couw

Why I hate Miles

192 posts in this topic

JazzMoose posted some interesting remarks in this thread about his judgement of Miles not being that essential or likeable (hope I'm not putting any words in your moose mouth here). I agree with that sentiment. Some people would like that explained. I have been asked before to do just that in an email exchange with Ubu. So here goes.

It's not easy to explain. It's like your guys having to explain why you DO like Miles's trumpet playing. Take a shot I'd say.

To put it very simply: I HATE his tone. 'nuff said if it were about any other artist. I fear that it is not that simple when Miles is concerned. I understand that an overwhelming public sees things differently, and so I'll try to put some more beef on the assesment.

To me, there isn't much to like. Once he stuffs that stuff in his horn, his tone becomes horrible to my ears. Way too fragile. He doesn't hold his notes but wavers around like a drunken man, hoping to hit the one that may fit where it belongs. Early in his (unmuted) carreer - BN albums come to mind - his tone was weak and his technique wasn't top-notch, but that didn't detract from the great music that was being played by those surrounding him. Later on, he specialised on this image (tone) of the vulnerable guy who understands the women or whatever. Even when not muted it started to sound like a stumbling baby.

I can understand that technique isn't the alpha and omega of all music, but to me the story that Miles is trying to tell suffers from a lack of technique BIG TIME. In my opinion his minimalistic approach demands that you have perfect control of the horn. I don't hear that. To me such an approach means you have to select the right tone at the right moment and it has to be perfectly phrased and perfectly timed. Miles falls short in ALL these in my humble opinion and for my tastes. Besides the fact that I find nothing pleasing in his tone, I am of the opinion that he not only selects the wrong notes to play, but plays them badly on top of that. Comparing his minimalism to that of Monk, Monk stars shines so brightly it becomes hard to listen to it. When Monk is the well dressed emperor, Miles is left without the clothes.

I understand that he has contributed a lot to the development of jazz music (though I am in no position to judge that). I am not talking about that, but about his playing.

Now it's your turn I'd say: what's so good about the guy's music that people seem to treat him as a demi-god or at least have him & his music as one of the main focal points of of their music collection?

Edited by couw

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Well...

:g:g:g:g:g

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Besides the fact that I find nothing pleasing in his tone, I am of the opinion that he not only selects the wrong notes to play, but plays them badly on top of that.

Eek!!

That's what I have always loved about Miles. The fact he doesn't need a shedload of notes, but plays the ones of choice SOooo well.

You're a brave man John :unsure:

cheers, tonym

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Well...

:g:g:g:g:g

lost for words Jim?

That would be a novelty! Do I get a prize?

:g:excited:

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20 + years ago, I remember telling the guy that first introduced me to jazz (retired record producer), that I thought miles sounded “sickly.” My remark was met with furrowed-brow silence and the subject changed.

I’ve come to love Miles’ odd little waverings, but I never knew if those note-to-note wavers were done intentionally or if it represented indecision or sagging chops. I’m guessing some of both?

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Well...

:g  :g  :g  :g  :g

lost for words Jim?

That would be a novelty! Do I get a prize?

:g:excited:

No, not lost, and no prize.

Just need time to collect myself and remember that you are a friend. ;)

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I definitely understand what couw is saying. In terms of technique and sound, I can think of several other trumpet players I'd rather listen to. I find that I listen to Miles more for the ideas and for his sidemen than I do for Miles himself. I have several of the Miles box sets (Prestige, Davis/Coltrane, Blackhawk, Plugged Nickel, 65-68, In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew), but when I pause to think about great songs or solos, I can't think of any where Miles is the key factor. Again, for me, it's all about the ideas or the sum of the bandmembers, and not Miles himself. There's a lot of innovation and great music there, but if I want to listen to a great trumpeter, I'd rather listen to Diz, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Charles Tolliver, or a number of other players.

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Couw, I think I understand exactly what you are saying re:Miles, although I have the opposite opinion. I like the spontaneity and ideas in Miles solos and his fragile, some say ugly tone. I seem to remember a similar, but opposite, sort of opinion concerning Dizzy, that he was not soulful enough and full of empty displays of virtuosity. There was also big thread (on BNBB I think) about Johnny Coles playing on Brooks' The Waiting Game and how lame (or great) it was. I am not a trumpeter, but I love to listen to it and I think one thing I enjoy the most is hearing all the different approaches to the instrument in terms of tone, technique and ideas. I do think Miles played with a lot of soul at times.

