It Was ‘A Great Day in Harlem,’ But Where Was Miles Davis?

great-day-in-harlemArt Kane’s legendary photograph A Great Day In Harlem is one of my favorite images; a single snapshot of jazz history.

Often times, when I look over the faces of all those jazz greats who gathered on that August day in 1958, I wonder, “Hey! Where’s Miles Davis?”

I was reminded of my curiosity after reading Ian Patterson’s terrific retrospective of the classic, black and white group portrait of jazz musicians.

Patterson notes the prominent names of jazz legends that were not in attendance on 126th street in uptown Harlem for the photo shoot, resulting in an interesting sub-plot to the actual events of that day.

Along with Miles Davis, big names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald (among others) were also not in attendance.

Patterson writes, “All those absent giants of jazz, and others too numerous mention, are nonetheless felt somehow to be present—represented by musicians who played with them, and who inspired and were inspired by them. Like with any family reunion, its absent members are with us in spirit.”

But Miles Davis, where was he?

I was lucky enough to catch up with Patterson and asked his theory of Miles’ absence.

“I don’t know where Miles was that day,” says Patterson, “but as none of his usual sidemen around that time (Cannonball, Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe) were in the picture it is quite likely he was out of town with his group that day.”

He added, “I do tend to think that even had he been in town he wouldn’t have been too bothered to turn up for the photo shoot. I don’t think it was his style at all.”

And let’s not forget the shoot took place at 10am – not exactly prime time for jazz musicians, many of whom had probably just gone to bed a few hours earlier after a long night of playing. Then again, some of the musicians might have just gone straight from the gig to the photo shoot.

Looking at the photo now, I wonder where Miles Davis would have been positioned for the photo; would he be front and center with Stuff Smith and Coleman Hawkins, or perhaps he’d rather be off to the (right) side, mingling with fellow trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge.

Or maybe he walks up, checks the scene and decides to hell with it and goes home.

I’m not sure if the musicians were told where to stand, or if they just showed up and stood around waiting for novice photographer Art Kane to get started. I really need to see Jean Bach’s 1994 documentary of the event.

I found this quote from Art Kane on JazzBrat.com: “I couldn’t control it because you had musicians who hadn’t seen each other in one solid congregation probably ever before, and to try to control this group was near impossible.”

George Rafael, writing at The First Post, had this to say:

“Establishing a semblance of order at the shoot was another problem. Musicians who hadn’t seen one another in years fell into each others arms, caught up on old times, though stride giant Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith – who only taught Fats Waller the ropes – got tired of waiting and strolled off frame. A fatigued Count Basie sat on the curb and was joined by a swarm of children. Rex Stuart, late of the Ellington band, brought his ax along in case of a jam.”

That Kane pulled it off at all is a minor miracle. Sounds like quite an ordeal.

Looking back, it’s an interesting parlor game to think about where Miles Davis, Ellington, Coltrane and the other no-shows would be located in the famous photograph.

The photo is close to perfect as is, and perhaps there’s an added bit of folklore to the photograph because of who didn’t make it. Still, it feels like a family photo that’s missing a few siblings.

But back to the whereabouts of Miles Davis…

Marian McPartland, one of the 57 jazz artists in the photo, is quoted in Patterson’s story with her own theory as to Miles’ whereabouts: “Well, of course Miles (Davis) probably thought: ‘Oh, to hell with that, I’m not going.’ I’m sure he didn’t care about that a bit. But I’m surprised that Duke (Ellington) didn’t go because a lot of his band members were there, like Sonny Greer and several of the brass players.”

In the story Patterson recounts that, “notices were put up in all the jazz clubs, and at the Musician’s Union Local 802 office, announcing that the photo shoot was scheduled for ten o’clock on the morning of August the 12th, 1958.”

Again, 10:00 am is not ideal scheduling for jazz musicians.

