MY HIS­TORY HERO

Mu­si­cian Court­ney Pine chooses jazz leg­end

BBC History Magazine - - Contents - “I was in­spired by some­one who was not only a mu­si­cian but was brave enough to present their life in evo­lu­tion through mu­sic”

Court­ney Pine chooses Miles Davis

Miles Davis was an Amer­i­can jazz trum­peter, band­leader and com­poser. He adopted a va­ri­ety of mu­si­cal styles that kept him at the fore­front of the jazz world through his ca­reer, but is best known for Kind of Blue (1959), which re­mains the big­gest-sell­ing jazz al­bum of all time. He was buried in New York with one of his trum­pets.

When did you first hear about Miles Davis?

In the late 1970s, when I was in my teens. I had no real idea what jazz mu­sic was – I was more into reg­gae at the time – but I just liked the idea of it. It didn’t seem to mat­ter what in­stru­ment you played, your back­ground or what kind of school you went to, you were able to speak with this very hu­man form of ex­pres­sion. I was just be­gin­ning to ex­plore be­ing a mu­si­cian my­self, and the more I read about this thing called jazz, the more in­trigued I be­came by it – and by Miles Davis, be­cause he seemed so cen­tral to the story.

What kind of per­son was he?

Un­like a lot of jazz mu­si­cians, Miles came from a com­fort­able mid­dle-class back­ground. He was schooled on clas­si­cal mu­sic, like me. But Char­lie Parker [the jazz sax­o­phon­ist] breezed through town one night, and that was it – Miles de­cided he wanted to be a jazz mu­si­cian. He went to study at the In­sti­tute of Mu­si­cal Art (later re­named the Juil­liard School) in New York, but spent much of his time there at jazz ses­sions, where he did most of his mu­si­cal dis­cov­ery. He was in­trigued by this form of mu­sic that was about in­stant cre­ation and in­ven­tion, and that fu­elled his cre­ativ­ity.

What made him a hero?

He put his trum­pet where his mouth was – he didn’t want to chat, he wanted to make mu­sic. In terms of mu­si­cal in­no­va­tion, he was able to see the big­ger picture as a mu­si­cian and band leader. He looked at jazz or­ches­trally and fused jazz with clas­si­cal and el­e­ments of mod­ern-day mu­sic. He also gave his mu­sic space to breathe. He re­mained ad­ven­tur­ous right to the end – his last al­bum, Doo-Bop, (1992), re­leased posthu­mously, was recorded with a hip-hop pro­ducer.

What was Davis’s finest hour?

The al­bum Amand­laa (1989), which he made with a young pro­ducer, Mar­cus Miller, and re­leased quite late in his ca­reer. He em­braced mod­ern-day sounds – the sort of mu­sic that I was hear­ing at raves – and once again cre­ated mu­sic that had never been heard be­fore. Amandla was an al­bum that spoke to my gen­er­a­tion. I think a lot of his later mu­sic is just as good as his ear­lier work.

Is there any­thing you don’t par­tic­u­larly ad­mire about him?

Yes. He took drugs, as any­one who’s seen the biopic Miles Ahead (2015) will know, but that was re­ally only five min­utes in the life of Miles Davis. Taken in to­tal­ity, the good out­weighed the bad.

Can you see any par­al­lels be­tween his life and your own?

I was in­spired by some­one who was not only a mu­si­cian but was brave enough to present their life in evo­lu­tion through mu­sic. Sim­i­larly, I’m al­ways look­ing to the fu­ture – I don’t want to be play­ing the same mu­sic that I played in 1987. My life’s changed and I want my mu­sic to change. Miles showed me that was pos­si­ble.

What do you think he would make of to­day’s jazz scene?

I think he’d love it, par­tic­u­larly the UK jazz scene, be­cause so many of to­day’s mu­si­cians are still will­ing to take chances.

If you could meet Davis, what would you ask him?

I very nearly met Miles once: he and his band walked past me in a ho­tel lobby, but that was the clos­est I ever got. If we’d had the chance to talk, I’d have asked him how he came to be so brave. Court­ney Pine was talk­ing to York Mem­bery Court­ney Pine is one of Britain’s lead­ing jazz mu­si­cians. His lat­est al­bum, Black Notes from the Deep, is out now. He is tour­ing the al­bum un­til De­cem­ber ( court­ney-pine.com) DIS­COVER MORE LIS­TEN AGAIN Hear Adrian Ut­ley dis­cuss Miles Davis on Ra­dio 4’s Great Lives: bbc.co.uk/pro­grammes/b09z4k9z

Jazz trum­peter and com­poser Miles Davis, shown here in 1969, was cen­tral to the story of jazz

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