What I'll always remember about Miles Davis was his arrival at Arthur Baker's Shakedown Sound in New York for the "Sun City" recording sessions in the summer of 1985. There were a lot of musicians laying down tracks that day--Bonnie Raitt, Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC, Steve Van Zandt, Kashif, Darlene Love. Everybody was feeling good because the cause was righteous and the "Sun City" project was bringing together artists who'd never had a chance to rub shoulders before.
But Miles Davis wasn't feeling good--his health was already deteriorating and, when he spoke, his words dripped with hatred for apartheid. He talked about South Africa, but maybe he was also thinking about how, several blocks from where he was standing, he's been beaten bloody by cops in 1959 while taking a smoke break between sets at Birdland. In any event, that day within ten minutes he'd recorded the mournful, angry notes that kick the record into gear.
Michael Henderson could tell you it was no accident Miles Davis was a part of what was essentially a rock and rap project. Henderson, a singer and bass player from Yazoo City, Mississippi, was hired at age nineteen by Miles in the early 70s. The other musicians in the band made fun of Henderson because, as a session man in Detroit and New York, he'd played on hit records. But that was exactly why Davis had hired him.
This was simply maintenance of the four lane highway between jazz and pop music Miles Davis had built with albums like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, a road he kept well-paved to the very end. As jazz has congealed into a stuffy, inward-looking establishment irrelevant to the world around it, there's always been one very large foot in the door that wouldn't allow it to slam shut. It belonged to the trumpet player who jammed with Charlie Parker, recorded with John McLaughlin, and covered Michael Jackson tunes.
The world awaits its next Miles Davis. Someday our prince will come.
Rock & Rap Confidential / 1991