The Miles Davis Reader
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., March 28, 2008
The Miles Davis Reader: Interviews and Features from Downbeat Magazineedited and compiled by Frank Alkyer
Hal Leonard Books, 354 pp., $24.95
More has been written about Miles Davis than any other jazz musician. With a career that spanned six decades and spearheaded every significant stylistic innovation during that time (mid-1940s to 1991), Davis remains the genre's – and music's – quintessential modernist. This absorbing collection, arranged chronologically into three sections, culls 60 years' worth of news items, articles, and reviews from the storied annuals of Downbeat magazine, the foremost jazz publication. It's all here: Davis as bebop sideman to Charlie Parker, the birth of cool, his incomparable 1950s and 1960s quintets, collaborating with Gil Evans, modal innovations, and, of course, the sonic onslaught of jazz-rock-funk fusion. The interviews and Blindfold Tests are most revealing of the trumpeter's complexity – thoughtful, insightful, and passionate one moment, arrogant, opinionated, and abusive the next. Not only is it fascinating to trace the evolution of jazz criticism through these pages; it's also telling how perception of his music changed over time. In particular, Davis' fusion albums were often panned at the time of their release yet heralded as prescient milestones years later. Jazz lovers will find this compilation an essential read.