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The Other Miles Davis

Blog
The Other Miles Davis

22.06.2018

Text: Leyla Aksu
Illustration: Saydan Akşit

The Look
Miles Davis always dressed well and always dressed sharp; his fashion, according to Marcus Miller, “a statement of who he was and how he wanted to present himself.” Inheriting his sartorial sense from his mother, “who always dressed to kill,” and inspired by jazz musicians like Coleman Hawkins, who would give him clothes, and Dexter Gordon, who Davis described as “the cleanest cat around,” the musician’s fashion choices became incredibly influential, and in-step with his music, continuously changed with the times.

Known early on for the crisp Ivy League look, or in his own words, “a hip, quasi-black English look,” which took over the jazz scene, Davis embraced sleek and slim sport coats, button-down oxford shirts, Brooks Brothers suits, starched collars, and loafers. Even back then, his sartorial cool was down to the detail and highly catching, the green shirt he donned on the cover of Milestones popping up all over London in the late ‘50’s.

During the 1960’s, however, Davis’ style shifted, and as with the era, this time he went loose. Able to move more comfortably on stage, the musician went with African dashikis and loose-fitting Indian shirts--some even bought where Jimi Hendrix used to shop in Greenwich Village. Yet Davis had already embraced another aesthetic by the 1970’s; adorning bell-bottoms, fringes, and massive sunglasses, this time everything was more eye-catching, more colorful, flamboyant, funky, and risky.

Finally, the1980’s saw Davis updating his look once more, gravitating towards the likes of Japanese designers Kohshin Satoh and Issey Miyake, even modeling for the former with Andy Warhol. The way he looked was always a part of what he did, and for over five decades, in the words of Herbie Hancock, “Miles was always the hippest guy around.”

The Painter
Though sometimes overlooked, art was also one of Davis’ great passions. Painting and drawing all throughout his life, the artist started sketching more and more seriously in the early 1980’s, and to those who knew him during that time, he would draw almost everyday, even showing up to interviews with a sketchpad in hand.

Creating boldly colored abstract work with his paintings and weaving figures in his sketches, some of Davis’ best-known artwork has adorned the covers of his albums and presented his music, such as with 1983’s Star People and 1989’s Amandla, the latter made in collaboration with his teacher and later partner, artist Jo Gelbard.

In addition to Gelbard, Davis is also said to have collaborated with Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Corky McCoy, and Abdul Mati Klarwein, and he can also be seen painting in Spike Lee’s video for “Tutu Medley.” Just one more dimension of his creative output, Davis’ artwork has also been shown in exhibits and published in several books since his passing.

The Actor
While music of Miles Davis continues to be a staple of cool for soundtracks decades over, his tunes popping up on shows like “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “West Wing,” and “Treme,” as well as films like Pleasantville, the Talented Mr. Ripley, Zodiac, and Hidden Figures, he has also graced our screens a few times as well.

Initially only making a couple of cameos, Davis first appeared on the small screen in an episode of “Miami Vice” in 1985. He then popped up on the silver screen, briefly appearing in a group of street musicians playing “We Three Kings,” alongside David Sanborn, Larry Carlton, and Paul Shaffer, in the Bill Murray film Scrooged.

In 1991, however, right before his passing, Davis got his first and final feature role in the film Dingo. Directed by Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, the film follows the jazz-fueled journey of a passionate Australian musician in search of his idol and inspiration, trumpeter Billy Cross, who was memorably played and performed by Davis. The musician also worked on the film’s soundtrack with Michael Legrand.

The Cook
In addition to his diverse artistic passions, Davis also harbored a great love of food. Speaking of how he got into cooking in his autobiography, he mentions how he loved food but hated going out to eat, likening the process of learning how to cook to learning and practicing an instrument.

Partial to soul food and French cuisine, Davis had secret recipes for Italian veal chops, fried fish, and, his only recipe to make it public, Miles's South Side Chicago Chili Mack. Though Davis never divulged the ingredients, only what he preferred to serve the dish with, a recipe was later shared by his first wife Frances, and a different chili recipe, one passed down from Davis’ father, was also featured in the biography, So What.

The Boxer
Finally, a fan of boxing since his childhood, Davis was said to be inspired by the precision and discipline of the sport, comparing it to a science: “Boxing’s got style like music’s got style.” Living with professional boxer Stan Levey, striking up close friendships with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and the stylish welterweight boxer Johnny “Honey Boy” Bratton, and even sparring with Roberto Duran, Davis eventually took up the sport himself and frequently worked out alongside fighters.

His love for boxing and music fully came together, though, when he was asked to compose the soundtrack for a documentary about the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson. Davis dedicatedly immersed himself in the sport and Johnson’s career, and discussing the recordings in his autobiography, he describes trying to translate the dance-like movements of a boxer into music, like the sound and rhythm of an approaching train. The resulting “Jack Johnson Sessions” were recorded over four months in 1970, and are a staple of Davis’ electric years.

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