and energy. The ebbs and flows of struggle producing art producing struggle. Miles’s spoke to this movement, helped guide it. Jazz spoke to black power and black power spoke back, all the while people begin to see themselves as valuable. Not value quantified in paychecks and profit. The value of being from the earth and universe. Something more cosmic and irrelevant to the commodities and slave chains of this system. They. Whitey. The ruling class. They feared jazz. The darkness. The power within mystery. They tried to tame it and chain it but the people move in rhythm and riot.
Music, like all art, is manifested through the spirit and limbs of the people. Physical embodiment of ones own useful labor manifested for the purpose of survival and revolution. This is the communist understanding of what art should be; its focus and effect. Entertainment is the bourgeois manifestation of art; its sole purpose and use wrapped up in exchange value. Money. The bourgeoisie does not care about ones spirit; its rule is based on denying that from us; we are manipulated and molded into workers and producers of our oppressors opulence. Our wealth lies within our consciousness; within our abilities to create more than just the ruling class’s profits. We cast visions of new worlds, carrying these visions in practice through art and struggle. The ruling class socializes us in Eurocentric cultural norms and aesthetics. Their art is sterile and lacks dialogue and action. Our art moves. Our art is the vision. Our art is revolution.
Revolt. Overthrow. Rebuild.
We honor Miles Davis, whose ever-expanding love of the art and the people created new sounds and thoughts for our ever-expanding struggles for liberation. It is the love that brought me in. Romancing us through ballads painted blue and lavender. I remember first being held by Mile’s horn. ‘It never entered my mind’ from the legendary first generation of the Miles Davis Quintet off of the 1956 Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet. I understood what emotion could sound like. What it could feel like. Capturing that late night aching for love. The composition is crafted by John Coltrane. The innovator himself. Transcending jazz onto a spiritual plane that could heal and move. Coltrane begin to develop as an artist through his early collaboration with Davis in the quintet. Coltrane’s desire to experiment was in sync with Miles’s improvisational bebop roots. They would both go on to evolve and become freer in their sound, although not within the same group. Coltrane’s work as a leader was significant to the development of free jazz, demonstrating the revolutionary potential of art. Coltrane’s deepening spiritual development led him to transcend harmful divisions within himself and others through music. As he began to find wholeness within himself through spirituality he begin to see the interconnection between us all and the ways music can connect and express that emotion. These are communist values that do not exist under the current system. It is no coincidence that Coltrane was developing these ideas amidst a backdrop of struggle taking place all across the world. Struggle’s for wholeness and love. Righteous struggles that Coltrane supported. Miles speaks to these qualities of his brother quite lovingly here,
“Trane’s music and what he was playing in the last two or three years of his life represented, for many blacks, the fire and passion and rage and anger and rebellion and love they felt…..Coltrane was their pride – their black, revolutionary pride…..When he died it was much like when Bird died for a lot of bebop musicians who looked to him for directions….it seemed a lot of what he stood for musically died with him.”
Miles nurtured Coltrane and was inspired by him too. Although less avant-garde than Coltrane, Davis drew from the blues tradition as well as the more experimental musical laboratory of bebop. Miles was always seeking to go beyond the norm. This was apparent in the 60’s with the formation of the second great Miles Davis Quintet. Released in 1967 during a time of worldwide black rebellion, the album Nefertiti represents a freer more complex sound. A type of explosion in consciousness. The quintet was fire. Some of the best musicians of the times: Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (Bass), Tony Williams (drums), and Miles (trumpet). Miles was building upon the work he started in the 50’s with his collaboration with Coltrane and others. Miles on this formation,
“I wanted the music this new group would play to be freer, more modal, more African or Eastern and less Western. I wanted them to go beyond themselves…if you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time….He has to use his imagination, be more creative, more innovative, he’s got to take more risks……I’ve always told the musicians in my band to play what they know and then play above that. Because then anything can happen, and that’s where great art and music happens.”
Below you will find some tracks off of the albums mentioned above, as well as a live performance with Coltrane of ‘So What’ off the classic Kind of Blue. And a poem I wrote out of love and inspiration.
Rest in Power
May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991
Born in western soil
my mind resides elsewhere
In the branches of ancient redwoods
In the tired arms of my grandmother
Who weaves black magic
within tales of our ancestry
An expression of the dreams of the people
cosmic in its scope
earth shattering in its effect.
the people create and the creations move the people
we are anew
reborn through the fires of struggle.
through Miles’s rhythms
enticing our synapses
glimpses of possibilities denied to us
because we are still not free
but the music
the music sends messages
if our minds and hearts stay open.
through the horn
through the drum
For that is the substance of revolution itself.
If you cannot hear it you are not awake.