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Electric Miles: Behind The 'Brew'

Aug 15, 2019
Originally published on August 21, 2019 9:56 am

Electric Miles. Few word pairings in the jazz lexicon are apt to inspire so much contention and challenge and ferment. What the phrase refers to, of course, is a period in the career of trumpeter Miles Davis, spanning the last third of his life. And while there are other important antecedents, the big bang of this period is an album recorded 50 years ago by the name of Bitches Brew.

This episode of Jazz Night in America takes us behind the furious mystique of that album, illuminating the musical and cultural forces Miles was metabolizing at the time. We'll hear from an array of authorities on the subject — notably his second wife, funk heroine and fashion icon Betty Davis, who inspired his outrageous transformation in the Age of Aquarius. ("Whatever I would wear, he would wear," says Betty with a laugh, in this rare, can't-miss interview.)

Among the other essential voices in the show is electric bassist Marcus Miller, who served as musical director and record producer for a later edition of Davis' band. We'll hear highlights from an Electric Miles concert that Miller put together for Jazz at Lincoln Center — featuring not one but two blazing trumpeters, Russell Gunn and Marquis Hill, along with stone killers like guitarist Vernon Reid.

"When you create music," Miller asserts, "your primary responsibility is to reflect the times that you live in." That's one of many explanations for the current that flows through Electric Miles — and the charge that it can still deliver.

Set List

  • "Directions" (Joe Zawinul)
  • "Bitches Brew" (Miles Davis)
  • "Spanish Key" (Miles Davis)
  • "Black Satin" interlude (Miles Davis)
  • "Tutu" (Marcus Miller)

Musicians

Marcus Miller – Music Director, Bandleader, Bass Guitar, Bass Clarinet ; Brett Williams – Keyboards; Alex Han – Saxophone; Marquis Hill – Trumpet; Russell Gunn – Trumpet; Vernon Reid – Guitar; Alex Bailey – Drums; Mino Cinelu – Percussion.

Credits

Host: Christian McBride; Producers: Sarah Geledi with Trevor Smith; Editor: Alex Ariff; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber; Executive Producers: Amy Niles, Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundman; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey; Production Assistant: Sarah Kerson; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed

Copyright 2019 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.