There might not be a great conspiracy, or even amusing anecdote as to why Miles Davis missed the photo shoot. Patterson’s opinion is most likely the correct version: out of town or ambivalent. It’s one of the two – or perhaps both.

I’m trying to recall if his absence was mentioned in any of the biographies, or perhaps in his autobiography. I also wonder, as the years went by and the photograph became so iconic, if Miles Davis regretted not being there. Or maybe he didn’t care one way or the other.

No matter. It’s still a wonderful photograph with or without Miles Davis. Sure, it might have been an even greater day in Harlem had a few other legends been able to attend, or chose to be there, but that’s their loss. They missed out on being part of what has become a much-loved image, jazz history in a single photograph.

A Great Day in Harlem: The Spirit Lives – 50 Years On

Image: A Great Day in Harlem (credit: Art Kane)

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The Miles Davis Online Interview: Padraic M. O’Reilly

mdavis I’m stumbling across the vast reaches of the ‘net looking for All Things Miles Davis and discover a wonderful Giclee Print of Miles Davis by artist Padraic M. O’Reilly.

A writer, artist and all around creative guy, Padraic was kind enough to spend a few minutes chatting about the story and artistic process behind this particular, and quite terrific, Miles Davis print.

Miles Davis Online: Let’s talk about your wonderful illustration of Miles Davis. For starters, why Miles Davis?

Padraic O’Reilly:  There is a bit of a story behind why I painted him. At the time, I was in a rough patch between a couple of art schools, so I was driving a cab on the late shift and just sort of socking away money. Come midnight, I’d turn the dial down to this Boston Jazz station, WBUR I think. And they played a lot of Miles, which was perfect music for tooling around Boston in the lonely night. When I got back to school, I had this teacher, Dan Miller, who was a terrific portrait artist, and while he preferred to work from life, he’d use photos, too, if he didn’t have a model.

He liked to draw and paint artists that he admired. Not too long after getting out of school, I figured I’d give it a shot; hence the Miles portrait.

MDO: It looks like an image that represents Miles in his later years, unless I’m reading it wrong.

Padraic O’Reilly: Yeah, though it’s over a decade now, and I don’t have the source photos anymore. He’s got that quintessential artist glare in his eyes, you know, like the older Picasso.

MDO: Talk about the process behind this particular work. I’m curious about what type of tools you used, colors and the overall method.

Padraic O’Reilly: I had a couple of photos, and I taped them up over a piece of masonite that I primed. I like masonite because the brush deposits the paint quite smoothly, and detail is easier for me on it. It’s an oil painting, very much a straight ahead, classical portrait.

I did an under-painting first, in burnt sienna, which, if you do it right, gives the shadows a great, luminous quality. An under-painting is a one-tone image that you paint over. It can work almost like a beat in music if you do it right–something to hang the rest of the work on.

Dutch portraits–Hals, Rembrandt–were the inspiration here, as they are the best at this technique. Then I knocked in his features, pretty quickly, trying to get that painterly quality, like it was tossed off. I used a lot of medium, linseed oil and turpentine, to make it look buttery, too. I wanted some color in the background, to help his face pop a little more, and the red worked well, I think, because his expression is so intense.

MDO: Any new plays, or artwork in the pipeline?

Padraic O’Reilly: I’m writing a book right now, about a year spent teaching in Harlem. Hopefully, that’ll be out at the end of the year. It’s called Bad Teacher. Also, I have a show of portraits going up in Ballinamore, Ireland, at the Solas Gallery in November. I sold another artist portrait–of the great Irish novelist John McGahern–to a close friend of his in Ballinamore about two years ago.

My father lives there, so I went over and took a bunch of pics of the townsfolk. Great faces. And now I’m painting them. I’ll get a website up soon: Project Ballinamore.

MDO: Would you ever consider another Miles Davis work?

Padraic O’Reilly: Oh, absolutely. The guy had a helluva face, and people really seem to like that portrait.

MDO: And because it’s all about Miles Davis around here, what’s your favorite Miles album?