I just listened to Something Else yesterday, and I think that that album could not have sounded just like it did without Miles. Like him or not, he contributed a lot more than just trumpet to the overall vibe of a session.

I think Miles shared a trait with Lee Morgan sometimes, and that is the habit of haphazardly throwing out some ideas in the beginning of a solo and then challenging himself to find other ideas to make it all work. I can see how some of Miles' ideas might turn off some people in this way.

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Ok...

Miles' technique gets a lot of bad raps, and I think it's largely because of his tone. It's not a conventionally "brassy" trumpet tone, nor is it a traditonally "fat" one. It is what it is, and he spent so long with it, honing, refining it, and shading it, that my conclusion is that it's the tone he wanted and the tone he heard. There's certainly no indication that he wanted a different type of tone. If anything, his tone is the one thing that remained constant over the years. Although he showed a willingness to tweak it over the years as the need arose, its core qualities remained from beginning to end.

Now as far as finger-dexterity and range goes, there's plenty of examples of Miles playing fluently in all ranges, as well as him popping out some high notes quite readily, throughout his career, so if one wants to say that the cat had "poor technique" or some such, one had best be prepared to say in exactly what regard. Because the fluency of, say, his appearance w/Dameron & Moody in Paris ca. 1949 and his various live bootlegs of the late 60s will refute most any notions that he couldn't play high and/or fast. You might have a case if you want to argue consistency of these aspects of his technique, but that's another argument altogether.

I think what it all comes down to is intent, and where Miles differed from many a trumpeter, jazz or otherwise, is that he was first and foremost a sensualist on the instrument. His concern was often with PURE sound, PURE mood, PURE effect through manipulation of his instrument. So yeah, a lot of those cracks, waverings, etc. WERE intentional.

But not all. The measure I use for what's intentional and what's a flub is more often than not timing - does the "event" occur in such a place and is it executed in such a way that is unfolds in a manner that sounds controlled, like the guy is creating an arc of "event" all the way through, from beginning to end. And far more often than not, the answer for me is "yes", and unambiguously so. Miles' true flubs tend to disrupt his flow, his timing. And timing is another thing that Miles was VERY much about - pinpoint accuacy of the placing of EVERYTHING, space included. His timing is amongst the most amazing in all jazz, because for me, the ante is upped considerably when you start leaving things OUT. When you lay out, you have to come back in, and doing so at exactly the right moment with exactly the thing you intend is a helluva lot harder (for me, anyway) than riding the groove and playing onward and upward, although both are certainly valid approaches in themselves.

Now none of this is to say that Miles had chops of steel, or that he never flubbed notes, or that he was the greatest technician on his instrument in he history of the world, because those things are obviously not true. But I've heard the "Miles couldn't ever really play that good" line (from disparate sources) for decades now, and franky, I think it's a load of hooey. Although, like ANY brass player, when Miles didn't stay on his axe regularly, his chops showed it in no uncertain terms, I think in Miles we have an artist who nevertheless had the basics (and beyond) at their disposal whenever they wanted them (almost always, anyway - see the "layoff" aspect), but seldom did they actually have that specific want. Their aims were to utilize other elements of sound and technique to make a different kind of music within thier idiom on their specific instrument.

Now, none of this is going to make you LIKE Miles, I know. If you're asking for somebody to give you a reason why you "should", I'm not your guy. Explain to ME why I should love Bill Evans, ok? Either there's a connection or there isn't, and all the logic in the world can't create one where none exists. I've got no problem with somebody saying, "I just don't get it". Well, ok, a lot of times I DO have a problem, but I am maturing that way, ok? ;) The problem I have is when somebody confuses the subjective "I don't like it" with the objective "this cat can not play his/her instrument". And what I hear you saying is that for your taste, Miles does not play his instrument well enough for your tastes to convey his message successfully.

Even though I would disagree 100 (or more) per-cent with that, I can't say you're "wrong" (although I damn sure WANT to :g ) because who am I to tell you what you should or should not feel? I can plead the case that Miles was an innovator and an artist of rare sensitivity and perception from now until the cows come back home to Capistrano and swallow ttheir cud in Sorrento, but if YOU don't "get it", what's the point?

Like I said - convince me of why I should love Bill Evans, and then I'll work on you about Miles. But until then, let's leave well enough alone. ;)

Edited by JSngry

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Couw, I agree with just about everything you said in your first post. My dislike is perhaps not of the same degree; it's more like 50-75 percent of the various aspects of your criticism. But with a very few (if any) exceptions, I never put on a Miles album to hear him play.

