Nineteen 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.
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 and 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.”
Miles Davis 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 directions.
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 websites are dedicated portals of fandom, built on the ideas and opinions of like-minded admirers.
There’s also that long-awaited, much-discussed Miles Davis Movie in the pipeline.
Consuming Miles. It can be quite…consuming, but oh-so enjoyable.
Miles Davis would be celebrating his 84th birthday today. And while he is no longer with us, ‘Miles Davis’ is truly alive and well in 2010.
* I posted an eerily similar essay last year in honor of MD’s birthday here and at the always excellent St. Louis Jazz Notes. So I figured, why not re-live my thoughts about the jazz legend?!