Padraic O’Reilly: Well, it would have to be those cab nocturnes. Kind of Blue. All Blues–what a song!–and I had quite a few Freddie Freeloaders in that back  seat, man. No Joke.

Artwork is © Padraic M. O’Reilly
Reproductions available on All Posters or Artist Rising

Talkin Miles: Jimmy Cobb, Common & Walkin’

milesdavis282getty * The 50th anniversary of jazz’s best selling record was celebrated at the Hay festival with the surviving member of the group which made it — Jimmy Cobb.

* Miles Davis – My Funny Valentine (1964)

* Street art, Miles Davis style

* Cold Blues reminds not to forget how awesome Walkin’ is.

* Howard Mandel talks Cecil Taylor and Miles Davis in NYC (and India)

* “Miles had a funk to his style, but it was sharp and progressive.” — Common, Rap Star


Miles Davis / In Pictures

milesandmonk

Miles Davis / On eBay

coasters

Bad economy, whatever. I want this. Don’t tell me a highball glass wouldn’t look nice atop one of these bad boys.

MILES DAVIS – Drink Coasters

The Eyes Have It

miles-davis-eyes-1986“This is the face of a sorcerer or a fallen angel. Miles Davis was of course, first and foremost, one of most influential iconoclasts of 20th century music, a ferocious talent who “didn’t take no shit off nobody” and always played his chosen tormented Dark Magus role to the hilt.

“That baleful stare and gorgeous bone structure lent Davis a painfully beautiful, otherworldly quality that only deepened with age. From Kind of Blue LP liner photos to Anton Corbijn’s famous portraits taken decades later, the eyes have it.”

* From coilhouse.net

Talkin’ Miles: Movies & Art

sketches-of-spain-cover* Sketches of Spain, now re-released

* Now showing at the Santa Monica Musuem of Art, “Barkley L.Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, Paintings 1964-2007,” which assembles more than 50 works on canvas. (Title is a nice hat-tip to Miles Davis no doubt).

* A broad look at music bio-pics that might be a good idea, and those not so much. The Miles Davis Biopic gets a ‘Yes.’

Miles Davis, 2009

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(This post also appears on St. Louis Jazz Notes)

Eighteen years after his passing and a generation or two removed from when his songs were considered ‘popular music,’ Miles Davis’ place in our cultural and musical foundation remains secure. And in this wired age, the discovery and experience of Miles Davis, one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, is as immediate and exciting as ever.

There are only a handful of entertainers that transcend art, those titanic names whose mythology becomes more absorbing with each passing year. In time, the lies and truths may blur, but the artistry is forever genuine.

Think Sinatra. Elvis. Perhaps James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, or The Beatles, James Brown and Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis is definitely on the list of the most important pop culture figures of the 20th century; those timeless icons that mystify and delight.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue this year, the tribute concerts, magazine articles and countless Internet posts reflect not only an artistic triumph much-deserved of such commemoration, but also that in 2009, there’s still an active, healthy interest in listening to, writing about and appreciating the legacy of Miles Davis.

If anything, the Kind of Blue anniversary has generated a cottage industry around its recognition, providing a wealth of great commentary and multimedia.

Perhaps the best way to gauge the popularity of Miles Davis these days is by simply speaking with those not interested in jazz. They might not listen to Miles Davis’ music, but they know “Miles Davis.” Perhaps for most people nothing springs to mind quicker when hearing “Miles Davis” than the word ‘cool,’ a multi-functional expression almost exclusively associated with Miles Davis in popular culture.

There’s that funny line of dialogue in the comedy “Billy Madison” that ends with the oft-repeated phrase, “….consider me Miles Davis.” That, perhaps, cemented the ‘cool’ association to the general public, even though the relationship between musician and descriptor run back 60 years.

‘Cool’ as Miles Davis might be (or has always been), how does a music legend long since passed exist in the media landscape today when the zeitgeist seems to shift with each new episode of American Idol ?

