Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Miles Davis In Musical Crime Shock!

In episode four of Michael Mann’s cop series, Crime Story, two characters walk into a club to the sound of Miles Davis. This is an episode I’d been looking forward to, knowing that the man with the horn was due to make a guest appearance.
   But hold on, something is very wrong. This is supposed to be set in the very early 60s, right? So how come it sounds as if they’ve walked into a wine bar circa 1986?
   The band is playing a kind of bland, mid-tempo jazz-funk. This is very wrong. And there’s Miles, looking just as he would have done when the series was filmed in ’86! He’s got his crazy long curly locks, shiny jacket and all. As you may know, for a man who once prided himself in his sartorial elegance, this period marks a terrible finale for Miles when it comes to threads. This is the time of the Tutu album (1986, that is, not 1961), an awful record which I try to imagine doesn’t actually exist. I think the man had just gone mad by then, crushed by the weight of a brilliant career, most of which was spent on the cutting-edge. So he tried to claw his way into the present via programmed drums and naff synth sounds.
   They couldn’t get him to cut his hair for the role, obviously. Imagine the scene. The director suggests a haircut for authenticity. “Fuck that muthafuckin’ shit,” replies Miles in that gruff voice of his. “And I’m not playing old muthafuckin’ music, either. Nor am I wearing that old muthafuckin’ suit.” The director and designers tremble before apologising and letting the legend do what he wants.
   So, it’s 1961 and Miles, looking as he would have done in ’86, is with a band playing some tepid ‘fusion’. It’s like a weird time warp in which a musical pioneer crops up in the past, playing the worst of his future, the worst of the genre he would transform in reality.
   Can you imagine the state my head was in after experiencing this?
   Why weren’t they playing ‘So What?’ or ‘My Funny Valentine’? Miles must have still had the chops to wing it for a few bars, surely.
   Mann had already used Miles as a pimp in Miami Vice. Concerned about this role, he was apparently told by fellow actors: ‘Man, it’s nothing, nothing but lies, Miles’. Perhaps he remembered that advice when appearing in this bizarre musical scene. Did he choose the musical style? If so, was it a joke on his behalf? Or was he trying to sell Tutu subliminally? We may never know.
   There’s ‘lying’ as an actor, but lying about history you were crucial too is going way too far.
   To help me recover from this I need some Miles as he really was in the early-60s...cue Some Day My Prince Will Come...


  1. I remember the original broadcast of this episode as though it was yesterday!
    Our twenty four hour a day, seven days a week local treasure KJAZ 92.7 FM had prompted the daytime listeners the Friday before to be on alert to catch the Miles cameo "this Sunday night"
    I did watch, eagerly waiting to see Miles, as you said; in Ivy League lapels and with the make up crew doing something with those extensions he was wearing then.
    I must have glanced away to look at the clock or to pull up or push down the bed covers...because I missed the scene, until now, reading your account of it...I thought I had really missed something special.
    Include me out as I cannot agree with you on your critique of "Tutu" I'm afraid.
    I have to say that; along with "Tutu"
    "We Want Miles", "Montreax 1986" and "Live Around The World" are the newest (underscored) of my favourite Miles recordings.
    That whole movement with Foley, Mike Stern and Kenny Garret et al really take me back to better days.
    All the same, thank you for posting and shedding light on exactly what I missed that night twenty eight years back!

    1. We'll have to agree to disagree about the merits of Miles in the 80s. I'm not too keen on anything he did when returning from retirement, apart from some of We Want Miles. No band of that era matched any of the earlier ones. Thanks for commenting.

  2. PS
    To remind of those classic years and sounds we both harken to;
    I'm building a 1/24 scale 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso GT with interior accoutrements that will leave no doubts that the owner digs the music of Miles.

  3. Your welcome!
    We do agree on "no band of that era matching the earlier ones"
    Covers like "Time After Time" and "Human Nature" made no sense to me then...or now, but that was Miles doing what he wanted to do.
    With what music is quickly devolving to; who knows? maybe twenty years from now they might sound great to me (if I apply Duke Ellington's explanation of "Connoisseur")
    That's one of the benefits of the ART; it's so varied...we should never starve.


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