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Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and the Big Showdown of ’86

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I happened upon this post on Jazz Street Vancouver that recalls the famous/infamous showdown i n ’86 between Miles Davis & Wynton Marsalis at the Expo Theatre during the inaugural Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

“While trumpeter Miles Davis was performing at the Expo Theatre during the inaugural Vancouver International Jazz Festival (1986), a young Wynton Marsalis burst onto the stage unannounced and began playing his trumpet.”

Miles Davis even talks about the confrontation with Wynton Marsalis in his autobiography — p.374-75.

Wynton vs. Miles:

Image / Rights organization: Coastal Jazz and Blues Society
Photographer: Chris Cameron

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6 thoughts on “Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and the Big Showdown of ’86

  1. Miles Davis will be remember for ever as a innovator of jazz music a musician that was not afraid to change is music.While Wynton Marsalis will just be remember as footnote in Jazz as just another good Trumpeter in Jazz..

  2. I dislike that Wynton just came out of nowhere as this young kid and started spouting off about what was “jazz” and what wasn’t. Say what you want about Miles but he at least showed his elders the proper respect. He might’ve railed against Louis Armstrong’s grinning and pandering, but he showed respect and didn’t make his most infalmmatory comments about his contemporaries until he had paid his dues and solidified his claim as the preeminent bandleader in jazz. Miles (with help, of course) changed the face of jazz at least 3 time, Wynton was just retreading over ground long since conquered by the likes of Miles, Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Freddie Hubbard, and Chet Baker. Marsalis looked to the past, the great no-no of jazz, and somehow convinced the right people that what he was doing was going to advance the form. To jump up on Miles’ bandstand was audacious to the point of disrespect, and also a pointless pose from someone clearly seeking approval from a man Marsalis claimed to be no longer relevant. Getting up and blowing over someone else’s band accomplishes little, and any loyal group won’t stand for their leader being shown up in such an unctuous fashion. Why would they endorse such a gesture by giving the interloping soloist a sympathetic backing? As a musician, I know I would have stopped even without prompting from Davis. Wynton’s claim that he was going to use his horn to address the things Miles had said about him would have been pointless even if the Davis group kept playing after Marsalis jumped up- Miles “attacked” Wynton with words, not trumpet notes. The notion that any meaninful “dialogue” would have taken place is laughable as well, as the argument was more complex than “who’s better?” Yes, in the days of bop there would be duels and things of that nature, but it was always predetermined, like the duels of old (glove slap, scheduled meeting time and place, ten paces, BOOM). What Wynton attempted was closer to an ambush, climbing up unnanounced, likely in a conscious attempt to catch the master off guard. Even if Miles had chose to engage, there still would’ve been no way to compare the performance, as he likely wouldn’t have attempted to outrace the fleeter-fingered youngster, probably choosing instead the more mature approach of his later style, full on tone and emotion, short on things like bravado and testosterone. Apples and oranges is an apt comparison. But the comparison is void, as the elder statesman chose not to participate in engaging the petulant youth, opting instead to leave us speculating these 25 years later. MILES FOR PRESIDENT!

  3. Wynton Marslis plays music that is technically competent , and sometime rather admirable but it is utterly sterile and devoid of any on the spirit of jazz, or whatever you want to call the music (Duke Ellington, regarded by many as the greatest ever jazz band leader and composer, never like the label). Miles Davis on the other hand oozed greatness into everything he played, even when he allowed himself to be placed in some of the rather nasty settings composed and arranged by Marcus Miller in his latter years.

    • On first reading of Miles’ autobiography in the early 90’s, I did think that Wynton was rude, brash and arrogant. After seeing Wynton’s Septet’s and JLCO at first hand and hearing him speak countless of times since, I don’t believe there is no greater communicator of the music, with horn in or out of the mouth, in our time. Wynton is not only wholly representative of the tradition, but a true hall of famer, fully belonging in the masters class!

  4. I adore Miles jazz music, but let’s be clear — Miles Davis had stopped playing “jazz” many, many years before this incident. He had become mostly a surly a-hole. The simplest of students of the music know this. As for Wynton — classic or traditional jazz aficionados know the genre is infinitely stronger in the USA today because of his efforts…

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