It’s hard out here for a jazz legend. Of course nostalgia never hurts. Great music, just like movies and literature, never tire and receive more heaping praise every year.

That’s fine for entertainment preference, but let’s give praise to how well ‘Miles Davis,’ the brand, the business, has converged with today’s frenetic digital culture; it’s a testament to everyone involved, from fans and writers to the musicians and businessmen, that Miles Davis continues to be a viable part of art, commerce and pop culture.

No denying the brand thrives – someone is buying all those CDs, books and posters. A new generation is discovering the music via the web, the great conduit for stumbling upon an MP3 of “If I Were A Bell.”

It’s cliché to repeat the adage that Kind of Blue is the one jazz CD even non-jazz fans own, but it makes a strong point about pop culture and being part of something ‘special.’

Miles Davis fits that bill. He brings the mythology to the party, and we are compelled to take notice. People care and people are interested. Technology is our means to tap the source and engage Miles Davis from all angles.

His story and music are a click away. The web is packed with vintage images shot through the lens of famous photographers, and admirers can peruse thousands of random and creative photos on Flickr. Blogs track every reference and detail, and Web sites are dedicated portals of fandom, built on the ideas and opinions of likeminded admirers.

There are books, waves of critical analysis, skateboard designs, theatre productions and gallery retrospectives. YouTube is invaluable (thanks to the content owners) in presenting classic footage.

Consuming Miles. It can be quite…consuming, but oh-so enjoyable.

Miles Davis would be celebrating his 83rd birthday today. And while he is no longer with us, ‘Miles Davis’ is truly alive and well in 2009.

(This post also appears on St. Louis Jazz Notes)

Miles Davis 2009

23playxlarge1

Eighteen years after his passing and a generation or two removed from when his songs were considered ‘popular music,’ Miles Davis’ place in our cultural and musical foundation remains secure. And in this wired age, the discovery and experience of Miles Davis, one of the most influential musicians in jazz history, is as immediate and exciting as ever.

There are only a handful of entertainers that transcend art, those titanic names whose mythology becomes more absorbing with each passing year. In time, the lies and truths may blur, but the artistry is forever genuine.

Think Sinatra. Elvis. Perhaps James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, or The Beatles, James Brown and Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis is definitely on the list of the most important pop culture figures of the 20th century; those timeless icons that mystify and delight.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue this year, the tribute concerts, magazine articles and countless Internet posts reflect not only an artistic triumph much-deserved of such commemoration, but also that in 2009, there’s still an active, healthy interest in listening to, writing about and appreciating the legacy of Miles Davis.

If anything, the Kind of Blue anniversary has generated a cottage industry around its recognition, providing a wealth of great commentary and multimedia.

Perhaps the best way to gauge the popularity of Miles Davis these days is by simply speaking with those not interested in jazz. They might not listen to Miles Davis’ music, but they know “Miles Davis.” Perhaps for most people nothing springs to mind quicker when hearing “Miles Davis” than the word ‘cool,’ a multi-functional expression almost exclusively associated with Miles Davis in popular culture.

There’s that funny line of dialogue in the comedy “Billy Madison” that ends with the oft-repeated phrase, “….consider me Miles Davis.” That, perhaps, cemented the ‘cool’ association to the general public, even though the relationship between musician and descriptor run back 60 years.

‘Cool’ as Miles Davis might be (or has always been), how does a music legend long since passed exist in the media landscape today when the zeitgeist seems to shift with each new episode of American Idol ?

It’s hard out here for a jazz legend. Of course nostalgia never hurts. Great music, just like movies and literature, never tire and receive more heaping praise every year.

That’s fine for entertainment preference, but let’s give praise to how well ‘Miles Davis,’ the brand, the business, has converged with today’s frenetic digital culture; it’s a testament to everyone involved, from fans and writers to the musicians and businessmen, that Miles Davis continues to be a viable part of art, commerce and pop culture.

