I thought Miles Davis died before hashtags. I looked up #socialmusic because it was printed on the back of Davis’ jacket at the conclusion of the movie Miles Ahead. On Facebook, I found pictures of people partying at bars and encountered jazz pianist Jon Batiste, but most Twitter search results referenced this film. I had suspended my disbelief because I thought I was watching a biopic with a fictional internal narrator from the United Kingdom tagging along with a larger-than-life man of African descent, as in The Last King of Scotland. What I knew of Davis’ personal life was less than the non-fiction contained in Miles Ahead, but I soaked up the film’s perspectives on Davis as a musician, recording artist, and husband.
A scene that significantly impacted me was Davis as a composer collaborating with an notator-conductor. It reminded me that musicians other than J. S. Bach and his contemporaries consider improvisation an integral part of their creative process. I frequently want to tell my students (with G-rated language), “Be wrong strong.” I need to dare to record my rehearsals, not just my final products.
I easily forget how recently musicians have become the owners of their work. The DIY musician responsibilities of producing, booking, and marketing are sometimes overwhelming, but I would rather have these stresses than Miles’ struggles with record label management.
Although I had seen Frances Taylor’s image on album covers, I did not know who she was, nor did liner notes inform me that she was once married to Davis. I was grateful to be introduced to her color-barrier-breaking career and to read more about her afterward. I admired her response to the police brutality toward Davis; I lamented his failure to cherish her exclusively and to support her career. Their relationship’s downfall was loving their art more than they loved their spouse, a stance I refuse to emulate.
Davis’ autobiography is on my reading list, but in the meantime, I am glad another artist reminded me how much I respect this musician’s legacy.