Sep

24

LectureHop: From Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew

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A younger Miles with a smile

Bwog’s resident blue note enthusiast Briana Last reports from Thursday’s talk.

It was hard finding a seat in Room 622, Dodge Hall Thursday night at 8 PM. In fact, more than a dozen people stood outside the door for two hours, peering their heads in to listen to the raspy impersonation of Miles Davis that Quincy Troupe put on so expertly. Troupe’s shoulder-length braids, ornate scarf, and sleekly polished dress shoes are just indications of the flair he resonates in both his own personal life and the manner in which he tells a story.

Quincy Troupe is the perfect man to host a lecture called “Kind of Blue to Bitches Brew,” an analytical survey of Miles Davis’s musical reinventions and aspirations during and between the release of those two albums (1958-1970). Troupe, a St. Louis native born “right across the river” from where Davis grew up in East St. Louis, was one of Davis’s closest friends. Quincy Troupe attributes this to the fact that he wasn’t afraid to let Davis know when he was acting out of hand: “He knew not to threaten me because I would have whooped him.” Whenever Davis tried his sass, he would reply, “Imma aim for your lip and break your embouchure.” Miles’s only response: “Shiiiiit.” Famous for writing the memoirs of their friendship in a book called Miles and Me, Troupe established a relationship with Davis that was envied by writers who knew him to be a very private person, wary of critics who wanted to dissect and categorize his work. According to Troupe, “Miles hated the term ‘jazz.’ He said he was simply playing music.”

Troupe proceeded to dedicate his lecture to the two seminal albums of Davis’s career. The first, Kind of Blue was a foray into uncharted territory: modal music. With his dynamic quintet of renowned musicians in their own right, Davis played with various improvisation techniques that were revolutionary at that point in musical history. According to Troupe, “Miles used to say he wasn’t ahead of his time. No one could be ahead of their time, but he was on time.” This experimentation and reinvention of sound came to Davis as the political stage in America was changing. At at time when John Kennedy was running for president and African-Americans were fighting for civil rights, the musician began discovering different genres, such as Guinean African music.

In the eyes of Troupe, the years following Kind of Blue were Miles’s most successful. A new quintet formed, and accompanying it, a feeling a restlessness with the modal way of playing. Davis began to sit back and learn from this new set of players. The musician once said, “You got the right group playing the right thing at the right time and you got a motherfucker.” As he liked to put it, “Rhythm is like breathing and that’s what I began to learn to learn from this group.”

This new group of players— among them Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin, shaped the music that was recorded on Bitches Brew, where Miles found himself wanting “less abstraction and more funk.” At the time, Davis reinvented the way he dressed, secretly funded The Black Panthers, and was introduced to Jimi Hendrix by his wife Betty Mabry, who was familiar with the music of the rock n’roll because of their secret love affair. This new album was filled with shorter riffs, trumpets imitating the sounds of the electric guitar, and novel concepts of recording— like keeping the track running as to not stop the flow of music. This also caused a host of critics to assault Davis’s new style, but that didn’t stop him from continuing the search for different ways to express himself.

As Quincy Troupe’s lecture came to a close, he reminded the audience that Davis never stopped trying to reinvent the art form. He was unyielding in his risk taking and ever excited to try new things. As Troupe remarked, “Miles didn’t run out of music, he just ran out of time.”

Miles via Wikimedia Commons

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1 Comment

  1. "The Claw"

    Loved reading your review, sounds like it was a great show! - really nice way to start the day :)

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