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And what I hear you saying is that for your taste, Miles does not play his instrument well enough for your tastes to convey his message successfully.

thanks for putting "my taste" in there twice. It needs to be stressed. I agree with you 100% (or more :g ) that it IS all about taste. I was trying to pin it down a bit, to start a discussion.

tomym's reaction drives home one point: it is considered brave NOT to like Miles. That to me is a load of hooey, but I understand the sentiment. The reference to the emperor's clothes wasn't there for no reason. Yet, unlike the emperor, Miles IS wearing clothes of course. I'd rather see him wearing something more stylish and to my tastes though.

As for Miles's chops: I hear them on albums like the BNs and the early Prestige stuff, and that makes me wonder all the more: Why don't you use your chops man! PLAY goddammit, don't just blow some spit into your horn! And I hear all these aspects Jim addresses, and he is right: It just doesn't click with me. I don't get it. And I don't want anyone explaining me why I should, but do appreciate Jim expressing why he does. And as I said: I hear the things he is referring to and respect the hell out of you all for liking it.

The message of vulnerability expressed with minimalist means, for that I put on Monk doing Just a Gigolo solo. Now THAT's timing and THAT's phrasing that IS to my taste.

BTW: I am not that much over Bill Evans either... :w

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The message of vulnerability expressed with minimalist means, for that I put on Monk doing Just a Gigolo solo.

Well, to show you how different people hear different things in different ways, vulnerabilty is the LAST thing I hear in Monk. Go figure!

And yeah, the earlier Prestige (and BN) sides DO show Miles often having chops issues (the date w/Rollins & Bird is particularly "painful" at times in this regard). But those are from his "frantic" years of out-of-control drug addiction and frequent periods of inactivity. So there's a "reason" why the chops are off there.

But a solo like "Basin Street Blues" on SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN has all the "controversial" qualities in spades, and to me it is one of the most audacious solos Miles ever recorded - a tune that virtually defines "hoary" is redefined, reimagined, reharmonized, re-EVERYTHINGed, and presented with a total control and discipline that bespeaks a master saying exactly what he wants to say exactly how he wants to say it. Again, whether or not one "likes" it is purely a matter of personal taste, but geez Louise, how anybody can say that there's no control there is beyond me! (and I know that's not what you're saying John) You couldn't make "mistakes" like that in a million years!

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I love Miles. The reasons others don't like him may be the fuel for my ardor.

That's cool. I'll be listening to Miles for the next few decades, I hope, and I hope I keep, as I did this week, discovering new Miles recordings to listen to.

It bothers me not that others may not like him. They don't have to defend themselves. But even if (and it's so much deeper than that) it were only because Miles was one of the pathfinders led me to the whole world of jazz, Miles will always be a part of my musical world.

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Couw, I agree with just about everything you said in your first post. My dislike is perhaps not of the same degree; it's more like 50-75 percent of the various aspects of your criticism. But with a very few (if any) exceptions, I never put on a Miles album to hear him play.

I'm getting more "support" than I expected. How many of us are around here anyways?

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Perhaps most of us can agree that Miles' trumpet was a very distinct voice in jazz. The question then beomes the relative appeal of the voice to us personally. There is no reason why we can't agree to disagree on that question.

No, Miles didn't have the pure technique to play al lot of what Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown did. But, in the end, that is not really what matters. As Jim S writes, Miles did have a good amount of technique, certainly a sufficient amount to support his voice on the horn.

As for the "flubs," we can argue on and on about which particular cracks were intentional and which were not. For me, that is not a central issue either. I know that a lot of listeners (even more so in classical music than in jazz) take off a lot of "points" for mistakes. Musicians tend to be very hard on each other from that point of view as well. When I listen, I tend to focus more on what's there rather then what's not there. I much prefer something tremendous one moment and a mistake the next to consistent errorless playing at a generally good level. For me, Miles delivers an amazing number of those tremendous moments, more so than any other trumpet player outside of Louis Armstrong.

What do I find so appealing about Miles' voice? One aspect has to do with the blues. My first love in jazz is the blues, and most of my favorite jazz artists are those who developed highly distinctive and compelling blues voices. Miles was just a motherfucker with the blues. He had his own way of signifying. I find a number of Miles' blues solos (like on the original studio version of Walkin') to be among the most satisfying moments in all of music. Then there was the very special way that Miles approached ballads: the lyricism, the delicacy, the use of space. Miles is one of a handful of jazz artists who can make you fall out with just one note. Just one note!

