MILES TO GO by Chris Murphy


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The author recalls his years on the road with volatile and complex jazz musician Miles Davis.

In 1973, guitarist Murphy received a call to join Davis's entourage. He worked for the trumpet-player off and on through 1983, first as a stagehand and then as road manager, helping with everything from sound systems to procuring women. A startling, innovative talent, Davis began his career with Charley Parker's quintet in the 1940s, then broke away to become the embodiment of “cool jazz” in the ’50s. He reinvented himself several more times, even experimenting with rap before his death in 1991. In the ’70s, Davis rolled the influences of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone into his repertoire, more or less inventing fusion. Many of Davis's loyalists from the good old days hated the extremely loud, amplified band (whose members used a lot of drugs) that Miles presided over during the period Murphy chronicles, but rock fans loved it, making Bitches Brew the bestselling jazz album in history. Murphy does little more here than string together anecdotes, with many a cameo from Bob Dylan to Waylon Jennings to the members of U2, but at least he manages to make Davis come across better than he did in Miles: The Autobiography (1989) and puts into context rumors of his bisexuality. Toward the end of Murphy's gig, Davis is in physical decline, much of it brought on by drug abuse, and these are the best, most affecting pages. Gratifyingly, a strong woman comes into Miles’s life: In part because of Cicely Tyson, Davis made another big comeback in the early ’80s with a series of concerts at the Lincoln Center. Though Murphy has his moments, he’s also quite idiosyncratic: His lengthy comparison of Davis with Ernest Hemingway seems odd at best, and his structure throughout is jagged and unbalanced.

Pleasant enough, but in the end little more than a fan's notes.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-56025-361-4
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001