Friday, 26 September 2014

Miles and Dad

I've got more CDs by Miles Davis than by anyone else. Not sure how many. About 50. That is hardly an accident and so his music must matter to me. I think the first Miles album I heard was 'Sketches of Spain'. The main piece on this is an arrangement by Gil Evans of the middle movement of Rodrigo's guitar Concerto de Aranjuez. The melody is very familiar now and has been arranged and recorded umpteen times over. I've read that some jazz critics didn't care much for the album - it seemed a bit bland, wallpaper music to some. It is music that can be ignored I suppose. Don't turn the volume up, pick-up a magazine, drink some wine - 'Sketches of Spain' can be ignored, but I don't think it should be.

Miles Davis wasn't always a happy man; he abused drugs and alcohol for much of his adult life. He was often in physical pain; he had many relationships with beautiful women but they were often destructive and he treated the women badly. The anguish that was part of his life is close to the surface in his soloing on 'Sketches of Spain' (not that this was an especially bad time in his life). Davis was not one to shout about his hurt (though he didn't suffer fools gladly) but neither was he able to run away from it. There is an open beauty to his playing at this time - as spare and as minimal as ever - that is starkly exposed by Evans' settings. One friend says he really doesn't care for the Davis/Evans account of the Rodrigo melody; I'm not sure what his problem with it is exactly but it could be the nakedness of Davis' trumpet lines are at times too hard to bear. Certainly it hasn't the romance of the original.

'Sketches of Spain' was released in 1960 I think. I heard it in the early 70s. It was a record that I borrowed from the London Borough of Southwark's record library. I can't even borrow a CD from the library anymore. Vinyl records are quite delicate things of course, easily damaged. If you borrowed library records it was prudent to go for ones that had been borrowed only two or three times. Older records often looked as though Sunday tea had been served on them. The librarians who bought the records did not necessarily have good judgement but in days long before Spotify and so on it wasn't easy to hear new music. Record libraries enabled me to take a chance on music that I didn't know, and 'Sketches of Spain' (and discs by Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman) was a very fortunate chance. 

Miles was born in 1926 and died in 1991. My father was born in 1925 and died in 1991. Apart from the contemporaneity they had just about nothing in common. Miles could not have been my father, of course, nor would I wanted someone like him as a father; he was far too volatile and selfish a man. My dad was - in cultural and life-style terms - a much more conservative man than someone like Miles. It is odd to be reminded, however, that men so different were contemporaries and that not all dads were like your own father.

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