The genius of Miles Davis

I'm writing something that will be published early this summer about the intersection of great jazz and commercial success. One example, of which there are too few in jazz, is Miles' Kind Of Blue. This is the best selling jazz album of all time, and I've written on the various reasons for its success.

Here's a short excerpt about the Miles' choice of personnel and how important that was to the music.

The Players

Miles’ genius was knowing who to choose for the recording and how to put people together and bring out the best in them. Some accused Miles of sounding like a racist from his own interviews, but in the end if you look at his personnel choices, which is what really counts, they had nothing to do with race. Miles was smart. He intuitively hired the best people to help him sound like he wanted to sound regardless of cultural norms. 

Bill Evans was an important ingredient in this recording for Miles. Miles didn’t see color. He saw excellence. His best friend was Gil Evans, an older white genius arranger. Even though those around him were keenly aware of race, Miles wasn’t when it counted for the music. 

Bill Evans reflected the sensibility and elegance of European classical music through the beauty of Debussy, Ravel, and Scriabin. These were important harmonic and melodic influences for Bill. He also applied his beautiful touch on Kind of Blue from playing those great classical composers of piano music. Played through Bill, those classical influences synthesized with his bebop background gave the music its universal appeal.

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