No denying the brand thrives – someone is buying all those CDs, books and posters. A new generation is discovering the music via the web, the great conduit for stumbling upon an MP3 of “If I Were A Bell.”

It’s cliché to repeat the adage that Kind of Blue is the one jazz CD even non-jazz fans own, but it makes a strong point about pop culture and being part of something ‘special.’

Miles Davis fits that bill. He brings the mythology to the party, and we are compelled to take notice. People care and people are interested. Technology is our means to tap the source and engage Miles Davis from all angles.

His story and music are a click away. The web is packed with vintage images shot through the lens of famous photographers, and admirers can peruse thousands of random and creative photos on Flickr. Blogs track every reference and detail, and Web sites are dedicated portals of fandom, built on the ideas and opinions of likeminded admirers.

There are books, waves of critical analysis, skateboard designs, theatre productions and gallery retrospectives. YouTube is invaluable (thanks to the content owners) in presenting classic footage.

There’s even a Miles Davis Movie in the pipeline.

Consuming Miles. It can be quite…consuming, but oh-so enjoyable.

Miles Davis would be celebrating his 83rd birthday today. And while he is no longer with us, ‘Miles Davis’ is truly alive and well in 2009.

(This post also appears on St. Louis Jazz Notes)

Happy Birthday Miles Davis

miles_davis_smokes

Miles Dewey Davis III
American Jazz Trumpeter, Bandleader, & Composer
(1926 – 1991)

Miles Davis / In Pictures

paris-dizandmiles

Miles Davis / In Pictures

birdandmd

Talkin’ Miles: 1959, KoB & A New T-Shirt

miles-davis-my-funny-valentine

— Congrats to George Avakian. He’s been named one of the eight recipients of The National Endowment for the Arts’ 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Award — the nation’s highest honor in this distinctly American music. The eight recipients will each receive a $25,000 grant award and be publicly honored in an awards ceremony and concert on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Besides producing some of the finest jazz albums of the 1950s for Columbia, including Miles Davis’s Miles Ahead and Duke Ellington’s Ellington at Newport, he helped establish the 33 1/3 LP as the primary format for the recording industry. He also was the first to produce reissues of long out-of-print jazz recordings.

Ludwig unveils the Miles Davis 50th Anniversary T-Shirt.

— Miles Davis Audio: Jools Holland talks to Miles Davis. The conversation (November 14, 1986) lasts just 4 minutes, but it’s a great clip.

— Over at BlogCritics, Horace Mungin reviews/remembers The Complete Columbia Recordings: Miles Davis & John Coltrane.

Kind of Blue mentioned, of course, in another look back to 1959 – quite possibly the greatest year in the history of jazz.

Miles Davis / Fillmore East 1970

— “I’ve nearly finished the Miles Davis autobiography called Miles, which I’m really enjoying.”  / David Best of Fujiya & Miyagi speaking to The Line Of Best Fit.

— I’d just like to add that I think the above album cover is one of my favorites – of any genre, any artist. I just had to get that on record…

Miles Davis Birthday Tribute In Chicago

davis_plugged_nickel1Via Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune:

The spirit of Miles Davis will hover over the Velvet Lounge this holiday weekend, with musicians influenced by the iconic trumpeter playing potentially significant shows.

* The main event will unfold on Monday, when pianist-composer Robert “Baabe” Irving III presides over an annual birthday tribute to Davis, who would have turned 83 that day (he died in 1991, at age 65).

* For the birthday celebration, Irving will convene a quintet featuring trumpeter Walter Henderson, saxophonist James Perkins, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Ernie Adams. The repertoire will focus on music from Davis’ classic 1960s quintet — with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams.

The Irving band may touch briefly on plugged-in Miles, but it will focus on acoustic repertory, “mostly classic post-bop,” says Irving.

Miles Davis / In Pictures

milesmcqueen

Miles Davis and Steve McQueen – backstage at the Monterey Jazz festival, 1963.

Cool.