On the other hand, if this all leaves you unmoved, there is nothing much to say. There is no objective argument to fall back on. Taste is taste.

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But a solo like "Basin Street Blues" on SEVEN STEPS TO HEAVEN

never heard that one I'm afraid.

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Now it's your turn I'd say: what's so good about the guy's music that people seem to treat him as a demi-god or at least have him & his music as one of the main focal points of of their music collection?

I don't understand the point of this thread. Is it to convince others to hear Miles the way you do? I'm new here, so is it perhaps because your ears are so revered around here that everybody is waiting anxiously to hear why you don't like Miles' sound?

I hardly think the onus is on anybody to defend Miles at this point.

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No, Miles didn't have the pure technique to play al lot of what Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown did. But, in the end, that is not really what matters.

...

On the other hand, if this all leaves you unmoved, there is nothing much to say. There is no objective argument to fall back on. Taste is taste.

I wonder to what extent this argument of technique being substantial or not in our appraisal of music holds much water. I have the distinct impression that it is seen as a valid argument when discussing why we like Lee Morgan or Brownie's playing, but is dissed as inconsequential when it comes to Miles. IOW: when the technique is there, it is used to support our taste (to objectify it if you will) and if it's not than it doesn't matter anyhow and we stick to emotional impact. Sorry for using your post to make this point John.

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Now it's your turn I'd say: what's so good about the guy's music that people seem to treat him as  a demi-god or at least have him & his music as one of the main focal points of of their music collection?

I don't understand the point of this thread. Is it to convince others to hear Miles the way you do? I'm new here, so is it perhaps because your ears are so revered around here that everybody is waiting anxiously to hear why you don't like Miles' sound?

I hardly think the onus is on anybody to defend Miles at this point.

I think that if you read through the responses you'll get an idea of what this is about. In another thread I was sort of "challenged" to address my dislike of Miles. That's why I started this thread, stating that it is as difficult to describe why I don't like it as it is for others to describe why they do. Hence the "challenge." It's not about defense and attack, it's about sharing some thoughts on our respective tastes.

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and ANOTHER thing... :g

The whole "Miles=Vulnerability" equation is often overstated in my opinion. Sure, it's a psrt of his overall persona, but this whole "walking on eggshells" business tends to obscure the fact that Miles had one of the SHARPEST senses of time ever, and had an internal rhythm that couls only be upset by his own doings. This was a motherfucker who could lay out for a cuppla bars and pop one note in EXACTLY the right spot to kick the intensity level up a notch or two. Not for nuthin' did he always play with drummers who had no compunctions against playing harder than the law allowed - he played that hard himself, even if he broke it up into distinct segments rather than letting it all come out in a continuous flow like most others of his generation. (btw - this is not an "original insight". Gil Evans said much the same thing a long time ago.) Such confidence and assuredness is not usually the province of the emotionally delicate, or frail, or otherwise "vulnerable".

The whole "tough on the outside/tender on the inside" thing is a part of the Miles Mystique. and is true as far as it goes, but I don't buy into it, because it doesn't go NEAR far enough. "Tender on the outside/tough on the inside" works every bit as well, and I defy anybody to find an instance where it can clearly be said that one is the obvious choice over the other, or that the two levels of the "interpretation" are the only two levels there are. I think when you get into "interpreting" the emotional content of Miles' music, you're doomed to a resolution in ambiguity, because by all accounts, this was one "complicated" individual who not only had a bunch of opposite tendencies at play internally, but was also one who made no attempt to resolve them either: Bisexual (rumored) vs. Pussyhound, Nice Guy vs. Total Asshole, Sensitive Lover vs. Wife Beater, Man Of The Street vs. Bourgeois Negro, you name it, if there's a conflict to be had, Miles probably not only had it, but played to it but publically and privately. I think it's this confluence of opposites (I can't really call them "conflicts", because I see no signs of them being anything other than welcomed by Miles) that makes the easy labelling such as "vulnerable" etc. fallacious and over simplistic. It might also explain why Miles is somebody that continues to "fascinate" many of those who are less than thrilled with his music - there is such an energy being created just by him being who he was that it's damn near impossible to ignore from a human standpoint.

