Why should we still care about Miles Davis?

Why should we still care about Miles Davis?

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Miles Davis

Jamie Breiwick remembers it well.

He was in eighth grade when he first played the Miles Davis album “Kind of Blue.”  And at that moment, he says, “It was over.”

He was hooked.

“I tried to find as much Miles as possible.”

Today, Breiwick is one of Southeast Wisconsin’s most in-demand and respected trumpet players. While his musical influences are many, Miles remains an inspiration.

Kevin Lynch remembers, too.

It was 1983. Miles Davis was in concert at Uihlein Hall, in what’s now the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Lynch reviewed the show for the Milwaukee Journal. “In a matter of moments, you knew Miles Davis was riding a high current,” he wrote, “basking in a bright mood.”

Today, Lynch continues to write about jazz. And continues to value Davis’ achievements.

As the biopic “Miles Ahead” hits theaters 25 years after Davis’ death, his legacy remains a force.

Jamie BreiwickPhoto by Bryan Mir, courtesy of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

Jamie Breiwick

“Miles was my first, biggest influence,” says Breiwick, who also teaches music at The Prairie School in Racine and chronicles local jazz events and history at Milwaukee Jazz Vision. “Early on, a lot of people would tell me, ‘You sound like you’re listening to Miles a lot.’ I definitely took it as a compliment — the way he plays melodically and his use of space.”

To Breiwick, Miles sounds like nobody else.

“You hear Miles, it’s like instant, after one note almost – immediately identifiable. The way he articulates, the way he phrases. It’s a unique, singular voice. Like all the masters, he had his own language. His own vocabulary.”

And to Breiwick, that’s the lasting lesson of Miles Davis. To find your own voice.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee
As biopic 'Miles Ahead' is released, a trumpet player and jazz writer reflect on his powerful legacy

Miles Ahead,” the new film about Miles Davis, opens Friday, April 22 at Milwaukee’s Oriental Theater, Mayfair Mall and Marcus South Shore. Davis is played by Don Cheadle, who also wrote and directed the film. 

I’ve always tried to follow his model

“Obviously he had his influences, but he was very purposeful, trying to be himself, and didn’t necessarily feel he had to do what everyone else was doing.

“I’ve always tried to follow his model — trying not to play too cliché, trying to play inventively, and not necessarily regurgitating the licks and patterns that are played out there by the masters.

“So, big picture, what have I taken from Miles? It’s that. To improvise in a way that’s not too cliché, that’s true to me.”


Kevin Lynch and Journal article on Miles Davis Milwaukee concert

Kevin Lynch today, and his review of Davis’ 1983 Milwaukee concert, from the Milwaukee Journal

Miles as bold. Innovative. Unique. Influential. Kevin Lynch sees him the same way.

“He’s a paragon of restless creativity, lyricism and innovation — and of high style in the way he lived his life,” says Lynch. “And he did it on his terms from the beginning to the end.”

Lynch, who now writes about the arts for the Shepherd Express and other publications, saw Davis perform in Milwaukee at a pivotal time. The trumpeter was staging a comeback after a five-year retirement. (The new film focuses on this period.)

Davis had a reputation for being aloof during concerts, often turning his back on the audience while he played, and walking off stage while bandmates took solos.

But not this time.

“Even though he was wearing dark glasses and a black fedora, there was a whole different aura about him. He was extremely accessible,” Lynch recalls. “It was a real sign that he was back.”

Lynch calls Davis a “direction-setter.”

Emerging from bebop in the ‘40s, he was a vanguard of change —  to cool jazz, hard bop, third stream (a blend of classical and jazz), modal and fusion.

“The title of a late-1950s Miles album says it all: ‘Miles Ahead.’”

Lynch even points to the 1972 album “On the Corner” as a forerunner to what we hear today.

“The grooves and the funk … even though it’s not hip-hop, per se, it presages that whole street poetry attitude and rhythmic style.”

Lynch acknowledges Davis’ history of domestic violence and drug abuse. And, that “misfired” at times with new music.

“But by and large, what he did was the essence of hip. The way he carried himself, the way he dressed, the way he talked, his album covers. He was what they call the ‘Prince of Darkness.’ And you can take that several different ways.

“He spoke in the shadows of several different generations, kind of whispering to them, ‘This is the way it goes.’”


Watch Miles Davis play a live version of “So What” from the album “Kind of Blue,” featuring solos by Davis and John Coltrane on sax.

Their favorites

Both Jamie Breiwick and Kevin Lynch had hard times picking just one favorite Miles song or album. So, we let them off the hook and let them pick a few:

Breiwick’s picks

Kind of Blue
Columbia, 1959
Considered the best-selling jazz album of all time, certified quadruple platinum in 2008.

“I’ve bought ‘Kind of Blue ‘like 10 times. I’ll give it to a student or something and not get it back, ‘Oh, I’ll buy it again.’ I bought it recently on vinyl. I always come back to it, even after having listened to it so much. ‘Flamenco Sketches,’ ‘Blue in Green,’ it’s just beautiful.”

My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert

Columbia, 1965
Recorded live at the Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center (now Avery Fisher Hall) in New York.

“I love that record.  The band is on fire. Oh, man, I can always listen to that record. It’s so fresh.”


Lynch’s picks

Miles Davis and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings
Columbia, 1996
A compilation of Davis’ work from 1957-1968 with pianist, arranger, composer and conductor Gil Evans.

“‘Miles Ahead,’ ‘Porgy and Bess’ and ‘Sketches of Spain.’ Those are timeless and I still play those not infrequently.”


Miles Smiles
Columbia, 1966

“This is from his quintet in the ’60s. [Wayne Shorter – sax, Herbie Hancock – piano, Ron Carter – bass, Tony Williams – drums.] It’s something that I go to a lot.”


Water Babies
Columbia, 1976,
Released during his retirement. A collection of previously unreleased tracks from recording sessions in 1967 and 1968.

“I think this is really underappreciated.”