There is a version of how we think about art where the artist pulls everything he creates straight from the darkest recesses of his soul, from memories of childhood or the forgotten inheritance of family and culture.
For some artists, that just doesn’t make any sense, because they were so conscious and intentional about the collaborators they chose, the cultural currents they responded to or took on as their own, the way they played to audiences’ expectations and desires.
Miles Davis was the son of a successful dentist, he went to Juilliard, his every mutation and transformation was made with a keen eye on how both music and the culture were changing and how to stay one step ahead of both. From Charlie Parker and Max Roach and Gil Evans to Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane and Bill Evans to Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter to Jimi Hendrix and Chick Corea and John McLaughlin to Prince, Miles decided who he wanted to meet, befriend or hire, and who to absorb into his sound and aesthetic. Like Picasso, and unlike Coltrane or Parker or Monk or even Ellington, there’s no single trajectory or direction or style that encompasses all five decades of his work, just a wary awareness of what to take and what to leave behind, and a bemused understanding of the hunger for cool.