But that's the Miles Mystique, something that I acknowledge, but don't really fall for myself, not totally anyway. Ackowledging it, recognizing it, and attempting to define it are quite different than being drawn to the music because of it, and like I said, I find enough of substance and profundity in the music alone to discuss it on it's own terms, minus all the psychoanalysis/psychobabble.

But where's the fun there? :g

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No, Miles didn't have the pure technique to play al lot of what Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown did.  But, in the end, that is not really what matters. 

...

On the other hand, if this all leaves you unmoved, there is nothing much to say. There is no objective argument to fall back on. Taste is taste.

I wonder to what extent this argument of technique being substantial or not in our appraisal of music holds much water. I have the distinct impression that it is seen as a valid argument when discussing why we like Lee Morgan or Brownie's playing, but is dissed as inconsequential when it comes to Miles. IOW: when the technique is there, it is used to support our taste (to objectify it if you will) and if it's not than it doesn't matter anyhow and we stick to emotional impact. Sorry for using your post to make this point John.

I don't know if I understand this argument.

Sure, we can compare trumpet players according to technique. We can point out that Arturo Sandoval can do things on the trumpet that Miles couldn't have even dreamed about etc., etc.

As far as defending taste, we can't go too far down that road. Technique is a bag of tools. What gets made with those tools is another question.

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Since there has been so much "support" from the "I hate Miles" contingent, I'll say he was / is one of the greatest jazz musicians, influences, talent scouts ever.

Thanks &, of course, IMHO.

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I wonder to what extent this argument of technique being substantial or not in our appraisal of music holds much water. I have the distinct impression that it is seen as a valid argument when discussing why we like Lee Morgan or Brownie's playing, but is dissed as inconsequential when it comes to Miles. IOW: when the technique is there, it is used to support our taste (to objectify it if you will) and if it's not than it doesn't matter anyhow and we stick to emotional impact. Sorry for using your post to make this point John.

For myself, "technique" only becomes an issue when it interferes with the impact of a player's emotional content. To this end, I'll posit that although Lee Morgan and Miles both played the same instrument and as such shared a common base of basic technical concerns, they ultimately had DIFFERENT "techniques", because the stories that they told were told from such different perspectives that they required ultimately different instrument methodologies. So, what worked or didn't, technically, for one is different for the other. It's a matter of intent above all for me - is the player doing what they intended, or are they being held back by technical limitations? That's how I "judge" technique.

Case in point (and I know I'll get flack for this from some people) - Jameel Moondoc. I LOVE what he's trying to say, and I LOVE his spirit, but dammit, I can't get past his "sloppy" fingering. What I hear first and foremost is a guy with great ideas and great feelings that just don't come out of the horn exactly as he intended them. Now, I'll take sloppy feeling over precise emptiness any day of the week, but it frustrates me to hear such obvious substance not given the full execution that it so obviously deserves. It just bugs me, and detracts from my enjoyment of his work. There's a difference between "controlled sloppiness" and "sloppy sloppiness", odd as that might sound.

Now, John, I suspect that that is how Miles affects you, so although I disagree totally, I know where you're coming from in principle. I just hear a "precision" in Miles that I don't hear in Moondoc. But that is subjective, I suppose, so what's a mother to do?

Edited by JSngry

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I don't know if I understand this argument.

Sure, we can compare trumpet players according to technique. We can point out that Arturo Sandoval can do things on the trumpet that Miles couldn't have even dreamed about etc., etc.

As far as defending taste, we can't go too far down that road. Technique is a bag of tools. What gets made with those tools is another question.

Still formulating this for myself so bear with me. Regarding references to technique in describing why we like some artist, there is a certain aspect of awe or whatever. Just read Jim's posts in this thread describing Miles's sense of time. I think we DO use the argument of technique if it fits our tastes to support those tastes "objectively." I think technique is more than just a bag of tools, it's the mechanism through which an artist expresses emotions. Better tools DO allow for better expression, although in the end it's not what counts of course. So indeed, we don't want to go too far down that road. It's just that I have the impression that we may need to wander down it somewhat and to dismiss the argument completely is also not "fair." I believe there has been a thread about craftsmanship vs. art somewhere, I am too lazy to look it up though... :g

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tomym's reaction drives home one point: it is considered brave NOT to like Miles.

Don't get me wrong John. I respect anyone's decision to like something or not. It is for that reason that I didn't try to 'convert' you.

Hell, there are lots of folk who admire Joni Mitchell or Stan Getz; two artists who I loathe/love respectively.

cheers, tonym.

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