Traveling Miles… or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, by Dianne Donovan

~ posted by by Dianne Donovan, KMFA announcer

I had a little time away from my Austin home (and KMFA) this summer. For the most part, I was visiting family and friends in the Northeast. However, I heard about one very special exhibition that I just had to take in: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was presenting a multi-media retrospective of the jazz icon, trumpeter, composer, and artist, Miles Davis. As a huge jazz fan, singer, producer/host of jazz radio programs for over 25 years, this really piqued my interest.

“We Want Miles”: Miles vs. Jazz — is an exhibition from Paris that was designed by the Cité de la Musique, Paris, with support by Miles Davis Properties, LCC.

I wondered, how does one capture a lifetime of art from such a complex man who was constantly re-inventing himself? Also, how do you fill the museum with pieces from a man whose medium was, primarily, music?

The exhibition was divided into eight parts in chronological order, from Davis’s early days in St. Louis and New York and Paris, through his ground-breaking recordings in the late ’50s and 60s, to his electric days and to his superstar status, that status beyond anything the jazz world had previously produced.

Each part of the exhibition featured historic photographs, magazine articles, and letters.  There were classic album covers, sheet music with notes about the notes, and of course, music piped throughout, with dedicated listening rooms. The final room featured some of Miles’s own paintings and instruments used on some classic recordings.

While looking at some of the early photographs, I was lured into another room by some very familiar music. Isn’t that “Will O’ The Wisp” by Manuel de Falla…oh yes, from the album, “Sketches of Spain,” a masterwork from Miles Davis and the great arranger, Gil Evans, the focal point of which is a reworking of the adagio movement from the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo. This wasn’t your everyday jazz album, but as Miles put it, “It’s music, and I like it.”

That attitude served Miles Davis and music well, as the musician was constantly reaching for new sounds, ignoring barriers, both social and musical.

One part of the exhibit captured museum-goers in a kind of state of suspended animation. It was in the room that featured information and music from the recording, “Kind of Blue.”  This is the quintessential jazz album. It is also the best-selling jazz album of all time.  I’ve read countless articles and one entire book about the making of “Kind of Blue.” The extraordinary effect that this masterpiece has always had on listeners was once again on display, as one by one, folks stopped looking at the exhibit and just sat quietly, allowing the music to flow over them.

Another highlight was a film clip of Teo Macero, talking about producing Miles’s records. In all, Macero produced 99 Miles Davis recordings, including “Kind of Blue.” Their’s was a prolific if sometimes combative relationship.

Miles Davis was endlessly talented, outspoken and soft-spoken, often controversial and always interesting. He influenced not only jazz, but in tearing down musical boundaries, he helped to pave the way for all musicians who do not wish to be confined by musical parameters.

~Dianne Donovan is KMFA’s midday announcer and host/producer of Classical Austin. You can listen to a new episode of Classical Austin every Wednesday at 8pm, on KMFA-FM, 89.5.

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